The care and use of Sammies

Posted by Al Agnew on September 27th, 2011
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In another thread someone asked about fishing with the Sammy, the high dollar Lucky Craft walk-the-dog lure, on Ozark streams. Since I, like several others on this board but probably more so than most, am a WTD specialist when it comes to river surface lures, I thought I’d start a new thread about these lures.

“Walk-the-dog”, or WTD, for those who may not understand it, is the term for making these types of lures zig and zag with each twitch of the rod tip. None of them have inherent action like a crankbait, and must be manipulated to make them work. I’m convinced the zigzag action is one of the finest triggers for a reaction bait for bass, especially smallmouth. I use Sammies, along with a few other WTD baits, anytime there’s a decent chance the fish might take something on the surface, and that means anywhere, and anytime the water temps are approaching or above 60 degrees. So you might find me using them from sometime in March until sometime in November, and you’ll surely see me at least trying them and usually using them extensively from mid-April to mid-October.

Making one of these lures walk can be tricky but is usually fairly simple to learn. Basically, you give the rod tip sharp, short jerks in a rather regular cadence, usually with rod tip held low to the water. What you want is to jerk sharply enough that the lure glides a bit and you end up with a small amount of slack in the line at the end of each twitch. Do it right and the lure will veer sharply to one side with the twitch, and sharply to the other side with the next twitch, hence zigzagging across the surface or “walking”.

There are many versions of these lures from different companies, all based upon the original Heddon Zara Spook. I used the Spook for years, but always thought it was just a little too big for Ozark streams. Then Heddon came out with the Baby Zara Spook, a shorter, fatter version that was a bit touchy to get to walk but was a nice size for stream smallies, and I used it for a while. The much smaller Zara Puppy then came out and I used it for a while, but I thought it was mostly too small. Zipstick on this board makes a wooden version (called, naturally, a Zipstick) and I scored a couple of them and used them for years. And then the Lucky Craft Company burst onto the scene with the Sammy. I bought a couple and caught a pile of fish on them the first few trips I used them, and I’ve used them religiously ever since.

Now lots of companies are making basically rip-offs of the Sammy, though few are as good. There are still several versions of the original Spook, and the Super Spook Jr. is an excellent lure, though I don’t like the loud, knocking rattle in it. You can even get even pricier versions like the Dog X from Megabass. And I’ve made some of my own just to have some without rattles, or some that sit lower in the water or even sink slowly. But the Sammy is still my default WTD topwater.

Sammies come in several sizes. I use the 85 (meaning it’s 85 millimeters long), the 100, and the 115. But I use the 100 considerably more than the other two sizes. The 85 is reserved for small streams and very clear water, and the 115 is used mostly in larger, murkier rivers. But the 100 gets used on every floatable stream I fish, no matter what the clarity.

As for colors, my most used color is what’s called chartreuse shad. It’s just slightly translucent and is light grayish on the back with pearl sides and belly and a vague chartreuse stripe down the side. But I’ll use any light, minnow-looking color, with more transparent colors used in clearer water and more opaque colors in water with some stain. I don’t like the color patterns that have translucent or transparent bellies, however, because I don’t like to be able to see the inner structure and rattles from below. I don’t know whether it makes any difference to the fish or not, but if I have one of those colors I’ll give the belly a quick hit of white or cream spray paint. Pretty much, with the caveat of translucent colors in clear water and opaque ones in murky water, I’ll otherwise use whatever color I happen to grab at the beginning of the trip, and seldom if ever see the need to switch colors during the day. Which means that as long as it’s light, I don’t think color matters much otherwise.

The 85, by the way, is very tricky to get to walk right out of the box, and though it goes against my grain to buy a double digit dollar lure and then have to modify it, I drill a big hole in the belly of the lure where the big rattles are and take them out, re-sealing the hole with 5 minute epoxy. This makes the lure sit higher and with a more level attitude, and makes it walk beautifully. The other two sizes walk very easily out of the box.

Like I said before, I will almost always have one of these tied onto one rod in the summer. I use them with light baitcasting tackle, 8 pound co-poly line, and if I’m in the canoe I’ll be using my very short, 5 foot medium action casting rod. In the boat I’ll use a longer rod, because it’s all about getting the rod tip down close the surface at an angle as you twitch, and short rods just work a lot better from the canoe (or kayak).

Don’t think this is a low light, early and late deal. On Ozark streams the fish are never deep if they are active in the summer, so they are always close enough to the surface to be called up by a tempting lure. I use them all day long, sunny or cloudy, windy or still, murky water or air-clear water. In fact, I like them best in the very clear streams, and they are one of the two or three best gin-clear-water lures in my tackle assortment.

I usually fish them fast. My usual twitch cadence is about two twitches per second, trying to keep them constantly moving and moving with some splash. I believe this is one reason they are good in clear water. They are a reaction bait. The fish sees them moving but partially obscured both by motion and by splash, and doesn’t have a good opportunity to study the lure before it “gets away”, so it attacks by instinct.

The only problem with them, and it’s partially due to fishing them as fast as I do, is that the fish often don’t get hooked on the strike. You have to learn to wait at the strike until you are sure the lure has disappeared and the fish has it before setting the hooks. If the fish “blows up” on the lure and misses, just keep it moving and more times than not the fish will come back and whack it again. It may take multiple whacks for the fish to finally get a grip, and often it’s kind of a reverse race to see whether the fish finally gets it before the lure gets too close to the canoe or to you. And if you set the hooks and miss and the lure ends up several feet away, just let it sit for a second or two and then twitch it some more, because a fish that misses, or another one that’s trying to beat the first one to the food, will often come after it again from up to 10 feet away. And if the fish aren’t trying to chase it down after the first swing and miss, try letting it sit for a couple seconds after the first strike and then just barely twitching it enough to make it vibrate a bit. Sometimes that triggers a fish that’s watching it after whacking it to see if it’s stunned or something. Watching the fish go after these lures in clear water is a real hoot. Often the fish will be zigzagging in synch with the lure as you walk it, getting obviously more and more excited until finally they slam it. Other times all it takes is one or two twitches and they climb all over it. And of course you sometimes have the heartstopping, heartbreaking refusals of a big fish that charges it and then stops and turns away.

But it can also be frustrating, because on many days, no matter what you do, fully half the fish that strike won’t get hooked. It’s almost like they are hitting it with their mouths closed, but really it’s due to the fact that they are hitting it toward the head, and the lure is long enough and there’s enough distance between the head and the belly hook that the fish just doesn’t get the hook well into its mouth. Other days they seem to actually be attacking the belly hook specifically, and then you end up hooking most of them. Another thing that I think happens is that they hit the lure from the side, and again don’t get either hook into their mouth as they try to engulf the whole thing. A real minnow would fold up in such an attack and be engulfed, but the rigid lure does not.

At any rate, they are about the most fun you can have fishing for river smallies. The wild strikes, multiple hits in one retrieve, and just being able to see them before and during the strike, are what I love about these lure, and why I almost always have one on.

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