We return to the fall favorites series with a look at one of my all-time favorites, topwater walking baits. The fall is all about shad here in the south and across a lot of the country. In discussing my fall favorites I’ve touched on several shad imitators. You can check out some of my other fall bass fishing favorites by clicking these links:
All of those baits are great and essential to a full-blown fall arsenal. But I rarely use any of them to take advantage of one of the most exciting parts of the fall, fishing for schooling fish.
As the water cools and bait moves close to the surface, bass begin to use the top of the water column to their advantage. Corralling the bait against the surface, the bass condense the strike zone and then bust through the bait when it has no more room to swim up.
Topwater Walking Baits – Why These Bait Works So Well For Schooling Bass
Fishing a walking style topwater like a Spook, Sammy or Gunfish around schoolers is a great way to generate ferocious strikes but it can also lead to some heartbreaking battles where the bass comes out the victor.
To level the playing field a bit, I’ll typically upsize my treble hooks any time I’m fishing a topwater around schoolers to give myself the best chance I can at hooking them well.
Often times you’ll have a fish boil on a bait or slash at it several times before finally hooking up. These larger hooks hang down farther in the water and have wider gaps increasing your chances ever so slightly at connecting with the bass. But it’s certainly enough of an increase to take advantage when you’re talking about 3-to-5-pound bass busting bait. Getting just one more of those fish into the boat in a day’s time can make all the difference.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of fishing for schoolers is that they always seem to be just out of reach.
In my younger years, I would chase them all over a vast area. As soon as I saw them break the surface a hundred yards away, I would kick my trolling motor up on high or even jump down and fire up my outboard and race to where they were, only to see them busting right where I had just been as soon as the boat stopped.
Noise is extremely important, or the lack thereof, when targeting schoolers. I have found over time that I’m far better off waiting patiently in one spot for the fish to make their way back around. It seems like a much longer wait at the moment because the bass are busting, but it usually only takes a few minutes for the fish to chase the bait back in your direction if you remain still and quiet.
Topwater Walking Baits – Increasing Your Range When Targeting Schools of Bass
There are also a few ways to help increase your range and draw the fish in a little closer a little quicker. For starters, braided line in place of monofilament is imperative. The braid not only increases your range but it also provides a better hook up ratio on long casts with a topwater than the far stretchier monofilament. Just be prepared to back off your drag as the fish nears the boat to help prevent it from tearing off.
You also want to use a fairly light action rod like a 7’ 0” medium-heavy or even a medium action to help with this. A monster hookset isn’t necessary either with a topwater like this given its treble hooks. And since the fish will often miss the bait on the first few swipes, I typically try to just continue working the bait until I feel tension and the fish essentially hooks itself. Then I’ll pull back and start applying pressure throughout the fight.
Now, I don’t buy into the Hydrowave in most settings. For instance, I don’t see any advantage to having a fish be drawn towards my trolling motor when I’m fishing a stump field in 2-feet of water. That’s counterproductive. But I have heard too many stories and seen a few instances myself that credit a Hydrowave’s effectiveness in offshore situations where bait is present. In these instances, I believe the artificial sounds of bait and fish busting on them can activate the actual bait and bass in an area.
Topwater Walking Baits – Bait Selection
Now, let’s get back to talking about the topwater bait itself. As far as bait selection, I don’t really have a gold standard. I’ve fished with several different brands and sizes over the years. The Bowstick from Jackall is a very effective bait when looking for a big profile. A Sammy 85 by Lucky Craft is great when targeting finicky fish around small baitfish.
The Heddon Spook is perhaps the industry-standard given it’s been around a long time and is extremely effective at catching fish.
I’ve found that schoolers, in particular, can be very picky so I try to let them decide which walking-style topwater bait I throw. I keep several options on hand and if I have a couple fish blow up on a bait and not get it, I’ll change to one with a different size, color, or sound.
But topwater walking baits aren’t limited to schoolers alone in the fall. I’ll often throw a topwater around riprap, seawalls, treetops, and docks in the fall. This time of year, bait is plentiful and everywhere. So you can often catch fish anywhere. And the appearance of a wounded baitfish that is given off by walking topwater baits is a great way to draw strikes from these fish. That’s what makes a walking style topwater one of my fall favorites.
Shaye’s Fall Topwater Walking Baits Gear
Line: 30-pound Sufix 832 Braid
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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