Crossovers: Topwater Walkers
Part of the fun I look forward to with the Saltier Side column is delving into “crossovers,” essentially lures, tactics, tackle and anything else that can crossover from bass fishing to saltwater fishing.
Bass fishing basics provide such a fantastic platform for saltwater tactics and in no category is that truer than with topwater walking baits; they take the cake for the most exciting lures to fish in freshwater and the same holds true in saltwater.
Nearly all inshore species can be fooled on topwater walkers with trout, snook and reds topping that list. What’s more, they are extremely efficient lures for covering water and looking for fish. Overall, I’d say topwater walkers are even more potent fish-finders inshore than in freshwater.
If you have any bass tackle at all, chances are you already own a couple of Spooks – or Spook-type walkers – that need the dust knocked off them. Any walking bait in the 4- to 5-inch category is a candidate for the salt. The first walkers I ever used in saltwater were old Zara Spooks I pulled straight from my bass box.
If you are going to pilfer topwater walkers from your bass box (or maybe your buddy’s bass box) I would certainly recommend upgrading the split rings and hooks. The strong, steady pulls from redfish and snook are notorious for tweaking out stock hooks to make a get away. Most of today’s top hook manufacturer’s now make treble hooks labeled as 1X, 2X or 3X denoting their strength. Look for a #2 size with at least the 1X or 2X designation to refurb walkers to saltwater status. It’s also a good idea to change the hooks often as saltwater and bony mouths take their toll on the points pretty quickly.
Also, if you have a variety of topwater walkers to choose from, pick each one up and shake it to listen to their noise. Different brands have different sounds. Some might be high-pitched rattles, others might have a “heavier” or “lower” single knock and others may have no sound at all. Personally, I prefer more of a lower, single-knocker sound for saltwater species. Several years ago I somehow acquired a Heddon “One-knocker” Spook (I probably pilfered from my buddy’s bass box) and I caught so many fish on it that I became a big fan of the one-knocker sound.
If you would prefer to just purchase saltwater-ready walkers, I would recommend any of Heddon’s Saltwater Spook line, Rapala’s Skitter Walk, MirrOlure topwater “Dog” Series or Bomber’s Badonk-A-donk. All these walkers have solid saltwater hooks and low-frequency “knocker” noises that really annoy saltwater species.
The right equipment is whatever you like to “walk the dog” with. I keep it pretty simple: a 7-foot medium action casting rod with a 6.1:1 ratio reel works fine for me. Years ago when I used all monofilament for topwaters, I used a medium-heavy action rod. These days, I’ve gone to all braid in the salt and now prefer a medium action rod, which is a little lighter action. For topwater walkers I like the 15-pound class Spiderwire Ultracast Ultimate Braid tied to a 12- or 15-pound monofilament leader. Also, I go to a loop knot with walking baits. It might just be in my head, but having a loose loop on the line-tie seems to help the bait walk easier.
As for the right conditions, most anytime is a good time for topwater walking. I have some kind of topwater walker tied on every time I go to the coast. If it’s really cold, with water temperatures below 60 degrees, then it stays below deck. The only other times the walker might not get a lot of play is when the water is simply too rough or on scorching afternoons in August when the surface is too hot. Other than that, walkers are fair game any time.
In terms of colors, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the flashier chrome or gold-sided baits in clearer water and any pearl/matte finishes with chartreuse highlights for darker water.
In recent years, I’ve moved more towards topwaters with see-through translucent sides and flashy silver, gold or “holographic” inserts. The Rapala Skitter Walk or MirrOlure topwaters have many color selections like this. For me, these see-through patterns seem to work better on spooky trout in really clear water. Plus, they are bit more durable in terms of losing your paint job to toothy mackerel and trout.
Finally, one sure lesson I’ve learned in saltwater topwaters is that the water does not have to be totally calm to make them work. These big, noisy baits can get quite a bit of attention even with a little chop on the water. So if you’re headed to do some inshore fishing, make a topwater walker one of the first baits you tie on – even if you have to pilfer one from your buddy’s bass box!