Topwater baits are a favorite among summertime anglers. Whether it be early in the morning, late in the evening, or a cloudy day, topwaters will always keep the excitement level high. These baits can come in many forms, most notably poppers, spooks or walking baits, buzzbaits, prop baits, and frogs. All of these baits are designed to be fished on the waters surface and can elicit some of the most aggressive strikes in bass fishing. Breaking down each style of bait and how it is best utilized will help you next time you're on the water.
A popper is one of the oldest bass fishing baits, yet it puts fish in the boat to this day. Its short body and cupped face help give it the nickname of a “chugging” bait. The popper is the best bait to use when fishing very specific targets and the bait needs to be in the strike zone as long as possible. When casted to a target such as a dock, laydowns, grass line, or any shoreline cover for that matter, slowly twitch the rod so that the baits cupped face will spit water. No bait on the market right now spits more water than the Arashi Storm Cover Pop. This bait is best used to fish ultra slow when bass are in the post spawn stage. These post spawn fish, or any fish that is inactive, likely will not chase a bait. For this reason, having a bait that does not travel as far forward is desirable. The slow side to side motion is the best way to keep the bait in the strike zone as long as possible. Once the bait has left the strike zone, burn it back to the boat and make another cast. Fish are less likely to come from far distances with a popper, so keeping it close to the cover and making repeated casts will lead to being more efficient and more fish being caught.
Spooks or Walking Baits
When chasing schools of shad or covering water fast, a spook or walking bait is the go-to. The original bait to get this action was the Heddon Zara Spook, this bait has been replicated throughout the years, but nothing seems to quite have the same action. This walking style of bait can be used from early summer into late fall when fish are chasing schools of shad. Walking baits can be used around sparse cover, however they are most effective in open water situations. One of the most underutilized locations for a walking bait is along shallow grass lines or over grass beds. Working this bait fast can cause some fish to miss the bait, pause the bait when this happens and then quickly walk it again, followed by another pause. This allows the fish to get reoriented to the baits location and hone in on it again.
Buzzbaits are one of the best ways to catch shallow water bass. When bass are up shallow in cover such as lily pads, pencil reeds, or topped out grass the sound of Terminator Super Stainless Buzzbait will cause fish to lash out. Buzz baits come equipped with a single, heavy duty hook so throwing them in thick cover is no issue. Having this large hook allows you to throw this on straight braided line and horse fish out of cover. In addition to the blade churning in the water, the squeak of the blade rubbing on the rivet is a vital component in a buzzbait. One disadvantage to a buzzbait in compared to other topwater baits is that buzzbaits will not float. They will sink if you pause the retrieve. Additionally, buzzbaits can be cumbersome to cast in the wind. A new trend to combat this issue has been to remove the skirt and thread a craw or lizard style bait on the back. A swimbait can also be a good trailer for fish feeding on shad.
Quick tip: When throwing a buzzbait, don't forget to add a trailer hook. This bait is intended to be retrieved fast and fish often miss the bait. Adding this trailer hook can solve the issue of short strikes.
Prop baits can come in 2 forms, a single prop in the back or a prop on both front and back. The most popular bait that has a prop on the back is the River2Sea Whopper Plopper. This bait was originally designed to catch muskies, however River2Sea soon realized that they needed to make a smaller version specifically designed for bass. These baits are unique in that they have properties of both a buzzbait and a popper. When retrieved straight back to the boat, they could be used as a buzz bait. The Whopper Plopper can also be paused and twitched, causing the tail to spin and disperse water for just a second and resembling a topwater popper. This bait can be very versatile, and with a combination of the two retrieves can fool a lot of bass into biting.
Although rarely used, the double propped baits can be incredibly effective. These are fished similar to a popper and produce a slight surface disturbance. There is a wide range of variation, very loud baits and also extremely subtle baits. On the loud end, the Berkley Spin Bomb is fished similar to a popper and produces lots of commotion. The quieter version is the famous Rapala X-Rap Prop bait. This bait and others of its style are known for putting giant bass in the boat on Lake Okeechobee and other Florida lakes. The subtle bubbling of the props is a true weapon.
Rod and Reel
When selecting the right topwater rod, distinguishing what cover you will be fishing around is key. For open water situations, the bait is likely going to be retrieved with a twitching motion. For this application a shorter rod, 6’ 6” or 7’, is best. This will prevent the rod tip from hitting the water. Additionally, having a more parabolic rod will help keep fish hooked when using treble hooks. This is applicable for poppers, walking baits, and prop baits. Buzzbaits are a different story. When fishing around thick cover, a heavy power rod is needed. Either a Heavy or Medium Heavy rod will provide the proper power to get fish from cover. For both of these situations, a fast gear ratio is preferred. The ability to pick up line quickly to set the hook or make another cast is important.
When selecting line, there are really only 3 options. Monofilament, braided line, or braided line with a monofilament leader. The reason monofilament and braid are the options is that both of these lines float and will keep the nose of the bait on top of the water. Fluorocarbon is not recommended because it will sink the front of the bait, impeding on the action. Monofilament is best utilized when fishing wide open water and the bait has very small treble hooks. The stretch that monofilament has will keep fish pinned. An option that has been gaining popularity is the braided line with a monofilament leader. Braid has no stretch and the monofilament leader provides just a small amount of stretch, creating the best of both worlds. This can also be good when fishing crystal clear water, the monofilament leader is clear. Eliminating line visibility is always something to get more bites.