Summer the best for topwater bass action
The sight of a bass clobbering a surface lure is always exciting. Good surface action will usually continue throughout the summer and until the first cold snap of fall begins to cool down the water temperatures somewhat. And there are an endless variety of surface lures available, making topwater fishing is a versatile strategy to catch bass all summer long.
Topwater fishing will tend to be most productive in the low-light periods of early morning and late evening, especially on the hot, bright days we have been experiencing lately. For those who like working the late shift, night fishing can also be productive. If your idea of perfect conditions for topwater fishing is a dead-calm day with the lake surface as smooth as glass, you might want to rethink that. 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 can make 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. None of those morsels are of much interest to an adult bass, of course, but they will attract plenty of minnows and other small fish that do feed on such minutiae. Once the little fish are there, the bass soon show up to complete the next link in the food chain.
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. Most topwater lures are designed to imitate an injured or dying baitfish or a frog or some other small creature swimming on the surface. Either of those situations will trigger the predatory instincts of a bass. 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.
Popping baits are among the most popular and versatile 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. Popping baits are larger versions of the popping bugs that fly-fishermen have always used for bass and panfish. Poppers are designed with a large, 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.
Hollow-body soft=plastic frogs have gained popularity in recent years. These lures are designed in both a streamlined shape or in a popping style. Because the hooks ride upright and are tucked along the body, they are virtually weedless and can be fished over, around and through the thickest weed beds and other cover.
Propeller baits like the Heddon Tiny Torpedo the Rapala Skitter Prop and the new Whopper Ploppers 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, Bass Pro Shops Slim Dog, 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 distinctive 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 can 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.
One topwater is in a type all by itself: the Arbogast Jitterbug. The unique double-cupped lip of the Jitterbug produces a sound and action unlike any other lure. And that plopping, gurgling has been bringing bass to the surface for more than 70 years, and I caught my first topwater bass using a Jitterbug more than 50 years ago.