The cigar-shaped plug sashayed to the back side of the cedar tree and then slowly weaved its way around the spindly limbs sticking out of the water. After zigzagging through the limbs, the lure sat next to the base of the tree and was inhaled by a keeper largemouth.
I had just witnessed a master at work. Bass Fishing Hall of Fame member Charlie Campbell had once again shown a writer why he is considered the master of a Zara Spook. Although he no longer competes in national tournaments, Campbell still is respected by today’s top pros for his ability to “walk the dog”, the popular zigzagging retrieve used for various topwater walking baits. I remember a few years ago watching some of the best young anglers on the Bassmaster circuit flock around Campbell at the Big Cedar Lodge marina on Table Rock as he talked about his favorite topwater lure and how he retrieved it.
“The biggest mistake people make is that they wind the lure too fast,” Campbell told me as we talked about working the Spook. “You have to really work your wrist and not your forearm at all.”
The Missouri pro quickly walks the lure to a target, such as a brush pile, stump, rock or log with a series of short jerks with his wrists while reeling in line at the same time. When the plug reaches the cover, he twitches his wrists, but only takes about one-eighth of a turn on the reel handle to make sure the lure stays close to the target. Too much jerking or reeling at this point will cause the Spook to glide away from the strike zone.
Matching up a Spook with the right tackle helps insure a good hookset. Campbell opts for 14-pound test monofilament for walking the dog. “Don’t use fluorocarbon or any kind of line that sinks or doesn’t have any stretch to it,” he warns. A sinking line tends to inhibit the walking action of the lure, and a line without stretch can cause the hook to rip out of the fish’s mouth on the hookset.
A 5 1/2-foot medium-light action rod works best for Campbell’s Spook tactics. He uses a composite graphite/fiberglass model, which has a stiff tip. “It lets the lure swing better because you want the lure to go right or left and swing and slide from one side to the other,” Campbell says. “A quick tip won’t let the Spook go very far.”
A high-speed baitcast reel helps Campbell mostly on the hookset. He suggests using a reel with at least a 6.1:1 gear ratio that will allow you to reel in line quicker without jerking the rod when a bass strikes at the lure. Avoiding the temptation to jerk the rod whenever you see a bass blow up on your Spook is a key to hooking that fish. “Keep working the lure until you feel the pressure on the end of it and then sweep and real,” says Campbell. “That way you won’t lose near as many fish.”
Reeling and sweeping the rod keeps constant pressure on the fish, and if your Spook has sharp hooks it will latch unto the fish without having to jerk the rod. After the fish is hooked, Campbell keeps his rod tip down and maintains steady pressure on the fish to prevent it from jumping and throwing the plug.
The topwater expert makes a few modifications to his Spook to enhance its looks and action. He drills a hole in the back side of his Spooks and puts two bb rattles into the lure. “I don’t like to put any more than two rattles in it because more rattles will make the tail too heavy,” says Campbell, who seals the hole with epoxy.
Placing his best working Spooks and newest Spooks in a bucket of water allows Campbell to see how his new plugs will walk. “The way the Spook sits in the water is what makes it walk well,” says Campbell, who likes to have at least the back half of his Spook submerged. If his new Spooks are sitting differently than his old reliables, Campbell will change hook sizes on the front and back hook hangers to make the new plug sit properly.
Fishing Johnson spoons in Florida gave Campbell the idea for another modification he makes to his Spooks. The tournament veteran noticed he caught bigger fish more often with gold spoons during low-light conditions, such as cloudy days or early in the morning, while silver spoons worked best for him on sunny days. So Campbell decided to try the same concept with hooks for his Zara Spooks. He prefers using gold hooks for his black or bullfrog Spooks and silver hooks for his light-colored models. Since gold treble hooks can be hard to find in many tackle shops, Campbell recommends calling the various hook manufacturers to purchase these hooks.
Adding a split ring or snap swivel to the line tie of a Spook is also critical to making the lure walk in an irresistible fashion. “Any time you have a lure that wobbles from one side to the other you have to use a split ring or snap to make it wobble better,” says Campbell.
If your Spook starts diving or running straight during the retrieve, remember Campbell’s advice of slowing down and using your wrists to create that tantalizing walk.