Walk into any big tackle store and the topwater isle will hold a confusing array of baits in different shapes, sizes, colors and designs.
With so many choices, which ones should you buy and fish? Breaking them down into categories and knowing where, when and how to fish them will help you decide.
Baits designed to “walk on top” are cigar shaped plugs with no lip or spinners. When at rest, they float tail down. They have no action of their own — you must make them work by twitching your rod tip to make them “walk” from side to side. To do this, twitch your rod tip a few inches then move it back toward the bait to let your line go slack. The slack line is important: The first twitch moves the head to one side and the slack allows it to move back to the other side, in a zig-zag motion.
Walking baits are excellent for schooling fish but will catch fish under most conditions. They can be fished from deep water (where they will draw fish to the top) to very shallow water on or near the bank. They work best in clear water, since they are quiet baits and bass must see them to hit them. A little ripple on the water helps, but these baits do not work as well in heavier waves. They are usually fished very fast, with constant motion, but sometimes a slow movement over the water is best, so don’t get stuck on one action.
A big bait catches bigger bass, but smaller ones are better for numbers. Bass don’t see anything but the bottom of the lure, so color is not very important. A light-colored bait, bone or chrome, is best on clear days but darker colors are easier for the bass to see if it is cloudy. Replacing the back bare hook with one with a feather or hair dressing also often helps get bites.
Fish these baits over deep standing timber and brush piles in very clear water and bass will come up from surprisingly deep water to hit them. A steady, fast retrieve is usually best to imitate bass chasing baitfish. Big baits can be cast further, but smaller baits work better if the bait the bass are eating is small.
These baits also work on bass holding on shady banks, seawalls and in thick, submerged cover. Use a variety of rates of retrieve, and you have a good chance of drawing strikes.
Poppers have a cupped lip in front that gurgles and pops water when you twitch your rod tip. Those that spit water, throwing a spray in front of the bait when popped, are especially effective. They come in different sizes, and a hair- or feather-dressed back hook makes them better. They can be twitched fast, keeping them moving popping and spraying water, or popped and let sit still for several seconds.
These baits catch schooling fish and those deeper over open water, but are best when cast right against seawalls, over brush and around docks and blowdowns. Natural baitfish colors work well when the bass are feeding on shad, but darker brown colors in shallow water imitate bluegill.
If you find a Mayfly hatch, throw a small popper under overhanging limbs with flies on them. Fish these with short pops and pauses — they sound and act just like small bream slurping up a fly on top and bass see those bream as an easy meal.
Smaller baits create a smaller splash when they hit the water and are less likely to spook shallow bass. Bigger baits are better in choppy or stained water, since they make more commotion and give a better target. At times a few inches of shade from a seawall will hold a bass, so don’t pass them with a small popper any time of day.
All floating topwater baits should be fished on line that floats. Choose monofilament or braid, not fluorocarbon. Braid is best for long casts and pulling fish away from cover, but monofilament is needed for spooky fish, especially in very clear water. And poppers have better action on lighter line.
Flutter baits are torpedo shaped with a spinner on one or both ends. They lie flat when at rest; twitching the rod tips makes the spinners gurgle and churn water. A small twitch imitates a bream feeding or chasing other bream, a favorite target of bass. Harder twitches create a ripping sputter that draws bass from greater distances to hit them.
Stained water is a good condition under which to fish these baits because they make a lot of commotion, and they can be paused in place to let the bass zero in on them. Twitch them hard, then let them sit for several seconds while bass come to them. Bream bedding this month draw bass to feed and bream-colored baits in browns and greens are excellent to fish slowly over and around the bream beds. Bass see them as distracted bream defending beds, a food that is easy to catch.
FLOATERS/DIVERS AND WAKEBAITS
Floater/Divers have been around since 1936 and are still excellent baits when fish are tough to catch. They are long, thin plugs with a small bill near the head. They float at rest, but a small pull of the rod tip makes them dive a few inches. When you pause them, they float slowly to the top like an injured minnow.
Floater/divers work best around shallow cover in clear-to-slightly-stained water and you must fish them slowly. Cast past a stump or brush top, swim the bait to it and let it float to the top. Bass cannot resist that easy meal. Do the same along dock posts. Try letting it sit a long time, especially in very clear water. Baitfish colors, silver in clear water and gold in stained water, both with black backs, look very natural.
If you reel a floater/diver very slowly it will wobble along the top. This action is so effective wakebaits were designed to stay on top all the time. The slowly wobbling motion leaves a V-shaped wake behind it like an injured minnow swimming along the top. If you have ever seen bass hitting shad or herring on top, you have seen injured bait swimming like this, until a bass slurps them up. Offer these bass a wakebait instead.
Buzzbaits were first designed as an in-line wire bait with a hook at one end and a big cupped blade at the other. Modern versions are an “open safety pin” shape like a spinnerbait. They sink, so they must be moved constantly, and the flat head helps keep them on top at slower retrieval speeds.
On bright sunny days, creeks and rivers feeding the lake offer more shade and the water is often cooler and more stained. Buzzbaits are an excellent choice to cover water fast to find scattered, shallow fish in them. Cast past any wood cover and run the bait over and around it — buzzbaits are good choices here not only because they appeal to the bass, but because the bait design helps it come over cover without hanging up.
The noise of the blade is the attraction for buzzbait, but skirt color can make a big difference. White or white and chartreuse skirts with silver blades are standard colors, but black skirts and black blades often catch more fish, especially those that are heavily pressured. And they work in clear to heavily stained water since they make a lot of noise and move along with a steady, easy-to-find action.
Whopper Ploppers are the hottest topwater bait in the past few years, and they are glorified buzzers — hard baits with a big paddle tail. Small ones sound and look like a buzzbait but bigger sizes have an unusual noise that attracts big fish. They can be retrieved steadily or ripped for different actions.
Frogs are hollow-bodied plastic lures that float. They usually have a double hook at the tail that sits flat on the top of the body, making them essentially weedless. A skirt comes out on either side of the hook, imitating frog legs. Some have cupped fronts to pop when twitched, some have pointed, flat heads that skim across heavy cover.
Frogs excel around grass where other topwater baits get hung. Cupped mouths pop like bream feeding but are best in thin weeds like water willow or in holes and cuts in thick mats of hydrilla and hyacinth. A pointed head lets a frog glide over thick mats. Black frogs are good all the time, but if the bass are feeding on shad in the weeds, silver or white is best. Frogs should be fished on heavy braid.
Frogs also come over wood cover and skip easily, so they are great when skipped under docks. Skip them to the darkest area and work them out slowly through the shade to catch bass avoiding bright sun. Brush under docks makes them even better.
Pick a variety of topwater baits for different conditions and experiment with different things. Nothing is more exciting than the explosive splash when a bass eats one.