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Wake, Walk and Crawl Through the Fall!

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

Don't Fear Topwater in Colder Months... Try These Techniques:

If you live in the Northeast and you fish for bass, you're probably well aware that we are smack dab in the middle of fall. The air and water temperatures have dropped significantly. The days are shorter and the nights are cooler and these fish instinctively know that winter is coming (Insert your favorite Game of Thrones quote here). The late fall transition is nearly upon us and the bass are about to enter their winter-time patterns. This can prove to be a very difficult time to catch fish. However, by utilizing certain Big Baits you can target giant fish that I believe to be particularly vulnerable during this period. Remember, these bass are looking to capitalize on larger, easy, calorie rich meals as the water temperature continues to drop. Bigger fish want to expend the least amount of energy possible to obtain the largest amount of nourishment available. It's that simple. Three bait types that I find to be particularly deadly throughout the fall are a various assortment of Wakebaits, big deliberate Walking Baits, and a fairly new, wildly Japanese addition to the mix, the Crawler.

L to R: PB Rat, Deps NZ Crawler, Deps MT Wake, Wood Lunker Punker Jr. (6.5")

Obviously, all of the aforementioned baits are essentially topwater applications. You may be thinking, "Why throw topwater in these colder temperatures?" This is a totally valid question. All I can say is, in my experience, big topwater baits worked painfully slowly in the right setting make big fish do dumb things. You may only get one or two bites a day but I can guarantee that the the quality of fish will more than likely be significant and if you can capitalize and land the fish, you're golden. I've found these baits to produce bites all the way down to a measly 43°. That's saying something. It's tough to get bit in those conditions anyways, so why not take a shot at a potential trophy fish by presenting a different look? Don't abandon the topwater through these colder months! You may be pleasantly surprised. Here's the breakdown for each type of bait:


1. Wakebaits

The drawing power of a good Wakebait is simply unrivaled. They come in all shapes and sizes but there are some key factors to take into consideration before selecting the right tool for the job. Find a Wakebait with the ability to generate movement at the slowest retrieve possible. This is the key to success and there are no two ways about it. Perhaps the best example of a lure that possesses this quality is the legendary Black Dog Bait Co. G2 Shellcracker. If I could suggest only one Wakebait to someone just starting to throw these lures, it would most likely be this one. There's a reason why they are always sold out. They are fairly inexpensive as far as swimbaits go and you don't need specialized gear to throw them on as they come in at 4", 1.5 oz (A 7'4"- 7'6" Mod Fast Medium Heavy or Heavy conventional casting rod will do the trick). Their biggest selling point is that they still have amazing tail action on a frightfully slow retrieve. This is slightly beyond the scope of the particular blog but you can also crank them down a 1-3 feet and they essentially turn into a big squarebill, perfect for deflecting off of cover. To learn more about this bait watch this video (Keepinitreel is a legend). While this bait will pick up bites from smaller fish, it continually gets hammered by bona fide giants. There's something about a bluegill profile that just triggers big largemouth, especially in the fall months. Enough said. The bait is extremely durable and can take a beating. I've fished two exclusively over the past year and they show no signs of wear. The Shellcracker G2 is well engineered with solid hardware and has a solid hookup ratio. In short, it gets the job done.

Another quintessential Wakebait with the ability to generate movement at the slowest retrieve possible is the fabled MS Slammer. I prefer the medium or 9" version. This is a desert island bait. If I was limited to picking one Wake to rule them all, there's a very good chance that the Slammer earns my vote. I don't know what it is, but this bait just flat out gets decimated and is responsible for some of the most jarring bites I've experienced over the past year. It presents a big lumbering injured fish profile. I've found it most effective on a slow and steady retrieve (although it will perform a unique choppy style walk as well) with an occasional pop or twitch next to a point or cover. You can feel when it's swimming at the right speed as it will bounce and bob from side to side and provide some resistance while creating a nice V wake. When I twitch or pop the bait, I usually don't stop the slow and steady retrieve. It's simply one twitch or pop to create a directional change and then a continued slow and steady retrieve. Bites will often occur after the twitch as the slow and steady retrieve begins again. Fish you didn't even know were there will come out of the woodwork to crush this bait at the surface. I actually find the Slammer to be incredibly effective in the middle of the day under blue bird skies during the fall. This is another fairly easy Wakebait to throw. While you will probably need a dedicated swimbait setup to throw this successfully (and keep fish pinned), the bait is relatively light (around 2.5 - 3 oz) for its large profile. Like the BDB G2 Shellcracker, this is another wake that despite it's 9" profile, will generate bites from 2lb fish all the way up to mega lunkers no matter what geographic region you're fishing in. It has proven mystical allure.

The sound a wakebait emits plays a huge factor in getting bit. There's no doubt about it. I always carry a variety of wakes with different knocks or clacks depending on condition. If the water is dead calm, I tend to favor wakes that produce a subtle sound. If there is chop on the water, I choose wakes that have a distinct knock, clack or vibration. That being said, there are two wakes with signature sounds that I feel comfortable throwing in nearly every situation despite weather/water conditions. These two baits have been a huge factor for me over the past couple months. Enter the three piece PB Rat and Deps MT Wake.

The PB Rat is one of the few three-piece wakebaits that is consistently in rotation. It comes in at around 7" and 2.5 oz (excluding the tail). Just as a side note, I tend to favor two-piece wakes as their rather deliberate, mechanical action seems to transmit an injured baitfish vibe to would-be predators and generates more overall bites (in my experience). Obviously, there are a few exceptions to every rule and the three-piece PB Rat is one of them. It should be stated that PB Rat has a two piece offering as well. However, I feel that the three-piece brings something different to the table and is a standout in a crowded cottage "Rat" market. What is the secret sauce that really sets it apart? Well... it doesn't sound like anything else. Since the PB is made out of resin it has a different clack than infamous wood rat wakes (think The Johnny Rat). It's a bit deeper and more subdued. Perhaps most intriguing is the whirling, whooshing, gurgling sound that is produced by that way that the three joints are cut as they propel through the water. The sound encroaches upon Whopper Plopper territory and drives fish to the brink of insanity. On my initial test swim, this is the first thing I noticed and was pretty blown away.

Aside from its characteristic sound, the PB has an incredibly fluid motion and depending on retrieve speed, offers a few different looks. On super slow retrieves to where it's barely moving, it still has that seductive side to side head bob (similar to the MS Slammer) and has just enough subtle tail movement to get walloped. (I will go into more depth on Rat Fishing in a separate blog but it I've found that often times, barely turning the reel enough so that the slightest wiggle possible is achieved can result in crushing blow-ups). On a slightly faster, slow to moderate retrieve, the serpentine action is more pronounced and the PB has a nice wide, enticing, S-shaped swim. I find this speed to be effective when combined with one or two twitches or reel bumps which will get the rat to walk or glide from side to side, followed by a brief stall before returning to a steady retrieve. I usually get bit right as I return to the steady retrieve and it's often heart stopping. You can also walk the bait which results in a distinctive chop that is peculiar to large wakes when this technique is employed. This is a good retrieve to mix in on choppier days. I also like to throw in a few quick walks right when the bait hits the water next to cover. This rather frantic movement mimics a rodent in distress that may have been dropped by a predatory bird flying over the water. Finally, the rat cranks down to one or two feet on faster retrieves and employs the same slithery action underwater. I've tried cranking down next to cover and letting the bait slowly rise up to the surface, followed by a pause. I've even employed figure 8s with the PB just below the surface near docks, laydowns or under bridges, but admittedly, I've yet to get bit this way. I find the rat to be most effective on a slow and steady retrieve, where that enticing signature sound is in full effect. It just flat gets hammered in epic, bone-jarring fashion.

Top: Three-Piece PB Rats / Bottom: Deps MT Wakes

The Deps MT Wake also has a very unusual sound and provides a totally different, strikingly JDM look. This is a relatively new wake that has come on the market in the states and it's a great one to add to the arsenal as it's fairly inexpensive, has a good profile and generates bites from massive fish. It's another wake that's not too large (3.75 inches, 1.7 oz) and can be thrown on conventional tackle if so desired. On my first day out with this bait, I unfortunately lost what may have been a new PB three feet from the bank because I high-sticked my rod (in eager anticipation) instead of continuing to grind the fish in. However, I experienced the potential and witnessed the drawing power first hand. The MT is another bait with a lot of different retrieval options that produce varied results. In my opinion, this one can't be fished quite as slowly as the aforementioned G2 Shellcracker. On painfully slow retrieves, the bait will respond sporadically and unpredictably and doesn't wiggle systematically. It may only achieve a few undulations before temporarily stalling out. It needs a slow to moderate retrieve rate to generate a consistent side to side wobble and engage the Colorado blade attached to the back of the bait. This blade is extremely noisy and thumps from side to side in addition to providing flash and vibration. You will feel a consistent thump and see the bait moving uniformly when its swimming correctly. This is a very interesting addition to the already seductive sound of the two joints knocking together.

Depending on rod positioning the bait will either swim just subsurface or will act as a true Wake. To get it to swim subsurface point your rod tip down and parallel to water and for true waking action, keep the rod tip high. I've noticed that with the rod tip pointed at a normal retrieve angle (somewhere in the middle) the bait will vary between swimming just subsurface and truly waking which provides an interesting look that many fish haven't seen before. You can also generate a different look by employing a shake retrieve which is very close to employing a walking technique. Here, you simply shake the rod and reel slowly and the bait will walk and chop back and forth. This really engages the Colorado blade and provides a nice tight wobble. I utilize this retrieve when I want to call fish up and really emphasize the "wounded baitfish" presentation.

This is a fantastic bait to throw into cover. It has an oversized bill that completely protects the #3 front treble hook. It will come over lay-downs and navigate through branches with ease. Interestingly, the rear hook is larger than the front hook which is a reversal of the norm. It's a #1 and causes the back of the bait to sit slightly more submerged when at rest. I don't have enough experience to vouch for the hookup ratio over a prolonged period yet, but I will provide an update when I get more time on the water with this bait.

That about covers my arsenal of mid to late fall wakes that have produced for me over the last month and I think they will be a great addition to your tackle collection. Try throwing these parallel to shore, over grass flats, and/or around the outskirts of cover. I get adventurous and will throw them in the junk even if there is only a a few feet of water to work with. Often times, fish haven't seen this profile in that particular area and will lash out with a reaction bite. Don't be afraid to throw these in open water when no cover is in sight. There is something about a wakebait that calls fish fro a distance and triggers a genetic response to feed. I believe that when bass see a big, slow moving, potentially injured target on the surface they will take a shot because the angle of escape is great reduced. Please refer to my links at the bottom of the page for rod/reel/line combinations for each bait.


2. Big Walking Baits

Top to Bottom: 6.5" Punker Jrs. and 6" Injected Punkers

Walking topwater baits have been fooling fish since onset of fishing. There is no mistaking the well established drawing power of a perfectly executed walk-the-dog retrieve. While there are plenty of topwater plugs on the market, I've narrowed the field to utilizing variants of one legendary bait: the proven and often elusive Black Dog Bait Co. Lunker Punker. This is the pinnacle of Walking Baits, in my humble opinion. When worked correctly, it will glide 2-3 feet in each direction and also excels on on a fast 'zipper' style walk. I own an entire box of Punkers but for the sake of this blog, the two that have come into play this fall are the 6.5 inch Wood Lunker Punker Jr. and the 6 Inch ABS Plastic G2 Punker. I utilize them for different applications. The Wood Punker Jr. is a slightly scaled down version of the original 8" Wood Lunker Punker and comes in at roughly 2.5 oz. Although it's labeled a "Jr.," it still has a big profile and that attractive and highly realistic signature plopping sound that made the original one of the most coveted plugs of all time --- This sound can only be produced by a wooden bait. When you hear it, you'll know why it's so in demand. The Punker Jr. casts a country mile which is fantastic for covering a lot of water. To work the bait correctly, a slightly different technique is required than a conventional walking action. The rod tip is pulled rather than twitched at the end of the reel turn. If you've utilized rope workouts at the gym, it's a very similar technique. It's essentially a scaled down version of the motion that's required to create the undulation in the rope--something along the lines of cracking a whip. Performing this movement will get the bait to achieve a huge gliding walk. This 'gliding walk' is so deadly because it advances the bait forward at a snail's pace and as a result, the Punker stays in the strike zone much longer as compared to other Walking Baits. The Punker also rolls which slightly exposes the side of the bait on each walk. This mimics a fleeing baitfish perfectly. In my opinion, the secret to fishing Punkers effectively, is to walk them extremely slowly and deliberately. I will often pause for a few seconds between walks: the slower the better. (I've actually gotten bit on a straight dead stick pause). The large profile coupled with the incredibly appealing, slow walking action makes this a perfect fall-time bait. Big fish are looking for easy targets to devour before the winter and the punker is about as easy as they come.

I fish the 6 inch ABS Plastic Lunker Punker G2 the same way that I fish the Wood Lunker Punker Jr. Aside from the obvious difference in material that the bait is fashioned from (this being durable plastic vs. the wooden Jr.), a key characteristic is that this Punker is injected with rattles. This gives the bait a completely different sound and overall presence. These things are loud. Their relatively high-pitched tone is great for getting noticed. Whereas the Wood Punker has a very natural sound, this ABS Injected Punker is raucous. I will fish these on windy days with chop on the water when I need a topwater bait to stand out. I will also throw them on murkier fisheries where sound really makes a difference in helping the fish hone in on the bait. If the water is chocolate milk colored, I tie on the G2 Punker. In my experience, the rattles make a considerable difference on overall effectiveness in these stained waterways. I've actually tested this by throwing both versions in areas with low water clarity and more often than not the Injected Punker wins out.

I've experienced some of the most astounding visceral bites on Punker baits. They excel at all times of the day in open water, next to patches of floating grass, adjacent/parallel to long stretches of cover and close to docks. The only downside is that they are expensive and extremely hard to come by. Unfortunately, both the 6.5" Wood Punker Jr. and the 6" Injected ABS Punker are the hardest two variants to find. I continuously check eBay in hopes of scoring these highly sought after lures. All I can say is: Be vigilant and if you see one, grab it! One more crucial thing that needs to be stated: fish the Punker on a braid to mono leader system. The braid will help with responsiveness to the walking technique. It also floats and won't drag the bait down. The drawback is that braid has no memory and will lay limp so the hooks have a propensity to catch on the line if tied directly to the bait. Implementing a mono leader will limit the bait from fouling on the hooks after each walk. It also provides shock absorption to the stiffness of the braid which helps keep treble hooks pinned.

3. Crawlers

The Deps NZ Crawler is one of the most ridiculous fishing lures I've ever beheld. It looks like something out of Fullmetal Alchemist which is understandable given its Japanese origins! With adjustable stainless steel wings, a flat, wide segmented profile, and a small rear mounted Colorado blade providing extra sound, vibration and flash for good measure, the Crawler is a force to be reckoned with. In my mind, it mimics a few different prey species: a catfish, bird or bat. The Crawler is the most recent addition to my tackle collection. I acquired it simply to provide an alternative topwater look to bass that may have become inundated to the usual bait fare. If a commotion is what you're after, the Crawler will deliver tenfold. It is hands down, the noisiest topwater bait I've thrown. The beauty of this bait is that it can move so painfully slow while still transmitting irresistible action. I like to fish this to where the wings are barely crawling. Implementing two pops makes it look like a distressed bird that's fallen into the water.

On a recent trip out, I noticed a baby duck fleeing from something in the shallows. The next week I came back with a Crawler tied on and managed to land a 5lb 5oz tank on a positively explosive attack right before nightfall. I tried an assortment of baits before throwing the Crawler and this was the only lure to entice a bite. I firmly believe that the uniquely large profile and unmistakable sound make it extremely effective at dusk and throughout the night. It's large, absurdly slow-moving profile transmits massive vibration throughout the water and makes it easy to locate. It has the ability to arouse every lateral line in within a country mile. It also presents a completely different look that most fish have never seen. Curiosity often gets the better of larger bass and they will take a shot.

I throw this one under tree lines, over large stretches of grass, and around cover. Despite it's large, wide profile, it casts extremely well and it's not terribly difficult to be surprisingly accurate. This is largely due to the fact that it has no bill to offer resistance as it flies through the air. The lack of bill also contributes to better hookup ratios as there is no obstruction to the strike path. The one drawback is that the stainless steel wings are susceptible to bending. You can bend them back fairly easily, however, given the hefty price tag, it's not a bait that you want to bang off hard cover for risk of damage. I think this bait is going to be a huge player for me over the next year and I plan to fish it into the winter.

So that's basically it. Take some of these suggestions and implement a few of the aforementioned baits into your tackle arsenal. I'm confident that they will result in big bites and hopefully big fish! Below is a tackle breakdown that covers the baits and the gear I use to throw them.


Tackle Breakdown

Wake Baits...

Colors: Bluegill, Ghost Bluegill, Mystery Black, White, Realistic Wraps Custom Dvl Bluegill

Colors: Dark Rainbow, Light Rainbow, Bass, White, Shad, Perch, Bluegill

- 7" PB Rat (Three-Piece)

Colors: Grey/Black Swirl, Tan/White Swirl, Pink/Black Swirl

- 3.75" Deps MT Wake

Colors: Bluegill, Horizon Shad, Keta Bass, Jet Black

Big Walking Baits...

Colors: Any color you can find!

Colors: Any color you can find!


Colors: Visible Black, Albino Catfish, Japanese Catfish, Jet Black, Glass Cat

Replacement Hooks and Split Rings...

Split Rings - Owner Hyperwire Size 4, 5, 6, 7

Hooks for 4" Shellcracker - Owner ST-36 Size 2

Hooks for 9" Slammer - Owner ST-36 Size 2/0

Hooks for 7" PB Rat - Owner ST-36 Size 1/0 (Front), Size 1 (Rear)

Hooks for 3.75" MT Wake - Owner 3X ST-56 Size 2 (Front), Size 1 (Rear)

Hooks for 6.5" Punker Jr - Owner ST-36 Size 1/0

Hooks for 6" Injected Punker - Owner ST-36 Size 1

Hooks for 5.35" NZ Crawler - Decoy Quattro X-S21 Size 1/0

Favorite Snaps...

Snaps - Decoy Ex Snaps Size 3, 4

Snaps - Decoy Egg Snaps Size 4, 5

Favorite Small Wake Rod/Reel Combo...

Rod - Low Down Custom ML 1/2 - 3oz Mod Fast or MH 1-5oz Mod Fast

Favorite Medium to Large Wake Rod/Reel Combo...

Rod - Low Down Custom MH 1-5oz Mod Fast or H 2-7oz Mod Fast

Favorite Large Walking Bait Rod/Reel Combo: 6.5" Wood Punker Jr. ...

Rod - Low Down Custom XH 3-8oz Mod Fast or XXH 6-15oz Mod Fast

*** I fish both the Original Punker and the Punker Jr. on an XXH Mod Fast which isn't conventional per say. With these very dense wooden baits I like to fish a power (or two) up to ensure that I can grind the fish in quickly to avoid having the bait get thrown. It's slightly harder to walk on this rod but I feel it offers an advantage. A H 2-7 or XH 3-8 will do the trick.

Favorite Large Walking Bait Combo: 6" Injected Punker...

Rod - Low Down Custom ML 1/2 - 3oz Mod Fast or MH 1-5oz Mod Fast

Favorite Crawler Rod/Reel Combo...

Rod - Low Down Custom XH 3-8oz Parabolic

Favorite Tackle Shops...

Tackle Warehouse - Great all around...

Swimbait City - One of the best in the biz: fast shipping, great selection & communication...

The Hookup Tackle - Mind-boggling JDM selection... They have the goods...

MGC Fishing Bait & Tackle - Hands down, the best Swimbait selection in the Northeast...

The Tackle Trap - Great inventory with some unbeatable deals...

J & H Tackle - Inshore specialist that carries a good deal of Swimbait tackle...

Carolina Fishing Tackle - Another incredible Swimbait intensive shop...

Hammonds Fishing - Large inventory and consistently broadening their Swimbait collection...

Tackle Express - They carry some hard to find Swimbaits...

Tak Waterman - Local spot with a good Swimbait selection. Great people...

"One cast... One bite... One big fish."

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