Topwater lures are without question the most exciting way to catch bass. There’s just something about that big toilet flush of a big bass inhaling a topwater bait followed by some tail-walking that gets the heart beating like nothing else.
Exciting though they may be, topwater lures are surprisingly an underutilized technique, as many anglers think they are effective only in low-light conditions, or think that they lose a lot of fish.
We think that’s a bunch of rubbish, and are here to tell you that not only can topwaters be effectively utilized all day long in most cases, but they are also extremely high percentage lures when rigged properly.
To assist, we’ve put together this “topwater tutorial” to assist with rigging and properly fishing the most common types of topwater lures.
A buzzbait is similar to a spinnerbait, but with a triangular shaped delta blade, which causes it to lift and sputter, spit, and squeak on the surface. Buzzbaits can be dynamite any time the bass are feeding around shallow cover, and are relatively weedless which allows them to be fished in some pretty thick stuff. Buzzbaits are one of the earliest topwater lures to become effective, and can be fished from pre-spawn all the way through the fall.
How to fish: Fishing a buzzbait is pretty simple, just cast it out and wind it back, ensuring that the bait is on the surface. The trick is to make sure you’re running it as slowly and as close to cover as possible. Ideal buzzbait cover includes the edges of grass or pad fields, along the sides of shallow docks and laydowns, along shade lines, and over submergent vegetation. Despite being surface baits, buzzbait strikes can be really subtle at times, and the bait will just disappear. If that happens, set the hook hard because it’s probably a big one.
How to rig: Fish a buzzbait on a 6 ½ or 7 foot, medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting rod spooled with a high speed (6.3:1 or faster) reel spooled with 14-20lb monofilament or 30-40 pound braid if in heavy cover. Opt for a dark buzzbait (black or brown) on sunny days and a white or chartreuse buzzbait in dark skies. If you’re getting short strikes, add a 1/0 trailer hook to increase hookups.
Poppers, sometimes called chuggers are hard plastic or wooden plugs with a flat or concave face. When quickly jerked, they pop, splash, and chug, which emulates prey struggling on the surface. Poppers are the ideal surface bait for target fishing. They can be accurately casted and should be worked close to laydowns, docks, rocks, and anything else bass would hold on. Poppers are excellent from post-spawn all the way through the fall.
How to fish: Cast a popper out and then jerk your rod tip down in short, jerking motions, causing the bait to “pop”. Experiment with different cadences until you start getting bites – a “pop, pop, pause, repeat” cadence is a good place to start. Because of their ability to draw strikes, poppers are most effective when fished around shoreline cover, so target overhanging brush, docks, laydowns, and seawalls.
How to rig: Poppers should be fished on a 6 ½ foot medium power baitcasting rod paired to a high speed reel spooled with 10 to 15 pound monofilament. Because they have treble hooks, try using a more limber (slower action) rod like a crankbait rod to minimize lost fish. When working around shallow cover, try using a shorter, 6 foot rod to maximize accuracy.
Walk-the-dog Topwater Lures
Often called “spooks” after the eponymous Heddon Zara-Spook, topwater stick baits have a cigar shaped body that sashays back and forth in an enticing “walk-the-dog” action, in what should be a required skill for every serious basser. Topwater stick baits emulate a dying baitfish trying frantically to escape on the surface. Stick baits are effective any time the bass are chasing minnows, but become especially deadly in the fall, once baitfish have formed massive schools.
How to fish: Some consider the “walk-the-dog” action of the topwater stick bait one of the most difficult retrieves in bass fishing to master. It doesn’t need to be though, because it’s really easy to learn. Make a long cast and start twitching your rod tip down at a regular pace, and reel on the slack pulls. You’ll have the bait sashaying back and forth in no time. Topwater stick baits are deadly when worked along rip rap, over points, and anywhere bass are known to school. Of all the topwaters, stick baits have by far the most pulling power, and as such are the most effective topwater over deep water and in open water.
How to rig: Rig a topwater stick bait on a 7 to 7 ½ foot medium heavy baitcaster paired to a high speed baitcasting reel spooled with 30 pound braid or 15 pound monofilament. Topwater stick baits cast extremely far, and having no-stretch braid and a long rod ensures good hook penetration when a bass blows up your lure at the end of a long cast.
Only a few short years ago, the topwater frog was an extremely minor player in the fishing world. That has changed in a big way, as anglers all across the country have started to notice their big-fish potential. They also allow anglers access to previously uncatchable bass buried in the heaviest vegetation. Frogs come in two styles, a hollow-bodied plastic version that floats over the grass; and a soft plastic toad version that works similar to a buzzbait. Frogs and toads are effective once the water warms into the 60s, all the way through the fall.
How to fish: Effective frog fishing is really more about the “where” than the “how”. To fish it, you just cast it out and slowly twitch it back to the boat, pausing frequently in likely locations. The ideal frog locations are lily pad fields, matted vegetation, and duckweed – what a lot of anglers call slop. But you can also fish them around docks. Frogs are weedless, so they just slide over the top. A key is to make sure and pause the frog in any openings or pockets in the grass mats. The most difficult thing about frog fishing is setting the hook, because jerking too soon after a blowup usually results in nothing but frustration. When a bass blows up your frog, the key is to wait to set the hook until you feel it or see the line moving, which indicates that the bass actually has the bait.
How to rig: The rigging is what has given frogs a reputation as unreliable with lots of anglers. The key to upping the conversion rate is to use a heavy rod. For fishing a frog, choose a 7 to 8 foot heavy or extra-heavy baitcaster paired to a high-speed reel spooled with 50-65 pound braided line. Frog fishing is not a finesse technique – once you get them hooked, get them up and reel as fast as you can back to the boat.
Other Topwater Lures
These are just the beginning. Once you’ve mastered these there are many other topwater lures worthy of consideration such as prop baits, toads, and wake baits. But no matter the topwater lure you choose, there certainly isn’t a more exciting form of fishing.
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