October 04, 2010
Discover why the West's top professional bass anglers use topwater baits now -- long before the dog days of summer set in.
Pro angler Kent Brown picked up this spotted bass on a topwater in early spring.
Photo by Chris Shaffer
Gary Dobyns doesn't enjoy fishing with jigs or plastic worms. Dobyns, who has made millions of dollars as a professional bass angler, thinks it's boring. He's a power fisherman. He likes action, which is why he throws topwater baits from late spring through fall.
"Anytime I can get bass to eat topwater, I'll do it, because you'll always catch the best fish," says Dobyns, the all-time leading money winner in the West. His favorite time to throw topwater is May and early June, when "they haven't seen the baits as much. There aren't as many people throwing topwater."
Topwater can be a vital tool, especially in early spring. While summer and fall are common months to throw topwater, many folks refrain from using these baits until the heat of summer arrives. On the other hand, late spring offers topwater anglers an opportunity to capitalize on targeting fish that haven't seen topwater baits for months.
"The fish aren't conditioned to seeing topwater again, so they are easier to fool. The bites are ferocious," he added. "I throw topwater early in the season as much as I can."
Anglers who don't wait for the summer heat find that success with topwater baits can come even while most bass are spawning. While some bass are winding down on the spawn, others have already headed into post-spawn and are feeding up again -- and those bass are sure to grab topwater baits.
The great thing about topwater is that except for open water in the middle of a lake, there isn't a bad place to fish it. The trick is correlating the topwater bait you are throwing with the type of water you're fishing. When fishing open water, it's ideal to cast the mainstays of walking-type baits -- Zara Spooks, Pop-Rs, Ricos and buzzbaits.
"I believe that the Super Spook absolutely just pisses the fish off. Whether it's the big load or the clanking ball in it, they just don't like it," Dobyns said. "I think they think a Pop-R is a fish. And they try to get it because they are trying to eat it. They will inhale the entire thing. A buzzbait looks like a baitfish that's breaking on the surface and there's a fish after it."
The above-mentioned baits are effective in any place that doesn't have vegetation, such as off of points and around cover. But when you are faced with only pockets of water to fish because of dense vegetation, a frog, Johnson's spoon (a chrome spoon with a weed guard) or a buzzbait may serve you better. These baits can be fished through the pockets. You can also hop and skip them over matted vegetation. If the vegetation is super-heavy and thick, you'll be restricted to tossing a frog or a rat.
Oddly enough, many anglers believe that without dense vegetation, topwater baits aren't effective. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, topwater can be highly effective in reservoirs during the mornings and afternoons, in addition to evenings.
"One of the reasons I fish the river arms in reservoirs is because you get shade when the sun changes position," added Dobyns. "Whenever there's shade, there will be bass. You can throw topwater in these spots and do extremely well."
Many anglers are intimidated by floating vegetation. Bass pro Kent Brown believes that targeting floating vegetation is a sure way to generate strikes when throwing topwater. As with buoys, docks, floating restrooms and timber, floating vegetation draws bass in.
"People overlook it. They've never had much success presenting a bait to the fish without getting hung up, so they don't do it. They get sick of catching a wad of grass," he said. "The West was really the spawning grounds for frog fishing. It's a place where anglers think all we do is drop-shot, but we have a lot of vegetation, so the frog has been a bait that we do a lot of fishing with. And it's the best bait to fish floating vegetation with."
Some anglers, though, approach vegetation the wrong way.
"I try to start by going around it, because a lot of times you can pull a fish out of open water that will come out from under the vegetation. If your first couple of casts is through the vegetation, you take a chance at spooking those fish. You try to fish the perimeter, and if it doesn't work, then you go in after them," said Brown, who casts a River 2 Sea Bully Wa frog, a topwater weedless frog.
However, Brown also recommends throwing Zara Spook-type baits near floating vegetation. Buzzbaits can also be effective in these areas.
"When you have high sun, the fish will go to any shade. Everything is about blocking the sunlight off their eyes, and that happens when they are under floating vegetation," Brown added.
It's no secret that docks harbor as many bass as floating vegetation and mats. The higher the sun is, the more likely bass will be taking refuge in these areas. When fishing any body of water with docks, it's a good idea to spend a bulk of your time casting topwater baits near the docks.
"I like the shade line and they are protected. I'll throw a Spook to the back of the dock and let it sit there before I start working it," says two-time Bassmaster qualifier Greg Gutierrez. "I'll throw it to the back of the dock, as far as I can go. A lot of times, they'll come out from underneath. A lot of times, I find that the fish are positioned to look back toward the bank, so I throw it all the way to the bank and bring it toward them."
Throwing alongside, under and across the end of docks shouldn't be overlooked when tossing topwater.
Docks, Gutierrez added, "are magnets. They are the one chunk of structure where fish congregate. They are concentrated more around docks than they are in other areas. It tends to suck them in more."
Many anglers increase their odds at catching topwater fish several ways, but changing the factory hooks on various topwater baits is one tactic that's often overlooked.
"Sometimes you change them out," says five-time Angler of the Year recipient David Rush. "When you're having difficulty with fish hanging on to the bait, it can be beneficial to change the hooks. You don't have to do it every time. More often than not, I fish the factory hooks, unless they are cheap hooks."
When changing hooks, it's imperative that you
switch the proper hooks and don't change all of them. Changing out too many hooks can cause the bait to lose its action.
"If you're having trouble on Spooks, you change the belly hook. That gives you a bigger hook, and that's normally where they are trying to grab the bait," Rush added. "If you put a bigger hook on the tail, it 'kilters' the bait and kills the action. If the hook is too big, they'll come around and gather up. That's a bad deal."
Replacing hooks is much easier than it might seem. By removing the split rings and replacing the new hook on the split ring before reattaching it, anglers can easily add sharper, more productive hooks and also add feathers to them when necessary.
"The modification I do is add feathers to them," Rush said. This is standard practice for many successful anglers. Some manufactures also now make baits that come dressed with feathers. "A feather brings the bait alive more. It gives it more of a natural action," Rush added.
Another key to success is determining which to color to use on a given day. While dozens of patterns and colors are available, each works best under certain conditions.
"I look at the clarity of the water and I build around the species," says Gutierrez, who uses certain colors and patterns when targeting smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass.
To narrow it down, Gutierrez uses chartreuse and brighter colors for spots and smallies, and clear, blues and darker greens for largemouth. It's a science he's learned by trial and error, and one that's worked well for him over the last decade. When faced with clear water, he uses more translucent colors and more see-through styles. If the water is off-color, he'll adjust his technique.
"I just stay with the brighter colors, something they can't see through," he said. "The fish change so often. I start out fairly slow and then I'll change it until I find the pattern that they like. The pattern can change every day and throughout the day."