Master 'bottom bouncing,' 'ripping,' and 'walking the dog' — methods that work coast to coast. Then start hauling in fish!
Different regions, states, and even individual lakes and bays all have their own home-grown fishing methods. Sometimes these localized techniques get exported and used throughout the nation, such as in the cases of "flipping" and "drop-shotting" to catch largemouth bass. Other times a particular technique can remain a closely guarded secret, the untold story of why a local sharpie or three always seem to win the tournaments. But certain classic techniques are widespread and well-known because they work so well that anglers from coast to coast use them successfully year after year. Three cast-and-retrieve techniques that have attained such status are "walking the dog," "bottom bouncing," and "ripping." Here's a look at each, and where and when they might help you fill your cooler.
1. Walking The Dog
Used for topwater plugs, it gives the appearance of an injured baitfish zigzagging across the water's surface. It's a favorite of many anglers, not only because it's effective but because it results in exciting and explosive attacks from those piscatorial predators.
How: After casting the lure, reel in any slack line and point the rod tip down toward the water. It's important to keep your tip low while walking the dog to prevent the lure from hopping out of the water and/or cartwheeling (which often results in a tangle). With the line taut, begin to reel at a steady pace while rhythmically pumping the rod tip away from the lure about a foot at a time. With each pump of the rod, the lure darts in one direction, then the other, leaving a zigzag wake that fish can home in on as they prepare to pounce on their prospective meal.
When: For most species, topwater is most effective when the water is warm enough that fish are active or very active. It's not the best way to catch sluggish or lethargic fish. It also commonly works best in low-light situations when fish often hunt right at the water's surface. Daybreak and sunset are prime times for walking the dog.
Where: Both fresh- and saltwater, in virtually all types of bodies of water. Often most effective when fish are feeding at or near the shoreline or structure attached to the shoreline, but also effective when fish are schooled in open water and feeding at the surface.
2. Bottom Bouncing
When fish are deep, bouncing a jig, bucktail, spoon, or similar lure along the bottom is often the ticket to success. This does require you to make some wise choices: You'll need a lure heavy enough to reach bottom and maintain contact with it, a line and rod that have the sensitivity for you to feel when your lure touches down, and a reel with sufficient line capacity.
How: Cast out, usually as far as possible, then allow the lure to sink until it hits the bottom. The rod tip is swept upward to lift the lure, and then dropped fast enough to allow the lure to fall back toward the bottom – yet slowly enough to maintain minimal tension on the line. If you drop the tip too quickly and don't maintain tension, you won't feel the "plink" of the lure hitting bottom, which is your cue to immediately sweep the rod tip back up, raising the lure again, so it hops up and down along the bottom. If slack gets in the line you'll also have a harder time sensing the bites, which often come as the lure is falling.
As the lure works its way back toward the boat, reel up extra line while lowering the rod tip, which will also help maintain tension. Just how far you sweep the rod tip depends on the fishery. In some situations, bouncing the lure just a matter of inches off the bottom is best, while in others, you'll generate more strikes by making the lure jump up and then fall down several feet. Bottom bouncing can also be employed while trolling if you weight the lure or rig so it cruises right along the bottom and then "work" the rod by sweeping the tip back and forth.
When: Most effective when fish are at or near bottom, usually in relatively deep water.
Where: Channel edges, drop-offs, and deep-water humps are usually the best. Also very effective around underwater structure. But be careful; applying this technique around submerged trees, wrecks, or reefs often results in snags.
How: After casting out your lure, quickly rip it back to the boat. There are, however, a few nuances. Some species will strike best when you rip it back at a steady pace, while others prefer an erratic motion enhanced by jigging the rod tip or varying the speed. In some situations, it works best if you allow the lure to sink to the bottom before ripping it back, and in others, ripping it right along the surface is best. You often won't know which style will work best until you catch a few fish, so try different speeds and cadences until you figure out what they like.
When: Use when fish are feeding at varying depths in the water column, or are right on the surface. It's highly effective when fish are schooled and breaking water on baitfish.
Where: Open water areas are usually best. Over deep-water structure it's sometimes effective to drop your lure straight down and rip it vertically (sometimes called "yo-yoing").