Early Fall Topwaters with Cliff Pirch

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Early Fall Topwaters with Cliff PirchTopwater fishing is among the most exciting ways to fish for bass, the explosion on the surface is enough to get anyone excited. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Cliff Pirch is a fan of topwater baits and believes it is one of the best ways to catch a big bass in early fall.


The retrieve speed and action will vary based on the bait and how the fish are acting that day. “Typically if it is a clear water situation, I will be working the bait quickly. I don’t want them to get too good of a look at it and it is the best way to get a reaction out of them,” says Pirch. The best advice is to let the fish tell you how they want the bait. “I like to see how they react to the bait and adjust my retrieve until I figure out what they want,” adds Pirch.

Missed Fish and Short Strikes

One problem with topwater fishing is that bass will often miss the bait as they come to the surface or the angler will miss on the hookset. Often the bass will short strike the bait or roll over the bait. According to Cliff Pirch there are two things you can do to increase your chances at catching those fish after a miss, either change your retrieve as your continue your cast or have a follow up bait ready. “If the fish are hitting it multiple times they are pretty aggressive and you can usually change up your retrieve and get them to bite it again. I’ll twitch it really fast and then stop it and see if they hit it again,” says the Arizona pro.  If the bass hit it and miss it one time, Pirch will have a follow up soft plastic bait ready to cast to that area. “You don’t want them to follow it all the way to the boat because they will see you. So I’ll jerk the bait out of there and get it back to the boat. I’ll fire in there with a Roboworm Zipper Worm and have a good chance of catching that fish,” shares Pirch.

Time of Day and Water Temperature

Early in the morning and right before the sun sets is a prime time to throw topwater baits, the visibility is low and fish are usually actively searching for food, but there are other opportunities throughout the day. “The topwater bite can be good all day and I’m not afraid to throw it any time of the day. I have caught them in sunny conditions at midday,” says Pirch.Another key factor to how the fish will react to topwater is the water temperature. “It really depends on the species, but I have seen spotted bass bite a topwater in some really cold temperatures. Largemouth and fish in warmer climates seem to be more affected by the temperature when it drops and that can shut them down,” adds Pirch.

Line Choices

Early Fall Topwaters with Cliff Pirch

Sammy and Spook walking baits are key components of Pirch’s topwater approach.

Braided line has gained popularity as a good choice for topwater due to its great casting ability and added power but Cliff Pirch also likes it for the action he gets out of his baits. “I feel like with braid the bait is much more responsive to your rod. You are able to really animate the bait and get a much sharper action,” says Pirch. He will use 50lb braid for his walking topwaters as well as for buzzbaits.

Monofilament is another option for Pirch when he is fishing slower. “I’ll use mono any time I am fishing the bait a little slower, because the fish have a chance to get a better look at the bait and I don’t want them to see to the braid,” says the Elite Series pro.

What Makes a Good Topwater Rod?

The rod choice for topwater will vary based on personal preference as well as the bait being used. Cliff Pirch keeps it fairly simple and relies on two rods for all of his topwater fishing. “I use the Phenix M1 that is 7’2” in either the medium or medium heavy action, the medium for the smaller baits and medium heavy for the bigger baits. For me, a good topwater rod is one that has a soft tip, but still has to power to hook them,” says the two time U.S. Open champion. He went on to explain that the soft tip helps to work the bait and also ensures that the bait will not rip out of the mouth of the bass. “That’s important especially if you are using braided line and treble hooks. It will also help when the fish jump, it absorbs some of that shock,” adds Pirch.

Walking Baits

Topwater baits like the Lucky Craft Sammy and Heddon Super Spook are among Pirch’s favorite topwater baits and he relies on them more than any other topwater baits. “Both of those are big fish baits and you can cover water quickly. If I am fishing a walking bait I want to be able to go fast to find the aggressive fish,” adds the Arizona pro.


Early Fall Topwaters with Cliff PirchThe popper is an ideal bait for fishing slowly according to Cliff Pirch. “I’ll use a popper when the fish aren’t as committed to topwater or when I need to fish slower to draw them to the bait,” says Pirch.


When fishing shallow cover, buzzbaits are one of the top tools for Pirch. “When I’m fishing buzzbaits I will either use a shad pattern or a black or bright color for the dirty water. Another thing I do is adjust the blade size depending on the wind, if it is really choppy I want to get a bigger blade and make a lot of noise,” shares Pirch.

Does Color Matter?

When fishing a topwater, the bait is often moving quickly and the bass are only able to see the bottom of the bait. The question of whether color matters or not has been discussed much by anglers choosing baits. For Cliff Pirch it comes down to confidence. “I usually stick with the shad colors; silvers, clear and white. I want to have a bait that looks really good for my confidence, but I have a few topwaters that have no paint left on them because they have caught so many fish,” concludes Pirch.

Topwater fishing during the early fall can be the best way to cover water and catch the biggest bass of the day. Cliff Pirch and other top pros have learned to keep an open mind when fishing topwater baits and expand their use beyond just the textbook low light conditions.

Tyler Brinks

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