By: Shaye Baker
There are all sorts of topwater baits out there. From buzzbaits to hollow body frogs and wakebaits to toads. But when it comes to hard baits, there are two main types of topwaters: walking style topwaters and poppers.
For today’s piece, we’re going to focus solely on walking style baits, which are typically more elongated with a pointed nose, where poppers are shorter with a cupped mouth. And, you guessed it, one is meant to be walked side to side across the surface and the other is meant to be popped or chugged along.
Here’s a good rundown on what to look for in a quality walking style topwater, the gear you’ll need to fish it and how to fish one.
Hooks with a lot of bite, and a little feather -
The hooks on a walking style topwater are extremely important. Fish often boil on these baits. They don’t always eat them entirely and instead just take a swipe at them. So when you’re throwing one of these topwaters, it’s important to use either a round bend treble with a wide gap or an EWG (Extra Wide Gap) hook.
The EWG hooks are great, but you’ll typically have to go with a large size to ensure that there’s enough space between the hook point and the hook shaft to connect with swiping bass. The round bend may even be better at this, since the space between the hook point and the hook shaft is greater for the hook size than the same size EWG.
The EWG hooks seem to keep fish pegged better once they’re hooked, but you have to upsize the hook selection to make sure you hook the fish in the first place. Using long shank hooks is a good idea too, as they help the hook reach out and grab the fish. You just have to make sure your hooks are not so long or big that they hook one another. And bigger hooks can be too heavy for the bait to float them, if you’re not careful.
A feathered treble on the tailed of a walking topwater is always a nice touch. This just makes the bait look that much more realistic to a chasing bass, and can make a big difference in clear water situations.
The MONSTERBASS Ragnar and Patriot 3.0 are good examples of what you want to look for in walking style topwaters when it comes to hooks. These baits have three well proportioned hooks with round bends. MONSTERBASS also incorporated a feathered tail hook and added even another fine detail, with the red front hook to draw the attention of a striking bass to the front of the bait. This gives all the hooks the best chance of making contact with a bass.
How, when and where to fish it -
Walking the dog is the age old terminology used to describe the action you want out of a walking style topwater. It’s a side to side sweeping action. The angler can generate this action with slow twitches, waiting for the bait to reach it’s maximum distance in one direction before twitching the bait to turn it the other way. It can take a little time to develop a cadence here, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
Walking style topwater baits are extremely effective in the spring, summer and fall. They complement the smaller poppers, which work a little better when the bass are more finicky or feeding on insects and bluegill. But when bass are keying on shad and herring in the late spring, summer and fall, walking style topwaters are hard to beat.
You can fish these baits around docks, over tree tops, down seawalls and over long points. Basically, find the baitfish during the spring, summer and fall and throw this bait in those areas around cover and you’re liable to get a big bite.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the gear you should use with a walking style topwater. Most anglers will agree that a 7:1 gear ratio baitcasting reel is what they’d go with. But the line type varies from angler to angler, and the decision made here affects the length and strength of the rod.
Both monofilament and braided lines float, which make them the clear choice when fishing topwaters (Fluorocarbon line, which sinks, is eliminated from the options). So do you go with braid or mono?
Well let’s look at the pros and cons of mono first. This line has a lot of stretch to it, which can be good when fishing a topwater close to the boat, as the line can compensate for an aggressive hookset that might otherwise cause an angler to miss a bass. And mono is a little easier for the beginner to intermediate angler to manage.
Braided line has nearly no stretch at all. And it’s smaller diameter means more of it can be packed on the reel, so it can be used to cast baits really far. But, it’s a little more prone to backlashing and can be tricky for beginners to get the hang of. Still, in time, this is the line that most anglers should work their way towards using with walking topwaters.
Many situations where a walking topwater works well, like over long points, require long casts to be efficient. And the braid allows for longer casts, while the low stretch also means the bait will be more responsive while you’re working it at a long distance. And you’ll have a better chance of hooking the fish, where the mono would have a lot of stretch and hurt your hookup ratio.
If you go with mono filament, lean towards a 7- foot medium to medium heavy rod, since you’ll be fishing these baits closer to the boat and don’t need a lot of rod length or strength to make long casts. But when swapping over to braid, it’s a good idea to go with a 7- medium heavy or even a 7- foot, 3- inch medium heavy rod.
This seems a little counter intuitive, to use the stiffer rod with the braid. But you’ll need the back bone to launch your bait. A medium action rod may break when loading a bigger bait up in your backcast for one of these longer casts. And, the faster tip of a medium heavy rod will help you work the bait better on the ends of those long casts, as well as ensure a good hookset if a bass bites far off.
As for the hookset, you just want to lean into the fish. There’s no need for a powerful hookset like you’d see with a jig or a frog. The treble hooks will slip into the fish with ease, if you’ve selected the right rod and line combo. For braided line, 30- pound test seems to be the sweet spot. And mono in the 15- to 20- pound range works well depending on the size fish you’re targeting.
In conclusion -
This can seem like a lot at first, but don’t let it overwhelm you. If you’re new to bass fishing, and topwaters in particular, start off slow. There’s no shame in spooling up a little mono and tying on a topwater. Get used to the feel and the cadence of fishing a bait like this. And then, when you’re ready, move up to braided line and a little bit longer and stronger rod, so you can make long casts and be as efficient as possible when you do.
When selecting a bait, pay close attention to the hooks. Round bend, EWG or some hybrid of the two works really well. Feathered hooks on the back are an excellent addition and a red hook on the front could mean a few more fish make it to the boat or the bank in a day's time. Take these simple tips out to your local body of water and you’ll be walking the dog on big bass in no time.