One of the most thrilling experiences on fresh water is when a chunky bass, be it a largemouth or smallmouth, blows up on a surface bait. When there’s a hot topwater bite, chances are you’ll also catch some of the biggest fish of the season. So to help you enjoy more success on top, here are some tips that have helped me score throughout the years.
Poppers, walkers, buzzers, prop baits, frogs, rats... there’s no shortage of lure styles, sizes and colors for catching bass on the surface. What’s best? All of them respectively, depending who you ask and on what day you ask them. As far as which one is most versatile, my money is on the revered buzz bait - and I’ll tell you why.
Buzz baits work great on all bass, anywhere where bass are found. They’re so versatile because you can swim them across open water, around and over submerged timber, in and around lilly pads, through bulrushes - anywhere! They’re virtually 100 percent weed-proof, and I don’t have to tell you how heavy cover attracts predatory bass.
Another nice thing about buzz baits is their ability to perform at any speed. They stay on top with a slow retrieve, and also create havoc when blasted back at high speed. And here’s a tip: have a buzz bait that has a very light body along with an oversized blade, since you’ll be able to buzz that bait very slowly when bass are neutral to negative during cold fronts.
Fishing slowly in cold conditions works with all the other surface bait types too. A good rule of thumb is, the hotter it is - the more energized the lure presentation can be. Also remember, any time you’re in some nasty cover, go weedless with buzz baits, snag-proof frogs and rats. In open water, I’ll almost always opt for double trebles hanging down to improve my hook setting odds.
When a bass hammers your topwater lure, avoid the most common mistake anglers make. They tend to set the hook right when they see the strike. This often results in a miss since the bass has not yet closed its mouth around the lure. Wait one or two seconds after the strike before setting the hook and you’ll catch more fish.
The equipment you use can have a big effect on your topwater success too. Use a good stout rod between 6.5 and 8 feet long. Spool up with fat monofilament line, in the 14-17 pound range. Bigger diameter mono is perfect not only for its strength, but because it floats nice which improves the action of all topwater baits.
To enhance the action of surface lures even more, use a loop knot instead of a knot that cinches all the way down on the lure eye. This is especially crucial on “walk the dog” lures like the Zara Spook. The loop know allows the bait to turn and glide a lot better than traditional knots. The addition of a split ring to the lure eye will have a similar effect, although I think split rings can sometimes undermine the intended action of the bait.
Finally, another little trick on topwaters is to dress up the rear end of the bait. On plugs, add a little feather or hair to the rear hook. On buzz baits, add a stinger hook with a twist-tail grub body or strip of pork rind. Doing these modifications gives the lure a larger profile, enhanced action and helps turn short-strikes into hooked fish.
I hope these pointers increase your topwater thrills this summer. I could keep writing, but I just saw a bass boil in glass-calm water out my window. Think I’ll go walk out on the dock and throw him a topwater!