Anyone who has spent much time around me knows I'm a bass junkie at heart and a topwater nut from way back. I like to catch bass any way they’ll bite, but I had rather fool them with a surface lure than any other way.
The eccentric melody of a topwater plug at work definitely toys with the mind, but it is the violent explosions that sometimes happen when a big bass eats one that keeps guys like me coming back for more. It’s a squeaky-clean addiction that gripped my fishing soul in the late-1960s and never let go.
I was just a kid from Garland without a care in the world back then. I owned a cheap spincast outfit and a tiny tackle box used mostly for storing corks, split shot weights and small hooks that I tipped with earthworms, minnows and grasshoppers whenever they were in season.
I fished a lot as a child, mostly from the banks of stock tanks around Collin County. That's where my hang-up on topwater fishing got started.
Interestingly, however, it didn't begin with a cast. It began with a spent shotshell casing I tossed into an old farm pond as my dad pass shot doves coming to water along the caliche shoreline.
The ripples hadn’t even settled on the surface when a head-hunting lunker came calling. Acting on a fit of rage, the fish smashed the bobbing shotshell so hard it sent a spray of white water sailing. My dad’s response was classic and straight to the point.
“Bass…. mean suckers, ain’t they,” he chuckled.
Roughly 40 years have gone by since that sultry summer afternoon, and I still get the insatiable itch to act on what I saw and heard that day.
It happens just about any time the sun is low, the light is dim or whenever the muted glow of a full moon casts wicked reflections across the shallows of a bass-filled reservoir or pond. The urge to scratch the surface becomes especially strong in late spring and early summer, when post-spawn fish are near the bank guarding baby bass, patrolling bream beds or gorging their bellies around the shad spawn at first light.
Like other types of lures, topwaters come in many styles, sizes and designs meant to simulate the sounds, actions and appearances of wounded or fleeing forage like shad, perch, frogs or even young bass and crappie.
Here are a few good surface baits to have handy whenever bass are in the mood to look up:
The popper is fashioned with a cupped face that dictates the sound and action. The angler imparts the action with intermittent twitches of the rod tip. You can alter the action and sound by holding the rod tip high or low.
Poppers with a deep, concave face like the Rebel Pop-R make plopping, gurgling sounds when the nose digs in. They are sometimes called chuggers.
Flatter face baits like the Booyah Boss Pop or KVD Splash make more of spitting sound and throw water forward when put in motion. Some flat-faced poppers will dance or walk side-to-side with the proper rod cadence.
Another useful popper is the Booyah Prank. The bait comes from the same mold as the Boss Pop, except it is equipped a small nose bill. The square bill helps it dive and swim 12-18 inches below the surface when needed. It’s like having a popper and a shallow diving crankbait in one.
Walking topwaters are designed to be walked side-to-side, frequently called “walking the dog.” The keys are developing the proper cadence with your rod tip to achieve the right dance, then experimenting with varied retrieve speeds until you find the sweet spot. Sometimes bass want it fast. Other times they like it slow.
The Heddon Zara Spook, Lucky Craft Sammy and the Berkley J-Walker are torpedo-shaped baits that are easy to walk and have lots big fish appeal because of their large profiles. The baits cast extremely well, so they are good choices for reaching out to schooling bass without getting too close.
The buzz bait has some of the same traits as a spinnerbait, except for it has a large, rotating blade that churns the surface and creates a buzzing noise that can be heard from long distances. Most come equipped with removable skirt that can replaced with a toad imitation or some other type of soft plastic to enhance the look, sound and action.
Fishing a buzz bait is simple — cast it and wind it back on a steady retrieve. Otherwise, it will sink. Buzz baits tend to work best when there is some chop on the water. Bass rarely hold anything back when they wage war on a buzz bait. In fact, strikes are at times so vicious it is easy to jerk the bait away from the fish before it eats it.
Prop baits get their name from small, propellers that create a unique “whoosh” or fizzing sound when the bait moves across the surface. Some have one prop on the nose or tail, while others are equipped with props at both ends.
Vintage favorites like the Cordell Boy Howdy and Smithwick Devil’s Horse are long and slender, while others like the Heddon Tiny Torpedo or Cordell Crazy Shad are more compact, like a bait fish. A prop bait can be twitched stop-and-go or reeled slow and steady to create a distinctive buzz and bubble trail. It’s a favorite in late spring, especially where bluegills are spawning.
One of the more unique prop baits on the market is the Whopper Plopper by River2Sea. It has a large, single-arm tail prop with a deep cup that produces significant racket and vicious strikes on a steady retrieve. Berkley introduced a knockoff last year called the Choppo. The 1-ounce 120 model sells for around $10.50, significantly less than 130 Whopper Plopper.
There are two styles of frogs — buzz frogs and hollow bodies.
Buzz frogs are made from solid soft plastic with wiggling legs and feet that create sound and bubbles when reeled at a steady retrieve. Most will sink when paused.
Hollow bodies have an open body captivity that traps air to keep the toad afloat when idle. Some are designed to walk, while others have a cupped face to make them perform like a popper. Stanley’s Poppn’ Toad will buzz or pop.
The real beauty of frogs is they are weedless. This allows for taking the topwater game to heavy cover like pads, grass, reeds and bushes where big bass like to plot violent ambushes unsuspecting forage.
* It is not a good idea to fish poppers and walkers on fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon sinks and will impede the action. Monofilament line gets the call in most cases, because it floats. Use the smallest diameter line you can get away with. In most cases, lines in the 12-14 pound test range are ideal for poppers and walking baits.
A medium-action rod with a light tip works best for poppers and walkers. The forgiving tip gives the bass a little extra time to inhale the bait after the strike, cutting down on missed fish if you jerk too quick. A limber rod also feeds slack back to a topwater and enhances the action. Heavier action rods work best in combination with larger baits like the ‘Plopper.
Make sure the popper’s rear treble hook has a feather. The feather pulsates and sometimes triggers more strikes.
Frogs should be used with a stiff rod and big braided line, especially when thrown around heavy cover. A heavy action rod and 65-80 pound test braid provides leverage for overpowering large fish. Braided line also cuts vegetation like a knife.
If fish are short-striking a buzz bait, try adding a trailer hook on the main hook.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.