Topwater lures can produce exciting summertime bass action
By Walt Young
Catching bass on topwater lures can be exciting as it is effective throughout the summer months. 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.
If your idea of perfect conditions for topwater fishing is a dead-calm day with the lake surface smooth as glass, you might want to reconsider.
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 seems to make bass feel more comfortable in shallow water where it is also easier to tempt them with a surface lure.
Breezy days also blow plankton, insects and other tiny food items 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 them. Congregations of baitfish will soon attract bass hunting for an easy meal.
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 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.
Popping baits are among the most popular and versatile topwater lures for bass. The Rebel Pop-R is probably the most well-known popping lure, but there are many other variations from other manufacturers. Popping lures 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, River2 Sea Whopper Plopper or Berkley Choppo kick up a little more fuss than popping baits. The Tiny Torpedo in particular has long been a favorite in this area 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.
Walking baits are another extremely popular genre of topwaters because their primary presentation tends to be a “walk the dog” retrieve. Some popular walking baits include the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow, Lucky Craft Sammy, Rapala Skitter Walk and the granddaddy of them all, the Heddon Zara Spook, which is available in dozens of different size and color combinations. 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. That slight change of direction will often provoke a solid strike from a following bass.
One type of topwater really has only one member: 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 80 years and will likely be calling them up for 80 more. I caught my first topwater bass using a Jitterbug more than 50 years ago, but I remember that event like it was last week.
The sight of a big bass crashing a surface lure is always memorable and one of fishing’s special thrills. I highly recommend getting an assortment of topwater lures and making some angling memories this summer on your favorite bass waters.