When anglers dream about bass fishing in Florida, the mental images of big largemouth bass boiling up through lily pads to thrash a surface lure is what comes to mind.
So how can you make that Florida topwater dream a reality?
Heed the advice from Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla. The Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing pro has been there and done that.
Lane is a Sunshine State native. He has fished for bass in Florida since he could hold a fishing pole and has caught hundreds of Florida bass on topwaters of all shapes, sizes and actions. When it comes to fooling bass on the surface in Florida, Lane’s topwater tips and picks can help you fulfill your Florida topwater dream.
Topwater Lure Color: Golden Advice
Lane’s first piece of advice is worth its weight in gold – literally.
“When it comes to choosing a color for topwaters in Florida, stick with some sort of gold, black and orange mix,” Lane suggested. “For some reason that combination of colors is timeless for topwaters here. There is something about our tannic colored waters and the presence of golden shiners in our lakes that makes gold an attractive color to bass.”
When to Fish: No Offseason for Topwater in Florida
Lane’s next point about topwaters is they are year-round baits in Florida.
“It’s topwater season 12 months a year here,” Lane said. “Other than severe cold fronts, I have my topwaters on the deck any time I’m fishing in my home state. Feeding on the surface is just a way of life for Florida bass.”
Topwater Lure Type: Lean on Prop Baits
Topwaters come in vast array of actions. Lane says when visiting Florida, lean more towards prop baits like a Boy Howdy or Devil’s Horse rather than buzzbaits and poppers.
“Florida’s lakes are usually natural lakes full of shiners, bream and perch as opposed to upland reservoirs which are full of shad,” Lane explained. “For that reason, twitching double-propped baits has historically been a better approach than winding a buzzbait or twitching a popper. The way shiners and bream behave up near the surface around vegetation is much different than the way shad scurry around hard cover in reservoirs. Prop baits just mimic that shiner and bream activity better than a buzzbait or popper.”
Topwater Retrieve: Watch Bait Speed
Another valuable tip Lane offers is to slow your topwater baits down when in Florida.
“We call it the ‘death twitch,’” Lane revealed. “Cast a prop bait into a hole in the pads, Kissimmee grass or reeds and just twitch it once, let it sit and then lightly twitch it again and see what happens. It’s a technique Florida bass just can’t stand.”
Bass Spawn Tactic: Offer a Topwater
When most anglers think about bass on beds, they think Texas-rigged plastics. Certainly pitching creature baits, worms and craws into big holes in the vegetation is a deadly Florida tactic. Often times those big clean holes in the vegetation are created by bass for beds. But Lane cautions anglers not to get too caught up in the one-dimensional approach of just pitching plastics to holes.
“Try tossing a topwater into those holes and twitching it slowly,” Lane advised. “Those bedding bass get immune to seeing something zip past them to the bottom. When something splashes over their heads and won’t leave, it drives them crazy, especially when they’re guarding fry.”
Lane’s Tackle Picks for Topwater Bass Success
When picking a must-have list of topwater baits for Florida, Lane offers up prop baits, walking baits and frogs.
His first go-to surface lure that stays on the boat deck at all times in Florida is a Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil walking bait in a color appropriately named prism gold black.
“This one is my jack of all trades on top – sort of like a surface search bait,” Lane said. “I’ll throw it everywhere, especially where open water meets weedlines. If there is a light breeze blowing into the vegetation, all the better. It has a subtle knock to it that’s just enough to get noticed without being too loud.”
Lane ties the Pencil to either 30-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast braid or 15-pound-test Trilene Big Game monofilament.
Next up in Lane’s topwater list is an assortment of double-prop baits, including a Boy Howdy, a Devil’s Horse and a Barry’s Custom Lures prop bait.
“These lures are special in Florida,” Lane offered. “I use the Boy Howdy and the Devil’s Horse sort of interchangeably. The Boy Howdy comes in a gold/black color that is perfect for Florida and my favorite Devil’s Horse color is called silver shiner and it’s more toned down for clearer water. These are like finesse topwaters; you want to lay them in holes in the vegetation and twitch them slowly – and trust me, they work all year long.”
Lane offers a word of caution with using such prop baits: avoid throwing them on braid or fluorocarbon.
“You almost have to go exclusively with monofilament on these prop baits otherwise the front prop will tangle in the line,” Lane explained. “Monofilament does not catch in the props nearly as much.”
Lane’s line choice for his prop baits is 15-pound-test Trilene Big Game spooled on a 6-foot, 9-inch medium- to medium-light rod.
“These prop baits are not big-rod, horse-them-in-the-boat lures,” Lane noted. “A lot of times the fish just come up and boil up under the lure and suck it down. Fighting one while it’s bogging down in the vegetation is quite a thrill and in the end you may have to troll up into the thick stuff to dig them out.”
Lane switches to the Barry’s Custom Lures prop bait when Florida bass are feeding in and around bluegill beds, usually anytime from May through July.
“The Barry’s Custom is a much more aggressive topwater bait than the Devil’s Horse or Boy Howdy,” Lane detailed. “It’s a bigger bait with bigger props that really throw water when ripped. Sometimes I’ll go to 20-pound monofilament on this one. If you find clusters of bream beds, this lure is hard to beat.”
Last but certainly not least, Lane’s final must-have for Florida topwater bass is a hollow-bodied frog – a lure that’s synonymous with Florida’s swampy terrain.
“People always ask me what’s the best frog for Florida and that’s hard to answer because I literally have a hundred of them in different brands, styles and colors,” Lane said. “But basically you want to two styles of frogs: one being a popping frog with a concave mouth and the other just a traditional pointed-nose frog.”
The popping frog is Lane’s version of a popper in Florida. He uses it to pop across small openings in the thickest of mats as well as up under docks. The traditional frog he used to walk across more scattered vegetation with a faster cadence. With either frog he prefers colors of black or brown.
“Frogs require some heavier tackle to get them out of the slop,” he added. “I usually go with 50-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast braid on a 7-foot medium-heavy Abu Garcia Villain rod. Wresting a pig out of the jungle on this kind of tackle is what fishing in Florida is all about.”