October 05, 2023
Fall bass fishing is great for many reasons. For starters, the lakes and rivers are a lot less crowded than in summer. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the fishing can be phenomenal. Both largemouths and smallmouths put on the feed bag during the fall to fatten up before the long winter. With this, anglers have an opportunity not only to target big bass but also, quite often, to catch numbers of bass as well.
Topwater baits provide anglers with a fun and effective approach for fall bass. You get to see the fish strike, then it puts on a flashy, acrobatic show as you bring it to the boat.
Topwater baits aren’t used solely for their excitement potential, though. Sometimes in the fall—whether due to location, water temperature or fish preference—the action of a topwater bait is exactly what’s needed for a banner day on the water.
The fall topwater bite typically gets good when water temperatures get close to 60 degrees, and it will usually stay good until water temperatures fall below the 50-degree mark. As smallmouths roam large rock or boulder flats on a lake, it can be hard to pin them down and present lures to them in the fall. However, with a topwater plug you can cover water quickly and find an active school of bass. Once you catch a few and the bite slows, turn to a more precise presentation to tempt a few more in the school.
Bass still relating to weed lines or weed points often hold on the edge of these. In the fall, this is true not just during low-light periods but throughout the day. Because daylight hours are getting shorter, bass are looking to feed longer. So, you can bring your topwater bait across a weed point or along the weed edge and keep your bait in the strike zone for the longest amount of time possible.
When fishing a river system, the fall topwater bite can truly be one of the best things a bass angler experiences all year. Look for a line (seam) in the current or a boil, which signals an underwater obstruction that is providing a current break. Any piece of cover creates an eddy that opposes the river’s downstream flow, such as a wing dam or a shallow sandbar that sharply drops from 1 to 2 feet down to 4-plus feet. These areas commonly hold bass on river systems. Sandbars can be along the shoreline, they can form an isolated island in a secondary slough or they can be found along the main river channel.
Current plays an equally important role in determining productive areas on lakes. If the lake you’re fishing has any incoming creeks or an outgoing water control system, these will create current. Lakes are often drawn down for the winter, so any area where the water is moving will have current.
The same goes for wind. On lakes, wind creates current and pushes baitfish around. So even on windy fall days, when you may not want to be out on the water, if you play the wind right, you can have a great day. Look for windblown points or shorelines and you may find a big school of fall bass ready to inhale your topwater bait. Topwater plugs not only allow you to mimic the baitfish that bass are feeding on in the current, they also allow you to cover a lot of water and identify potential spots in the current that are holding a school of bass.
The topwater bait you fish with should be tailored to the conditions you’re facing as an angler. If I’m fishing moving water but the current break isn’t a big one and the current is still moving at a good clip, I feel a popper-style bait is the optimal choice. The noise and disturbance those baits create on top of the water really call in the bass.
I’ll switch to a walk-the-dog-style plug if the current isn’t as swift and bass are holding more in the slack water behind a current break. This way, I can slowly walk it across the surface of the water, which drives current-holding bass crazy. Having plugs of different sizes is important, as each day the bass may prefer another profile, and each bait will have a slightly different action as it moves across the top of the water.
With either type of topwater bait, cast upstream and let the current move the bait into the seam, or work the bait back down through the seam with the current. This gives the bait a natural look, just as if a baitfish were caught in the current and being washed downstream.
Prop-style topwater baits provide anglers with both a more subtle type of presentation and a very aggressive one. A prop bait is a stickbait with a spinner blade on each end. This style is a good choice when bass are tight-lipped or when a longer pause is needed while fishing around boat docks or shallow-water wood.
When you want an even more aggressive approach, turn to a plopper-style bait. These have an extra-loud action and create a ton of attention-grabbing commotion. They excel when fishing along a windblown bank, point or massive flat where you need lots of action to call in bass.
The nice thing about topwater baits is that you can work them as slow or as fast as necessary to fit conditions. Because they won’t sink, you can keep them in the strike zone longer if needed. If the weather is warm and bass want the bait to be moving quickly and generating a lot of surface commotion, you can oblige them. If the water is on the cooler side or bass are being tight-lipped, you can work them slower. A walk-the-dog-style plug worked very slowly and methodically will often coax bass up to the surface.
A buzzbait is, of course, another option. It shines on lakes and rivers where the vegetation is still intact or if you’re fishing a shoreline with scattered brush. Buzzbaits won’t hang up in cover, like any one of the previously mentioned baits with treble hooks might, but they will provide a topwater action that generates some massive strikes from hungry fall bass.
- Six tried-and-true surface lures to fish this fall.
- EVERGREEN SHOWER BLOW (SB-125): This larger-sized walk-the-dog plug ($18.99; evergreenbaits.com) has a great darting action across the top of water, and its unique concave face makes it spit water forward as well. It’s a heavy bait, so even if bass are schooling on the other side of a flat, you can hit your target.
- REBEL POP R: One of the original topwater plugs, this one ($7.99; lurenet.com) still has a great splashing action to attract bass. The larger-profile P71 model allows for easier casting and gives bass a bigger bait to key on.
- HEDDON SUPER SPOOK JR.: The Spook is another of the original topwater baits and excels all year long, but I especially like the smaller Super Spook Jr. ($8.49; lurenet.com), as sometimes bass need a more compact bait following a strong fall cold front or intense angling pressure.
- WAR EAGLE BUZZ TOAD: In lieu of a silicone skirt on the back of the buzzbait, this half-ounce bait ($7.49) has a soft-plastic frog. This gives it some added bulk, which makes it easier to cast in windy conditions or when you’re looking to make a long cast. The frog’s feet also add some fish-attracting action.
- BAGLEY BAITS BANG O LURE TWIN SPIN: The dual prop blades give this bait ($9.99; bagleybait.com) plenty of action, but when paused around a piece of cover, the lifelike minnow profile of the bait will keep a bass interested. Prepare for the strike when you begin your retrieve again.
- RIVER2SEA WHOPPER PLOPPER 130: This bait ($17.84; river2seausa.com) allows you to control your retrieve speed while keeping the blade moving. It’s a must-have in fall when a lot of action is needed to coax in bass.
The perfect setup for fishing topwater baits in the fall
When fishing most topwater baits, I like to use a 7-foot rod. I find that the shorter stick (most anglers use 7-foot-plus rods) allows me to impart more action to the bait. The Witch Doctor Tackle Shaman 7-foot, medium-heavy crankbait rod ($309.99; witchdoctortackle.com) has a soft tip yet still has some backbone to it, and is my personal choice. I’ll pair it with a casting reel with a high-speed gear ratio (7.2:1), which allows me to bring my line in quickly if bass start busting in another area and I want reel up to cast to that spot.
Another rod I’ll use is a Witch Doctor Tackle Kahuna 7-foot-4-inch heavy casting rod ($399.99). I turn to this when I’m fishing plopper-style baits, as the graphite/fiberglass rod helps keep bass hooked up better on this type of lure. I like to fish my topwater plugs on 40-pound Seaguar Smackdown Braid in Stealth Gray ($29.99/150 yards; seaguar.com), as I can make long casts with it, and it helps me rip a bait out of vegetation.