Topwater Techniques For Fall Bass
Clent Davis said a topwater bite made the difference in the Forrest Wood Cup. He reports that October and November makes for even better fishing on top.
The black bass found in Georgia, especially largemouth and spots, tend to form roaming schools ranging from small wolfpacks to larger congregations, herding baitfish to the surface and gorging continually throughout the day. Even fish that are not actively feeding on top can be enticed to leave the sanctuary of deeper water to ravage a topwater lure.
At worst, the action can be steady on most days to absolutely frenetic on the best. Triggered by weather and water conditions on peak days, the bass will feed non-stop, heeding nature’s call to eat as temperatures drop and winter approaches.
Clent Davis, the newly crowned Forrest Wood Cup champion, lives near the Coosa River impoundments in central Alabama but travels all over, including Georgia. He said he takes full advantage of the fall topwater bite. Just about anywhere he fishes, Clent finds that fall is synonymous with topwater fishing, the common thread that binds almost all bass fisheries at this time of year.
“In the fall… I will topwater fish all day, from mid-September all the way up until December when our water temps get down in the mid 50s,” Clent said. “That’s how a lot of tournaments are won this time of year. Usually it’s on a walking bait.”
While topwater fishing can mean different things to different anglers—hard baits, soft-plastic jerkbaits, frogs and buzzbaits all come into play—Clent said he almost always relies on one style of topwater presentation. He finds that bass everywhere respond to a walking bait once fall arrives.
“There’s something about that walking action that bass can’t resist,” Clent said.
The Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil, a 4-inch, 9/16-oz. walking bait, is his go-to lure. It produces a seductive walk-the-dog action regardless of the speed of retrieve and comes in a variety of colors, including some that mimic the translucent hues of shad and other baitfish.
Clent favors the bone and prism ghost-shad colors produced by Yo-Zuri (www.yo-zuri.com/products/3db-pencil).
In the same mold, the Heddon Super Spook is an alternative that Clent uses on occasion, one that has long proved to be a reliable bass catcher.
“I don’t really change up that much,” he said. “I’ve found that walking-style baits are about all I need in the fall. Now at different times of the year and on some of the different places that I visit, there might be a little something different that works better. But the walking bait is usually about all I need.”
While just about every tackle manufacturer markets its own unique model, walking baits share common characteristics that make them conducive to catching fish. They are cylindrical—think of cigars in their various iterations—and the shape translates to exceptionally long casts, especially when paired with the right tackle combinations.
Clent fishes both the Yo-Zuri walker and the bigger Spook on the same tackle, a 7-1 Phenix Feather medium-light rod paired with a Shimano Curado spooled with 40-lb. Yo-Zuri Super Braid.
Phenix is a relatively new arrival on the rod market, and Clent said it has actually been the best-selling model available this year on at least one major online tackle outlet. He said the rod features a perfect action for topwater fishing, especially for schooling bass that often frustratingly surface just out of normal casting distance.
“It has a good load to it,” Clent said, “which is what I like for throwing topwaters, and especially when throwing braided line.
“If you throw 30- or 40-lb. braid, you can unload a reel. So if one comes up schooling way out there, you can reach him. When you do reach a fish out there so far, there’s no stretch, and you can get a good hook set with this rod and the braid.”
The tackle combination also helps Clent create the exact walking action necessary to fool bass on a particular day. He varies his retrieve to fit the occasion, generally starting with a steady twitch of the rod tip that causes the lure to swim from side to side. A longer pull with the rod usually slows down the retrieve and creates an even wider horizontal plane with the bait.
Clent, however, said that a faster retrieve can also promote strikes on aggressively feeding fall bass.
“One crazy way that I fish it is to reel it back in as fast as I can,” he said. “A lot of people twitch it or walk the dog with it. Sometimes I throw out there and reel it back in real fast. It has a tight kick back and forth. I’ve seen that work a good bit in the fall. It’s still walking, but instead of walking 2 feet to the left and right, it’s walking about 4 inches.”
Clent compares it to the sight of a baitfish like a big gizzard shad skittering across the water with the wake of a quality bass behind it.
“It’s just like that shad running across the surface and trying to get away,” he said. “The bass really respond to it at times.”
Clent said when Lake Lanier is at full pool, it offers topwater action on long, sloping points, over open-water humps and around the myriad of docks and seawalls. Deep and normally clear, Lanier produces football-shaped, magnum spots that regularly come from great depths to bust a topwater offering.
“I’ve fished Tour events over there in August, but you can definitely catch them even better on top all through the fall on Lanier,” Clent said. “The times that I have been over there later in the year, they are absolutely gorging on shad and herring. There is no better way to catch them in the fall than on the walking bait. Most of the time, it’s so clear on Lanier that they will come from the bottom of the lake to eat it.”
On Lanier, a common starting point is a main-lake point with deep water off either side. The fish, mostly spots with an occasional largemouth in the mix, move at intervals from deep to shallow to feed, and their appearance is often dictated more by baitfish in the area than by the time of day.
Clent said the presence of brush adds to his success.
“Mainly on that lake, I will throw the walking bait over brushpiles—that place is brush crazy over there—or along the docks and seawalls,” he said. “They will come a long way out of a brushpile to feed on top.”
The deeper docks hold fish year-round, but Clent said cooler weather in the fall opens up even the shallowest water on Lanier for topwater fishing.
“The cooler the water gets, the more they get up along the docks and seawalls,” he said. “They will get really shallow in the fall. Throw it up there against a wall, and walk it out. Those spots will smash it.”
Clent also has experience on West Point, Eufaula and Lake Seminole.
“Walking a bait over emerging grass, places where it has not topped out yet, or around the edges, is always an option. I’ve caught good bass walking a Spook on Eufaula like that.”
Consistent topwater schooling action generally begins in late summer and reaches a peak in October and November. To illustrate the potential for tournament fishing, Clent said to look no farther than his success in the Forrest Wood Cup. The season-ending FLW championship was held this year on Lake Ouachita, near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Topwater fish, while limited in quantity, proved to be the difference between a good pay day and a $300,000 jackpot.
“Lake Ouachita was fishing tough,” Clent said, “and I landed three fish in three days on the (Yo-Zuri) topwater. It doesn’t sound like much or even a lot of fun, but those fish helped me win the Cup.
“The fish happened to come up schooling around the brushpiles and around some timber, and I was lucky enough to catch them. I was in the right place at the right time to catch them. They proved to be game-changers for me.”
While Clent caught most of his fish on a Mr. Twister worm rigged on a wobble-head jig, the topwater fish were bonuses that provided the winning edge.
“I got one fish on top early on Day 1, one fish early on Day 2, and one fish on FLW Live about 11 o’clock on Day 3,” he said. “It just wasn’t late enough in the year for them to be up consistently all day long, but they definitely made a difference for me in the Cup.”
Clent spent a whirlwind tour of sponsorship and media appearances in the weeks after winning the Cup. He said one of the first things that he hopes to do once those responsibilities slow down is simply to go topwater fishing close to home.
“October and November are topwater times,” he said. “That’s when it’s fun. I’m not on the trails at that time of year, and it’s really fun around home. I can just relax and fish.
“It can mean 30- to 50-fish days. You can catch a handful of largemouth, but it’s primarily spots for me, and they really put on a show when they hit on the surface. When we get a few cooler days, you can run that pattern all day long.”
Clent juggles a few guiding trips—only four per month—along with tournament and family responsibilities. Contact him for a trip on the Coosa at [email protected] or on Instagram at clentdavisfishing.
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