Topwater: A really misconceived type of lure
The most common misconception with the topwater bait is that it's only a bait to fish in the morning and in the evening(low light). The second most common misconception is that it's only a bait to fish when you want to have fun because the hits are so exciting (It has always been misplaced as a tool for tournament fishing). Well let me personally tell you both those are definitely false. The whole family of topwater baits are tools just like spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits. They each have their strengths and weaknesses but are not just fun baits to throw at low light. Probably one reason I have such a love for topwater baits, is the fact that I can vividly remember catching my first bass ever on a topwater plug. I can remember digging through my grandfathers tackle box when I was around 10 years old. I found a minnow looking plug, which I know now as being a 9S Rapala Floating Minnow. Well I tied that thing on and flung it out there off the dock. I can still remember the bait as it hit the water and lie on the top motionless. The rings and ripples dissipating further from the bait. I didn't really know what to do with the bait so I just gave it a twitch. The moment the bait rose back to the surface a bass came top side and sucked it down. This early learning experience showed me that a topwater fits perfectly into a category that I call a "two for bait." It represents something very natural which is either dying, struggling, or moving across the surface. It appeals to both the reaction and hunger type strikes of a bass at the same time. THIS IS KEY!
Topwater As A Tool
The topwater can be a really effective tool anytime the water temp is above the 50 degree mark. Remember the commandment though. In my opinion it really shines from the post spawn period(mid-60's) through the early fall period(high 50's).
Post Spawn - probably one of the best times for topwater. After the bass finish the spawning ritual, many of the fish get into a sluggish, non-active feeding mode. The females are tired and want to recoup. These fish are looking for an easy meal, something they don't have to work for. I target both the actual spawning flats themselves (usually male bass) and the first deep water access near the flats (the bigger females will be the first to leave). These first deep access areas are often secondary or main lake points, with a channel swinging by it. For lure selection, I generally have two preferences for baits and one general cadence. Because it is post-spawn for not only the bass, but many other species well, I know that there is a ton of fry in the water. I will use very small topwaters, like the Pop-R, Zara Puppy, Disco Dog, and Rapala Minnow; especially in clear water. I will generally use a slower than normal cadence because I am trying to imitate a very easy meal. As a second choice, especially for larger females along the first deep water breaks, I will use a large topwater, like the Chug-N-Spit, Zara Spook, or two-bladed buzz bait; and again work them super slow.
Summer - there are two key topwater deals in the summer. One is to fish up on the flats and shelves during periods of feeding activity. Low light, clouds and rain are prime examples. Remember, because of the high water temperature this time of year, the fishes metabolism is way up and the bass are really wired. They must feed more and will definitely move shallow and eat up top when conditions are right. I look for flats or small shelves right near deep water. This fish must have the ability to move up and down the ledge with relative ease. I choose medium to large topwaters like the Chug-N-Spit, Supper Spook, Devils Horse, and buzzbaits. I will also throw weedless frogs and rats in the slop.The second deal during the summer is fishing for schooling fish. This is especially true in reservoirs with clear water. The key deal here is finding the bait. If you can find the bait near main lake points or humps it's even better. For topwater choices, I'm often forced to go with the ultra realistic Japanese baits like the Rico and Splash Its, Disco Dogs and Sammys. I'm really trying to match the forage. This pattern extends into the fall feed.
Fall - The third time period when I really like topwaters is when the bass go on the fall feed. They will specifically target schools of bait in the fall. Many times, pods of baitfish will begin to migrate into the creeks and pockets. The bass will follow. I like looking for creeks with a direct influx of water. I also like main lake pockets where small sand break secondary points are formed. Like in the Post Spawn Phase, I like two types of topwaters. For the clearer impoundments, where I am seeing more young of the year shad than adults, I like the smaller baits like the Pop-R, Rico, and Tiny Torpedo. For the more stained fisheries and when I'm seeing a lot of adult shad or bait, I'll go back to the larger topwaters like the Chug- N-Spit, Chug-Bug, and Zara Spook.
- Poppers and Chuggers - Pop-R's, Chug-n-Spits, Chug bugs, Rico's, Splash It's, Hula Poppers, ideal for both clear and stained water with a light chop.
- Stick baits and Darters - Zara Spooks, Disco Dogs, Sammys, ideal for stained to clear water with water conditions ranging from calm to choppy.
- Prop baits - Torpedos, Devils Horse, Wood Choppers, ideal for water with a chop of more stained to muddy water.
- Minnow Baits - Rapalas, AC Shiners, Ideal for clear water and calm conditions. COLORS - I always select lure color based on two factors: primary forage and water clarity. As a general rule I'm either trying to imitate some form of shad or minnows, bluegill and perch species, insect, or amphibian. I try and keep it pretty simple. Shad/Minnows - white, silver, pearl, translucent Bluegill/Perch - something with chartreuse in it, firetiger, Insects - blacks, darker colors, and translucent Amphibian - greens, yellows, browns
- Frogs and Rats - Mann's and Scum Frogs. ideal for slop fishing!(White,Char.,Brown)
- Other - can include buzz baits, floating worms and Slugos, weedless spoons.
Buzzbaits are super versatile. By changing blade style and lure weight you can fish a wide variety of conditions. I use an aluminum two blade when I want a faster retrieve and I go to a plastic 3 or 4 blade version when I want to slow down. I'll generally throw black under low light, white for clear water, white/char. for stained, and char. for muddy. I ALWAYS use a trailer hook! Weedless spoons for slop.
Floating worms and slugos are ideal as follow up baits for missed strikes! Cadence is Key - the general rule of thumb is the clearer the water the faster the cadence, the more stained the water the slower the retrieve. Think about forage. Are you imitating a fast moving shad? Are you mimicking a slow zig zagging snake? Know the forage. Smallmouths by competitive nature like a fast moving bait.
Delayed Hook Set - the most common problem with topwater fishing is missing the strike because you are reacting on the sight and sound rather than the feel. It's exciting, but you have to force yourself to delay. In addition to a glass type rod. I use sweep-step type of hook set. This allows me the opportunity to first feel the fish then follow through with the set. If I begin my sweep and do not feel the fish or If I visually detect a miss, then the bait will remain in the strike zone for another chance. Using monofilament type line also aids in the delay.
Ultra Clear Water - think about really natural looking baits. Here the fish often feed from a hunger strike. Japanese Baits are perfect here. You can draw them up from extremely deep water.
- Hook Size - by changing the size of the hooks you can get the bait to do certain things. I usually use a bigger hook on the rear to get the back of the bait to point down. If I can't get the bait to do that by hook size alone, I will use strips of suspend strips on the rear of the bait.
- Use of RED in the rear hook - especially in clear water. Just use red sewing thread and wrap around rear hook. Leave about an inch hanging and finish off with a clear coat. You can also use paint markers to add natural shad dots or red gills.
- Notch the line tie of walking type baits to get them to perform better.
- The use of a fly fishing float enhancer on the section of line directly above the bait helps the action of the bait and keeps the nose a float.
- Sound and Weight to Frogs - jam a cat bell in a frog for added weight and sound.
- Clear Baits/Black Baits - use the silhouette factor. Good for low light/clear water.
- Cup the blades on a prop bait for a noisier and slower retrieve. Same on a buzzbait.
Tackle and Equipment
I use about four different styles of rods:
- 6' Short twitching Rod - This rod lets me gain wrist control needed for walking baits and for spitting poppers. The rod has a lot of tip. My primary rod!
- 6'6" Long Twitching Rod - Same action as the 6' but a little longer and a little more back bone. I step up to this bigger rod primarily when I am fishing the bigger type baits.
- Custom Glass Spinning Rod - I use this 6'6" glass spinning rod when fishing smaller topwater bait. Great for clear water presentations where precise casting accuracy is critical.
- Frog and Rat Rod - A 7'6" Telescoping. This rod lets me heave these baits in the middle of the slop and have the power to get them out. As for reels, I use medium retrieve reels.
LINE- I generally use line ranging from 10 to 17 depending on the conditions. Remember heavier line is more buoyant. I use braid for fishing topwaters and for fishing frogs and rats in the slop (zero stretch).