Young: Some tips for summertime topwater action

I’ll always have fond memories of the first bass I caught on a topwater lure.

That event occurred more than 40 years ago when a nice largemouth inhaled an Arbogast Jitterbug for me. The unique double-cupped lip of the Jitterbug produces a sound and action unlike any other lure, and that special plopping, gurgling noise it generates has been bringing bass to the surface for more than 70 years.

I had read an article in an outdoor magazine about fishing Jitterbugs and couldn’t wait to try one. As I recall, a Jitterbug cost about a buck and a quarter back in the 1960s. After finally scraping together enough money to buy one of those classic lures – a red-and-white, quarter-ounce model – I rode my bike to a nearby bass pond that evening full of anticipation.

The article suggested several methods for fishing the Jitterbugs. I chose to cast the lure several feet from shore and wait until all the ripples on the water from the lure’s splashdown finally disappeared. Then I cranked the reel handle to move the lure a few inches.

My Jitterbug disappeared in an enormous swirl.

I reared back with my flimsy fiberglass rod to set the hook and immediately felt the strength of dandy largemouth. The bass jumped twice, which only added to the tension, but after much frantic reeling, I somehow wrestled it onto the bank. That largemouth probably weighed two and a half to three pounds, by far the biggest fish I had ever caught in my young fishing career.

Hooking a nice bass on my very first cast with a Jitterbug, did much to hook me for life on bass fishing.

Catching bass on topwater lures can be exciting as it is effective this time of year. In fact, good surface action will usually continue until the first cold snap of fall begins to cool down the water temperatures somewhat.

And, with an endless variety of surface lures available, topwater fishing is a versatile strategy that can catch fish morning, evening, midday and after dark.

Some anglers consider perfect conditions for topwater fishing to be a dead-calm day with the lake surface as smooth as glass. But bass tend to be a little spookier on a flat lake, making it extra tough to get close to them, especially on a bright day. A ripple or a slight chop on the water makes bass feel more comfortable in shallow water where it is also easier to tempt them with a surface bait. Breezy days will blow plankton, insects and other tiny items of food toward the windward shore of the lake, often attracting plenty of minnows and other small fish that feed on such minutiae, which in turn attract the bass.

There are several basic types of surface lures, each with its own type of action. The term “action” as it applies to a surface bait actually describes the combination of sound and surface disturbance the lure makes. While I’m sure the overall silhouette of a topwater lure plays some part in attracting the bass, it is undoubtedly the special commotion the lure creates that does most of the work of triggering a strike.

Poppers or chuggers are among the most popular and versatile types of topwater lures for bass. The Rebel Pop-R and the Arbogast Hula Popper are two well-known popping baits, but there are many of other brands available. Poppers are designed with a large, flat or cup-shaped face. The lure can be twitched with the rod tip to make a distinctive popping or gurgling sound.

Poppers work well in calm water or around cover by making a few gentle twitches and then allowing the lure to remain motionless for 10 seconds or more before moving it again. If this subtle presentation doesn’t produce, poppers can be fished faster and more aggressively too.

Propeller baits like the Heddon Tiny Torpedo and Dying Flutter and the Rapala Skitter Prop kick up a little more fuss than popping baits. The Tiny Torpedo in particular has long been a favorite for river smallmouths. On a steady retrieve, a prop bait sputters along like a tiny motorboat, often leaving a trail of bubbles behind it. Around cover or specific fish-holding structure, an erratic or stop-and-go retrieve will often tease a bass into blasting it.

Another extremely popular genre of topwaters is what I refer to as walking baits because their primary presentation tends to be a “walk the dog” retrieve. Walking baits include such lures as the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow, Heddon Spit’n Image, Lucky Craft Sammy, Rapala Skitter Walk and the granddaddy of them all, the Heddon Zara Spook.

There is somewhat of a learning curve to imparting the nervous walk-the-dog motion of these lures. It’s not really difficult but does require some practice to develop the proper movements of wrist and rod tip in the correct rhythm and to do them while cranking the reel. Knowing how to make a walking bait walk is a skill worth knowing, because these lures really catch their share of bass.

When I first started fishing buzzbaits, I regarded them mostly as a novelty, but it didn’t take long to learn those noisy topwaters could be deadly bass catchers, especially for larger fish.

They are also simple to fish: Cast the thing out and start reeling it back the moment it hits the water.

You can vary the speed of the retrieve, but reeling just fast enough to keep the buzzer on top usually is most effective. The rod tip can also be swept side to side occasionally to make the bait zigzag somewhat.