As with a topwater bite, the proper way to pull the subsurface walker can change from day to day, or even from hour to hour, but the pros believe that there are general rules that should guide the search.
“In the prespawn, they’re starting to look up a bit,” Upshaw says. “I’ll fish the Buster a lot slower, giving it real methodical jerks, looking for a bigger bite. But in the fall, I’ll use a lot bigger line and fish it a lot faster, trying to get them to react. In the early spring, my typical starting point is three pulls, then stop, then one pop. In the fall, it’ll be faster, with lots of popping and jerking.”
Mason said that his typical starting point with the Badonk-A-Donk is “a cross between walking the dog and the way you’d fish a Fluke, with a twitch-twitch-pause cadence. I’ll go a little faster than that, giving it three or four twitches, then pausing it.”
Fisher added that his lure will walk-the-dog just like their topwater version, the Skitter Walk, but it can also be made to glide so subtly that with the rod tip down even a beginner can nail the cadence with ease. “You just pull it straight,” he said. “You don’t have to lead it.” He added that a loop knot will also make it easier to get the retrieve down pat.
“Your cadence is a discernable part of your success,” Fisher adds. “Sometimes they want it real hard, other times they’ll want it in a lollygagging sweep. Usually, the shallower they are, the more aggressively I’ll fish it.”
Long casts are usually critical with this technique, to allow the bait to establish its mesmerizing walking pattern. For that reason, the pros typically use long rods. Mason likes a Dobyns medium-fast model 733 (7 foot, 3 inches, 3-power) to maximize distance, or a more forgiving 705CB fiberglass rod when long casts aren’t quite as important. Upshaw prefers anything from a standard medium-heavy worm rod all the way up to a flipping stick, depending on the size of fish around and the thickness of the cover. Both anglers use a Lew’s Tournament Pro 6.4:1 gear ratio baitcasting reel in the spring, although Upshaw will speed up to a 7.1:1 model in the fall, when a more aggressive presentation is warranted.
Mason uses 20-pound Vicious braided line when he’s getting bites at the end of long casts, but when more action is required out of the bait, braid can be a detriment because it limits the “glide” at the end of the walking motion. Fluorocarbon, Upshaw explains, allows the lure to “sink a little better and has no stretch, so you can feel it popping, but you won’t rip it out of his mouth.” He likes 15-pound Izorline. Baksay and Fisher both prefer monofilament.
Concern over maximizing the side-to-side range also prevents Mason from adding a feathered rear treble, a modification he employs with most topwaters. “It creates drag,” he explains. “You don’t get as much dart.”
In a lure where the action is the main attractor, color may not be critical, but it’s still a part of fine-tuning the presentation. Fisher sticks with patterns that imitate a wide range of baitfish, like silver with an olive back and gold with an olive back. The others tend to tailor their choices to the amount of sunlight penetration on a given day.
“My two main choices are bone and pearl,” Mason says. “Bone is by far the best color when there’s heavy overcast or when the water is a little stained because it has more of a silhouette. Pearl tends to produce a little better when it’s clear.”