Topwater Baits

Bass Fishing Tips, Techniques, and How To's

Topwaters are among the most exciting baits you can fish for bass. Besides, topwaters are often very productive and can sometimes out-fish other techniques. In general, topwaters are usually most effective in warm to cool water. At the same time, slower, deeper baits such as jigs and worms are more effective in frigid and extremely hot water. If the water temperature is above 55 degrees, a topwater should be the first thing you throw in the morning. Topwaters are most effective in the early morning, late evening, and during the calm before an approaching storm.

Poppers attract bass with a gurgling and popping sound on the water's surface. Poppers should be retrieved in a series of starts and stops. First, cast the lure out and let it rest for a few minutes. Then retrieve it a few feet and let it rest again. The popping and gurgling will gain the fish's attention. The strike usually occurs when the lure is at rest. Fish them around weedlines, stumps, and shorelines. Experiment with retrieves, as bass will want it fast one day and very slow the next.
StickBaits have no action of their own and require the fisherman's skill to make them perform maneuvers such as "walking the dog." These baits work well in open water and around boat docks, tree lines, stump rows, etc. The most popular stick bait is the Zara Spook, and for a good reason. This bait has been catching largemouth and smallmouth alike for decades, often two at a time! It calls in fish from as deep as 25 feet and works under various conditions. It works best during the summer and can be fished all day. The most productive colors all have one thing in common: a white belly. Tie the lure on using a large snap. The most popular retrieve is 'walking the dog.' It takes practice to achieve the proper jerk, pause, jerk cadence to walk the dog. It helps to have someone who has mastered the technique show you. You may have to keep the rod tip up the first 10 feet on long casts, then lower the tip and work it back in. If a fish misses it, keep going with the cadence - they'll return and hit it again.
Buzzbaits are similar to spinnerbaits but are designed to be fished on top. Fish them right across logjams, submerged weeds, sparse grass, etc. Buzzbaits produce best from mid-spring to mid-fall when water temperature exceeds 65 degrees. They can be fished in, around, through, and over cover due to their shape and design. They also produce best with a slow, erratic presentation.
  • For better lure and line control plus better hooksets, keep your rod tip up.
  • Add a trailer for buoyancy and lift.
  • Add a trailer hook when short strikes occur, provided the terrain permits.
  • For better casting accuracy, point the rod tip towards where you want the lure to land and stop the spool. The lure will tighten the line and land. This will enable you to get the bait 'on plane' sooner.
  • Change retrieve speeds, which will cause an erratic cripple sound.
  • To improve your strike-catch ratio, set the hook by feel rather than sight.
  • To increase your odds, make several casts to the same areas.
  • Buzzbaits with clappers attached work best over heavy vegetation.
Propbaits create a disturbance when jerked slightly. They work best when the water temperature is above 60 degrees. Work close to cover on heavy tackle or off long points on drop-offs on lighter tackle. Examples of prop baits include the Wood Chopper, Devil's Horse, and Torpedo baits. Of these baits, the Devil's Horse is the most popular in black/white and yellow perch colors. Bend the front blades more on a Devil's Horse. This will keep it from turning on its side during the retrieve. Tie directly to the bait and let it sit for a while after casting it out before starting a twitching retrieve back to the boat. In calm water, use a slow, quiet retrieve. In choppy water, use a noisy retrieve.
JerkBaits Use jerkbaits anytime the water temperature is above 55 degrees. The most popular jerkbait is the #13 Rapala floating minnow in silver/black for clear water or gold/black for dingy water. Use the Rapala in shallow water anytime the water temperature is above 55 degrees. Hook a snap onto it and tie it on using 6-8 pound test and spinning gear on a 6 1/2 foot medium-light action rod. Don't use heavy line, as it will ruin the bait's action. Cast it out and let it sit until the rings of water disappear, then begin a twitch, twitch, pause, retrieve, making sure the bait never breaks the surface. Experiment with erratic retrieves to find what works best for that day. Another technique is the 'shaking' method: make it quiver in place by lifting your line until you are just in contact with the bait, then shake the rod tip.

When & Where to Fish Topwaters

In general, topwaters tend to work best in the late spring (just after the spawn), summer, and fall. In hot weather, topwaters will produce on schooling bass; in dense cover, fish a buzzbait right over the heads of bass. Topwaters are excellent baits for fishing big, open water and shallow shorelines. For example, if there is a drop-off from 15 to 25 feet, a topwater will often draw strikes from suspended bass, especially in clear water. Long tapering points are great places to try topwaters. You can move to the end of the point and cast the area where the point falls off into deep water with a big topwater such as a stick bait. In extremely clear water with little structure, a silver, white, or gold minnow lure twitched quietly on the surface often produces explosive strikes. Fish topwaters quickly in rivers and around extremely heavy cover. A buzzbait is ideal for these situations. The idea is to fish the lure fast over the heads of bass, provoking a reaction strike. In a river, bass may not enter the current to strike.


Topwater color should match in a general way that of the dominant forage in your lake. But the color should more closely match that of baitfish bottom-dwelling creatures. Therefore, a silver topwater would be better than a brown one. However, use a black topwater at night since black is the color that stands out most dramatically against the night sky to a bass looking upward. Chrome is an excellent choice in many reservoirs because it matches the colors of many baitfish, including alewives and shad. Sometimes a bright secondary color such as red or orange adds to the productivity of the lure. Smallmouth often prefer outrageously colored topwaters, including chartreuse and orange.


  • Always have a follow-up bait lure for missed strikes (such as grubs, gitzits, and worms). Sometimes a bass will strike at a topwater several times without connecting. When this happens, a plastic worm or jig immediately cast to the same area will often hook the fish.
  • Fish most topwaters with a fine-wire cross-locking snap. Minnow baits are especially prone to sluggish action without them.
  • Lightweight wooden topwaters, including minnows, should be fished on light line for greater casting distance and improved action. Lures with violent action, such as stick baits, should be fished on 12 or 14-pound test line, providing the right action without tangling in the lure's hooks.
  • Sometimes, no action is the best action. For example, a simple minnow lure or stick bait allowed to sit still for long periods can produce a strike.
  • In clear water, use a quieter lure. For example, a minnow or sick bait is often better in a deep, clear highland reservoir than a noisier prop lure.
  • When fishing around dense cover in a shallow lake, remove the treble hook of a popper or chugger and replace it with a single weedless hook for fewer hang-ups.
  • When fishing topwaters, wait for the lure to disappear before setting the hook.
  • Keep one rod equipped with a topwater lure while fishing. When you spot a feeding bass working the surface, cast the topwater to it.
  • Topwaters are excellent lures to teach children the fun of bass fishing. Once they see a bass explode on their lure, they're hooked!
  • I was once fishing at an average-sized pond that had not been fished in over ten years. I debated what to use and found a floating Rapala in my tackle box. I cast right in the middle of the pond and saw what looked like 50 fish sitting under it, waiting. I gave it a tiny twitch, and oh my. It was like World War III on that pond. I caught and released 35 bass in an hour. It's been my most memorable fishing experience. -- Curt Snyder
  • I have to say, for topwaters, the Rapala Original Floating minnow is one of my favorites, along with the Skitter Pop and the Skitter Prop. I've succeeded with all three of these lures and highly recommend them. -- Anonymous
  • After much practice with topwater lures, I found that one of the best is the Jitterbug. My favorite colors are yellow with red stripes, black, coach dog, and bass. Use the bigger jointed ones. -- Adam for bass
  • Fish a white mouse on river banks along logs and brushy cover. You want to fish a slow. Twitch it about 1-3 times, then let it sit for about 5-8 seconds. Hold on! -- Basslunkerlover
  • When using the Devil's Horse jerkbait, let sit for about 10 seconds and then jerk again in calm water. -- Anonymous