Focus On Fishing's Top Lure for 2014 - The Rapala Skitter Walk

Rapala SkitterWalking the Dog for Big Bass Has Never Been so Good

For those who have fished bass with me over the years, they have likely noticed I love throwing topwater poppers for bass ... particularly the Rapala Skitter Pop, Storm Chug Bug, and now the X Pop. It seems smallmouth bass especially love these topwater lures. When they want a stop ... pop, pop, pop - stop type of retrieve they will often tell you in no uncertain terms and engulf your popper with a voracious furry. Personally, I have caught far more smallmouth with poppers than largemouth ... so speaking strictly from personal experience; this is where these dynamite baits shine. And, when there is a bit of a chop on the surface ... there likely isn't a better topwater category around than an oversized popper worked vigorously enough so that it can be heard by bass long before they see it.

But what about when bass want something presented in a more continuous motion, possibly without the telltale noisy pop us crazy bass anglers just love to hear? Is there a less obtrusive yet still seducing enough topwater to call bass up and convince them to answer that call? Is there a topwater crying more than any others to be thrown under flat calm conditions? What about one that is equally as effective on smallmouth as it is on largemouth bass? Or a lure that simply allows you to cover the surface quickly and efficiently? How about a visually enticing topwater that is especially productive in the ultra-clear waters we have here in Ontario? Well if you want one lure to cover all of these scenarios then the Rapala Skitter Walk is just the bait for you and I guarantee is worth the effort to develop confidence in.

Having a renewed confidence in this lure is exactly what happened to me in 2014. As the season developed I began to throw it more and more and with that came more and more fish. For this reason I can easily say it is our Focus On Fishing “lure of the year” for 2014! 

Older than most other topwater categories, this ‘pointed-at-both-ends-cigar-shaped' lure category has been around since 1939 when the Zara Spook was born. Since its inception this type of topwater is unlike all others as it has literally no enticing value or action if the angler just casts it out and reels it in. No, in order to work it properly, one must master ‘walkin the dog' and be able to make that big, fat, cigar zigzag from side to side in such a seductive manner that it drives bass below bonkers … Enough so that they come up and attack it as they would any injured baitfish with the only weapon they have- their big fat mouths!

The Rapala Skitter Walk came into existence in 2002. The word Skitter is used as it literally means “to run off quickly with small scampering steps” ... or “to skid lightly across something.” “Walk” is naturally in reference to the moniker to describe how it's used.

Bass

Rapala Skitter Walk's come in more than 20 colors and you can choose between painted or chrome colors. They are 3, 1/8   inches long and have a perfectly weighted tail portion that allows for easy walk the dog action.  The saltwater version is one I don't hesitate to throw most of the time here in Ontario's fresh water as I enjoy the incredible added distance it gives me on my casts. 

With a loud internal rattle and a larger 4 3/8 inch size ... this puppy is simply heavier and thus casts even further allowing me to cover more water effectively.  Its larger size offers me the confidence as well to believe it will attract larger fish ... however I must admit I've caught plenty of small bass with it too. 

Proper Equipment

First off with these heavier lures, I prefer baitcasting over spinning. A 6 ½ foot medium action, one piece rod like the new Concept Series by Rapala - matched with their super smooth Concept series baitcasting reels are ideal. Mono is still tops for most topwaters so on that reel 14 or 17 lb Siege Monofilament is tough to beat. I find the 6 ½ foot rod better than the six- because the longer rod provides longer casting distance.  A seven would admittedly provide even greater distance ... but it would prove more cumbersome when trying work the bait with your rod tip down doing the walk the dog thing. When I'm in a fishery however with a very small percentage of 3lb plus sized smallmouth or under tougher ultra calm conditions, or when bass seem to be barely nipping at my Saltwater Skitter Walk I will switch over to the regular smaller model.

Wil Wegman with Bass on Rapala Skitter

How To Walk the Dog:

So, in a nutshell the idea is to make this hard bodied bait zig one way across the surface and then zag the other. To achieve this motion with consistency it really is imperative to begin with the longest cast you can get. Not surprisingly ... I would estimate about 80% of my hits come within the first few metres of where the bait landed far, far away from the boat. With rod tip pointed down pull the rod to your left with a snap of your wrist then do it again for the right. Repeat... reel in slack, repeat and so on.  The Skitterwalk should zig zag from side to side.

Some days you will want a short rest period in between, others a continuous motion. One of the things newcomers to dog-walkin have a hard time resisting … is the urge or instinct perhaps to reel in tight line that will make the bait swim forward. You don't want to do this bubba. What ya want … what ya really, really want … is to minimize line intake on your reel by only reeling in enough slack to be able to get that bait to zig and then zag again. 

So as a recap ... with each twitch you are pulling the rod tip slightly to either side. The pause in-between is when the bait glides forward under its own momentum, leaving your line slightly slack for a moment before your next twitch. Find a rhythm with your twitching and pausing to create a smooth back-and-forth motion. In a nutshell, to perform the walk the dog technique effectively, the Skitter Walk should be moving side to side more than it is moving toward you.

Rapala Skitter

If, for that prime strike zone area (that first few metres of your cast) you can make it do that by allowing the bait to only achieve a few inches of  forward momentum at a time- then you know you're on the right dog walkin path.  As the bait gets closer and closer to the boat, you can begin to increase the zig and then the zag distance.

If all this sounds a little confusing … don't worry about it; you'll get the cadence and rhythm down after a few outings of sticking with the Skitter Walk. That learning curve will be shorter if you are able to fish with someone who has a lot of confidence with this type of lure and throw's it a lot. Fishing in a draw tournament - such as we have with the Aurora Bassmasters and most other Ontario BASS Nation clubbies is a perfect vehicle for both boaters and non-boaters to learn from each other. Observing the small nuances that your ‘partner' uses to make this bait dance poetically can help you tremendously if you take the time to stop, observe, listen to any advice and then try to replicate.

Three Firsthand Accounts in 2014 and Lessons Learned:

1) As mentioned at the start of this article, one of the real benefits I appreciate with this topwater lure is how effective it is for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. I put this to the test in August during pre-fish for the Hank Gibson Memorial, Ontario BASS Nation Qualifier tournament on Rideau Lake out Ottawa way.

This fabulous fishery is one where you can weigh-in a big bag of largemouth … just as often as you can a bag of big smallies. More often than not mixed bags are brought in because there are just so many locations where one cast yields a largemouth and the next a smallie... it really is a beautiful thing!  

I love fishing that type of water and during prefish when most days were calm and overcast - I couldn't help but throw my bone white Saltwater Skitter Walk for extended periods throughout the day. In fact after just the first two days of prefish (Mon-Tues) I had caught so many largemouth and smallmouth on it at so many different locations throughout the lake … that I decided to give it a rest for the remainder of pre-fish. I was already convinced the spots would warrant a revisit come Saturday and Sunday of the tournament … and I was worried a pike would ultimately break me off.  I landed a few toothy critters with it already and figured I was on borrowed time - so didn't want to take any chances with my only white Skitterwalk.

Rapal Skitter Walk

2) In late September this year, water temperatures were still a remarkable 61 F on Lake Simcoe.  Many topwater aficionados consider the 60 D range as a threshold for bass to be interested in topwater action.  For some inexplicable reason Lake Simcoe has never really been considered a fabulous topwater fishery … maybe a myth worth disputing.

Rightly or wrongly many anglers, myself included, find that most of the time a myriad of subsurface baits simply work better to trick these finicky bass. On a late September morning however when the lake was uncharacteristically calm … I couldn't resist picking up my rod with the Skitter Walk tied on and began walking it.  I was fishing a mid lake, weedy hump- topping out at around 12 feet with bass on the edges in 12-25 feet.

To make a long story short, for the first hour that morning while the lake was still nice and calm … I completely forgot where I was. It couldn't be Lake Simcoe because largemouth bass after largemouth bass were engulfing my topwater bait … Deep water edges or up on top of the hump- it didn't matter. Small bass in the two pound range, or bigger - pushing 5 - everyone wanted a piece of it. “No this can't be Simcoe!” I finally said out loud … “It must be heaven!” 
Then before I knew it I realized where I actually was. The breeze suddenly picked up, the sun was out in full force and it was game over- back to reality and the sub surface lures got wet.

3) Meanwhile a couple of weeks later while I was on a trip with my brother to Olive the Lake in October and fishing water temps well below that 60 D threshold (more like 55-57F) the northern smallmouth told us in no uncertain terms that their need to fill their bellies before another long cold winter was far more important than following the rule book. The Skitter Walk just resembled a food source and was way too much for them to ignore. I had a blast with this lure for the last time this season while on borrowed time, but I cherished every minute!

The lessons learned from all three occasions and others in 2014 were as follows:

  • When surface waters are calm- throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When overcast, low light conditions prevail - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When in clear water conditions - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When overtop a weed flat- even with the occasional surface weed ... you should be able to walk your away around them and avoid those plants if you are throwing your Skitterwalk!
  • When you want to cover water quickly and effectively with a topwater - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When you are in an area where both largemouth and smallmouth dominate - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When the sun begins to come up early in the day, but you still have calm conditions and clear water …continue to throw the Skitterwalk
  • When you see baitfish being forced to the surface or bass jumping … throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When you are a little below that 60 degree threshold and if even some of the above conditions apply - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • When a slight ripple or even a bit of a chop appears - switch to the larger and louder saltwater version … but still - throw the Skitterwalk!
  • Whenever an opportunity with the above conditions arise- even if it just for a few moments, throw the Skitterwalk!
  • So whenever there's a sudden bit of cloud cover mid day, or as the wind switches direction and it suddenly appears to have calmed down … pick up your rod with your new favorite topwater and … throw that danged Skitterwalk and hang on!

 

Skitters