Most bass fishermen would trade a hundred keeper fish hooked beneath the surface for one lunker that creams a topwater lure. The sight and sound of a big bass detonating a surface lure is like a hot branding iron — it leaves a lasting impression!
But with all the surface lure styles on the market, choosing the best one for the application at hand can be mighty confusing. Inquiring minds want to know — which topwater lure works best for clear water, muddy water, or when the lake is choppy? How about in thick weed cover, or at night? Don’t fret — we’ve got the answers right here! Read these recommendations from leading bass pros, and then get ready for some explosive surface action on your next bass outing!
Buzzbaits are among the favorite surface lures of pro tournament anglers for one reason: they’ve got a proven track record of catching big bass, even when other lures are catching only keepers! The buzzer’s winged blade creates considerable surface commotion that triggers massive reaction strikes. Buzzers will catch bass all day long when fished around scattered wood and sparse grass cover – the single upswept hook and thin wire frame make this lure surprisingly resistant to hangups. Use a long, fairly limber rod when fishing buzzbaits for extra casting distance and shock absorption when fighting a big fish.
#2 Weedless Frogs
Weedless topwaters, including surface frogs, are lightweight soft plastic baits designed to crawl, slide and tumble over the thickest weeds and slop — they’re at home in lilypads, matted hydrilla and pond scum. They often produce better in mid-day than early or late (bass are more likely to be hiding under thick surface cover when the sun is high). Target areas where grass thins out or gets denser, potholes, boat lanes and other weed irregularities. Use a slow, steady retrieve, allowing the fish plenty of time to locate the lure. If a bass strikes and misses, keep reeling! Frogs should be fished on a long rod with heavy braided line. To get more casting distance from these lightweight baits, cut a slit in the top of a hollow frog and insert pinched-off sections of soft plastic worms as well as a few glass worm rattles. Now you’ll be able to chunk the frog way back in the grass, and bass will home in on the noisy rattles.
#3 Stick Baits
Stick baits like the Heddon Zara Spook have accounted for countless lunker largemouth and smallmouth, especially in deep, clear lakes. This is arguably the best surface lure style for probing main lake reservoir structures, and the first topwater style you should throw in early spring – smallmouth aficionados report catching lunker prespawn bronzebacks on stick baits in water as cold as 45 degrees. Pro anglers use the “walk the dog” retrieve with stick baits — cast, lower your rod tip, and slap the slack out of the line with each crank of the reel handle. This retrieve works best when the lure is fished on a short medium-action baitcasting outfit with 14-pound monofiliment line.
Poppers are a popular choice when bass are holding in a confined area, such as in thick junk weeds topping out just below the surface, in open holes in grass beds, or on spawning beds. They also work great on schooling fish, although their squat design makes them harder to cast long distances than either chuggers or stick baits. Bass will often hit a popper when it’s sitting still, so try varying the number and intensity of pops and the length of the pauses between pops until you determine what turns on the fish.
Chuggers like the Heddon Lucky 13 and Storm Chug Bug emit a loud gurgle when “chugged” or jerked repeatedly. They have a concave face like a popper, but the body is long like a stick bait. These fairly heavy, yet aerodynamic lures are perfect for long-distance casting to surfacing schooling bass. They’re also ideal for covering big pieces of structure such as main lake points and humps.
#6 Prop Baits
The earliest known topwater style, prop baits lures sport a propeller on one or both ends that produces a loud slushing/gurgling sound when the rod tip is jerked, suggesting an injured baitfish or fleeing frog to bass. This is often your best topwater choice in murky water in shallow, weedy lakes, as well as when high winds are creating a heavy chop on the water in clear reservoirs. Bright colors like chartreuse often work surprisingly well with these lures. The metal propellers may nick your line when casting, so run the line through your fingers ahead of the lure to check for abrasions between casts, and then retie if you feel a rough spot.
One of the most exciting topwater styles you can fish, wobblers like the classic Arbogast Jitterbug produce violent strikes and are known for catching huge bass, especially at night. The metal lip produces a noisy, erratic wobbling surface action. Cast the lure around weedy shorelines and retrieve it at a slow, steady pace, so it makes that telltale “plip-plop-plip-plop” sound that’s so irritating to big bass. Proven colors for wobbers include natural frog and black. Be sure to use a stout rod and heavy line, because you’re about to get some hellacious strikes!
#8 Floater/Diver Minnows
Also known as twitch baits, floater/diver minnows like the original Rapala, A.C. Shiner and Bagley Bang-O-Lure are designed to float at rest, dive when jerked, then resurface during the pause. Pro anglers fish them in spring around the shallow margins of the lake, where their subtle, yet erratic action triggers strikes from big spawning bass. These lures are light enough to fish on a medium-action spinning rod with 8 to 10 pound line. Smaller sizes are deadly for stream smallmouth.
Pause Before Jerking
Many bass anglers complain of missed strikes when fishing topwater lures. “You need to give the fish a second or two to take the lure in its mouth before you set the hook,” says Florida bass pro/TV show host Shaw Grigsby. “This can be hard to do when you see a big bass boil up and smack the lure, but if you train yourself to pause before jerking, you’ll boat the lion’s share of those fish.” When fishing surface lures, Grigsby makes a concerted effort to wait until he feels the fish pull his line before he slams back his rod. “If this method doesn’t work for you, try using a softer-action rod than you’d been using for topwater fishing,” he suggests. “This will allow the bass more time to take the bait deeper before you can react.”