It’s a special time of year when the sun begins to shine brighter and longer, the days and nights are warmer, the trees are full of green leaves and our lakes awaken from winter slumber and become alive with lush vegetation and the sounds of fish splashing the surface of calm waters. Nothing gets a bass angler’s heart racing like a big topwater blowup in the morning. But that’s not the only time when these lures work. You can break out your favorite frog, popper, buzzbait or walking plug any time of the day if the conditions are right and the bass will let you know it.
What are the right conditions? As I said before, you can throw a topwater lure any time, anywhere. However, there are times and places where these work best such as when there is no wind and very little current creating a glass effect on the water’s surface in low-light conditions. For example, when you see bass or baitfish boiling on the surface or fish jumping out of the water, or just before a front comes in or a lazy summer evening. A good topwater bite is one of the best, most rewarding fishing experiences that anglers all around the country chase and tell stories about.
The tools used to facilitate this experience varies with all sorts of unique features and abilities but all possess one essential key attribute: it must be able to float. Hence, why topwater lures are made with buoyant materials such as balsa wood or hollow plastic. Some contain rattles or props at either end or both; anything and everything is used to trigger a strike. Since these are floating lures, they require fishing line that floats such as monofilament or braid. Selecting a color is simple. You want to contrast the color of the sky during certain conditions or make it more visible in stained or muddy water. The top of the baits are not so much important as the belly color. That is the only side of the lure that the bass will see. Black, white and yellow/orange and blue are colors to start out with and then experiment with others such as chrome or red to match whatever forage in your waters. Bass will hit things you would never expect.
Poppers create a significant disturbance by making large splashes with each twitch of the rod tip, and can be especially successful on windier days. Poppers have a cupped mouth that collects water and spews it forward creating the illusion of a wounded or dying baitfish. Some poppers contain rattles or a small ball bearing to make more noise as you twitch it. They can be fished at any cadence and anywhere except in matted or emergent vegetation due to the treble hooks becoming snagged and the lure ineffective. This is the only disadvantage plugs have when fishing a particular area.
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Walking plugs are named as such because of the method in which they are fished. Known as “walking the dog”, this specific cadence creates a right-left-right swimming action and requires a faster retrieve than that of a popper. This type of retrieve mimics fleeing baitfish or something swimming on the surface. Walking plugs have rattles or bearings inside as well. To fish this lure effectively, wait for the ripples to dissipate after it lands, then begin twitching the lure using your wrists in a downward motion with aid of a flexible rod tip and maintain some slack in your line. This technique requires some practice to master the timing and mechanics of the retrieval but it’s worth the effort when you start catching giants!
Prop baits are great for creating a lot of commotion. They have one or two blades on either end that may require some modification to fish properly. I recommend you do not use braid when using these lures. Braided line has no stretch and is very limp. This sometimes causes the line to tangle in the propellers after casting. It can happen with mono too but at a lesser occurrence due to it being stiffer than braid. One way to circumvent this issue is by adding a couple of bobber stops above the line tie. Lures like the River2Sea Whopper Plopper and the Lunkerhunt Prop Fish have a segmented body. Attaching a snap swivel directly to the line tie will help keep the main body from rotating instead of the prop tail caused by vegetation that sometimes gets trapped in between.
Buzzbaits are the noise-makers of the topwater category. They are different from other topwaters because they do not float due to having a weighted head, similar to that of a spinnerbait, and a large rotating blade above. As soon as you launch one out there and it hits the water, you have to reel it in fast to get it to the surface for the blades to do their thing. Once the blades are chopping the water’s surface, begin to vary your speed if you desire or just burn it in, cast and repeat. Buzzbaits are great for covering a lot of water. There are many ways to modify this lure if needed. If you find the bass are short-striking, add a trailer hook. If you would like the bait to track a certain direction, bend the wire between the blade and line tie just slightly. If it’s a windy day, remove the skirt and add a soft plastic toad or swimbait trailer.
For more windy day tips, read this article.
Hollow-body frogs are the all-terrain vehicle of topwaters. They are a perfect go-to bait for fishing in the gnarliest of matted grass beds, lily pads, lay downs and skipped under docks or overhanging tree limbs. Most frogs come with no treble hooks to get hung up and are completely weedless the way the double extra wide gap hook is flush against the body of the frog. They come in various shapes and sizes you can fish just like the walking and popping lures described previously. Some frogs come with skirted legs or actual legs and some have props or paddles that leave a bubble trail. Modifying frogs include trimming one of the skirted legs shorter than the other to help walk the bait better or both legs to mitigate short-striking bites. Adding some BBs or a very small bell inside the body will give it some sound. Just be sure to close off the hole where the hooks come out with a dab of super glue. That will also help keep water from seeping into the frog that can weigh it down. I like to keep the hole open on a frog I did not add sound to as the extra amount of water inside will help it cast further and will remove the water if I notice it negatively affecting the presentation.
Topwater lures provide many opportunities to catch monster bass during the warmer times of the year. It’s finally spring and time to enjoy your topwater season on the water. We would love for you to share with us at MONSTERBASS your awesome topwater catches! Take care, fish smart and tight lines!
Written by: Carrie Cates
Carrie started fishing while in the military. I compete in bass tournaments in NY, NJ and CT. I volunteer teaching kids how to fish in derbies and Boy Scouts. I plan to work my way to the elites and win the Bassmaster Classic or the MLF.
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