One of the most underutilized and effective tactics for catching bass this time of year also is one of the easiest to fish effectively. It’s slowly retrieving a wake bait across the top, and It takes a little patience, but the sudden topwater strikes are addictive.
A wake bait is one that’s designed to run right at the water’s surface and create a wake as its retrieved. Some baits ride totally on top and others just below the water line with only the head bulging the surface. The baits create a “V-wake” as they swim.
Wake baits are notorious for catching suspended postspawn largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass. However, anglers shouldn’t limit fishing wake baits to just the postspawn — or just for bass, for that matter. Stripers, hybrids and white bass also bite wake baits.
Timing is critical when it comes to wake bait fishing. Wake baits are extremely productive when water temperatures are below 68 degrees. Few lures can incite a topwater strike in cold water like wake baits.
Beaver Lake fishing guide Brad Wiegmann catches plenty of wake bait bass and stripers from that clear-water impoundment.
“Wake baits draw strikes from cruising fish, suspended fish or when fish are feeding in schools,” he said. “Big female bass often suspend for a week or so after they spawn, just to recover. They can’t stand that big bait swimming slowly right overhead.”
Experiencing a strike on a wake bait will leave a permanent impression. Wiegmann noted that there are really only two ways a fish strikes a wake bait.
“One is when they come up and just slurp the whole lure under the surface without a splash or ripple. Usually when fish are biting like that, you’re catching suspended fish. It’s scary how quietly they can take a lure under the surface,” he said. “The other way they hit it is an absolute crush. The lake surface will boil and spray everywhere as the wake bait disappears. For a second your heart will stop until your line starts ripping off the reel and the battle begins.”
Wake baits have a unique action when retrieved, and it’s so simple to fish effectively that Wiegmann’s less-experienced clients almost always throw one. Instead of having to walk-the-dog like with a Zara Spook, wake baits are just slowly reeled in.
Wiegmann noted that although it’s simple, retrieve speed must be precise. Most clients he takes out make the mistake of reeling too fast and forcing the bait to dive under the surface.
“The key is to reel slowly enough to produce a V-wake on the surface without the bait disappearing under the waves,” he said.
Rod angle plays a part in getting the lure to make that V-wake. Keep the rod tip up so the line doesn’t drag or sink. You can drop the rod tip lower as the bait approaches the boat, but don’t stop reeling until you lift it out of the water.
“I can’t tell you how many fish strike it right as I’m pulling it out of the water. It’s pretty exciting when one annihilates it right beside the boat,” he said.
Wiegmann’s favorite wake baits are the Cotton Cordell Red-Fin and the Bomber Long A – long, slender minnow-imitators. He normally starts with the 7-inch Red-Fin, although he keeps the 5-inch models handy if the fish are finicky. He determines the right size for the day by watching how the fish are striking.
“If it’s too big the fish will just swirl under it,” he said. “You know you’re using the right one because when you catch a fish, the bait will be way down deep in its mouth.”
Prime time for wake baiting is during the fall cool-down, early winter and again in the springtime. Gin-clear water also helps the bite.
“The Bomber 15A has long been a secret bass tournament bait during the postspawn,” he said. “Beaver Lake, Table Rock, Bull Shoals or any reservoir with clear water is a good candidate for wake baits. There’s no telling how much money has been won by anglers waking a bone-colored Bomber 15A across the surface.”
When waking a Bomber 15A, Wiegmann uses a 7-foot spinning rod spooled with 12-lb Silver Thread Excalibur.
“The Bomber 15A is so light that it can be difficult to cast on a baitcaster,” he said. “You also need to use monofilament or a copolymer fishing line because it slowly sinks compared to fluorocarbon or braid,” said Wiegmann.
Wiegmann always ties his wake baits to the line with a loop knot to give them more freedom to sashay back and forth. Other important considerations are making the longest cast possible, and keeping a constant slow retrieve. The fish won’t hit it sitting still or when it’s swimming under the surface.