Waterdogs are a deadly livebait for bass, particularly trophy-size bass. Although no scientific evidence indicates that bass hate “dogs”or strike them out of anger or as a nest-protecting instinct, they’re incredible baits, attracting strikes throughout the year.
Waterdogs seem particularly effective on spawning bass; bedding males will remove them from their nest time after time. Spawning females eat them on sight.
Waterdogs wiggle and swim attractively when healthy, and they’re soft, easily swallowed, and apparently tasty as far as bass are concerned. As a result, they also catch bass in cover and on deep structure.
What’s A Waterdog
“Waterdog” is a common name for the aquatic larva of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), a large North American salamander. Their name is well deserved. Originally named for the tigerlike stripes often seen on the skin of adults, the name also applies to the appetite of larvae. Ounce for ounce, they’re as voracious as any critter in freshwater.
Adult tiger salamanders burrow underground, but like most amphibians, they return to water to lay eggs. Tiger salamanders and some close relatives spawn in ponds in early spring. They lay eggs in jelly masses attached to twigs and plants.
Tiger salamander eggs hatch in about two weeks. Larvae first gorge on water fleas, then turn to larger invertebrates and small fish. They grow rapidly to several inches. Bait dealers sell larvae in the 4- to 8-inch range.
Waterdogs generally metamorphose during summer, transforming into adults that live on land. The main change is the loss of external gills that stick out like feathery plumes. Other changes in the skin let adult salamanders live in moist ground without shriveling. Although not much is known about these skin changes, they probably are of practical importance to anglers, because adult tiger salamanders are a less effective bait than aquatic larvae. The reason for these changes in their attraction to fish likely relates to the production of mucous compounds that help protect the skin.
The life history of tiger salamanders in various parts of the country varies. Some larvae do not metamorphose during the first summer, but remain in the larval state throughout the first winter. These larvae often grow to over 8 inches and may turn up in bait stores as “giant” waterdogs in spring. In some areas in the West, waterdogs never undergo metamorporsis, but become sexually mature without turning into land-form adults.
Despite stories of their appetite and viciousness, waterdogs are harmless to humans. They have no teeth, spines, or poisons. Their slippery skin and ability to wiggle make them hard to hold. Wrap your four fingers around the waterdog’s body and place your thumb firmly, but gently, beneath its chin. In addition to being effective, this holding method also keeps the animal relatively quite.
Any heavy to medium to medium-heavy pitching or flipping baitcasting rod and reel will do. I prefer a Shimano Castaic reel as its Instagage clutch enables me to immediately release line when bass take a pitched waterdog as soon as it hits the surface. It also lets me readily engage and disengage the spool during slow retrieves. I’ve taken many lunker bass that hit immediately when I pitched a dog into a cedar tree tangle. Like using a jig in heavy cover, it’s necessary to get the bass’s head up immediately or lose it.
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