By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: This is part 3 of an occasional 5-part series about pro anglers' favorite topwater techniques and the details behind them. To read part 1, click here). To check out part 2, click here).
Mark Davis has fished with a walking-style topwater since he was a kid. It’s been an effective tool for him and now he uses them to cash paychecks on the Bassmaster Elite Series and in Major League Fishing events.
Earlier this year, it was part of his arsenal at Lake Dardanelle, where he took 2nd behind Steve Kennedy.
“I really believe there are certain fish that you probably can’t catch on any other lure at a given time than on a topwater,” Davis said. “A topwater has the appeal because it’s on top and it just has the appeal that a crankbait, worm or spinnerbait or a jig or any of that other stuff has.”
Through the Years
Growing up, Davis threw a walking bait during the spawn, especially on clear lakes. During the post-spawn, he’d pattern fish on points.
“What a walking bait does so much better than other topwaters is it’ll bring fish in clear water from great distances,” he said. “You can call them up from 20 feet deep to come and bite it.”
He’s swapped out the Heddon Zara Spook he grew up with for a Strike King Sexy Dawg and he’ll have one or several tied on once the water temperature rises past 52 degrees.
A buzzbait can work in similar conditions, but Davis has found that bigger fish are more apt to hit a walking bait when the water temps are colder.
Topwaters aren’t just for dawn and dusk, either. Some of the biggest bass Davis has caught on walking baits have come in the middle of the day. Typically, low light conditions make the situation ideal, but the noon to 2 p.m. window can be an especially good time to catch quality fish with a walking bait.
Davis looks to the walking bait, especially when targeting suspended bass.
“The easiest way to catch those bass is to get them to rise up and swat something on the surface,” he added.
What’s the Hurry?
Davis says that when fish are extremely aggressive, he’ll work the bait quickly. At times, speeding up the cadence can trigger a reaction bite.
For many anglers, he’s found a quick retrieve to be the norm and not the exception. He disagrees with their logic.
“Most people tend to fish walking baits too fast,” he said. “So many times, if you slow it down, and I’m not saying stop it, just a slow, steady cadence with it, you can fool those bigger fish.”
At the Dardanelle Elite Series, he caught a good number of his fish on a bone colored Sexy Dawg Jr.
“They wanted a slow cadence, slow and steady,” he added. “I think those fish looked at it, came up on it, backed off, came back, and did that until they finally went ahead and bit it.”
Davis is known as being a very methodical, well-seasoned angler who knows how to put fish in the boat. Working a topwater around objects and other targets can be challenging for novice anglers, but Davis has a few tips to be more effective at it.
Many times, being able to walk a Sexy Dawg around a dock, rock, stump and a brush pile is the ticket to drawing needed bites.
“You can make it walk in one direction or another by using a short twitch followed by a harder long twitch,” Davis said.
When fishing open water, a simple side-to-side motion is all you need, but keeping the bait tight to an object takes some skills.
When Davis needs to walk his bait to the left of a bush he is facing, he’ll make a short stroke away from the bush and a long strong toward the bush.
“The long stroke always takes it in the direction you need,” he said.
Whenever a bass short strikes or slaps at a topwater bait, Davis stresses to keep working the bait. Yet, anglers routinely panic and freeze wondering why they never got hit again.
“You need to keep that bait moving,” Davis said. “A baitfish, if a bass bats at it, is it going to lay still and play dead? No, it’s going to move even faster.”
He’ll also add a few white hackle feathers, 2 to 2 1/2 inches long, to the rear treble when they’re striking short.
“It gives a reluctant striking fish a bit of something else to key in on,” he added.
Bone and Black Lab are his usual color choices for the Sexy Dawg in all conditions other than bright days when he’ll opt for Chrome Sexy Shad.
While the Sexy Dawg comes in two sizes, Davis takes into account the size of the shad, size of the fish, and the conditions he’s facing.
“The more wind you have, the more cloud cover, the bigger the ripple on the water or waves, the bigger bait is always the way to go,” Davis said.
He’ll fish it on a 6-foot, 10-inch medium-heavy Lew’s spinnerbait rod paired with a Team Lew’s Lite casting reel and 40-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line. He’ll attach his bait using a loop knot. The braid is key, he says, when fishing over grass, around heavy cover, or when targeting bigger fish.
Under clear and calm conditions, he opts for smaller baits. Since the bait is lighter, he prefers a 7-foot Lew’s Custom Pro spinning rod paired with a 3000 series Team Lew’s Gold Spinning reel spooled with 10-pound Seaguar Senshi monofilament. He’ll add a split-ring to the bait to help it walk freely.
When fishing topwaters, patience is key, especially when setting the hook.
“I try to watch the lure and when the lure goes completely under, I just wind and don’t ever set the hook with my rod,” he said. “I just speed up my retrieve and wind into them.”