The tap-tap signal of a bite on a plastic worm, the dead stop to a crankbait hit, the slam of a fast moving spinnerbait, yep each one holds a special place in the heart of fishermen regardless of the region or water craft they drift in. But if you want to see excitement go from zero to crazy in a millisecond, watch and feel the explosion of a surface strike from almost any species of fish. I imagine a ten pound trophy bass busting a topwater bait. How about a 40 inch northern pike, or a giant tarpon spraying salt water everywhere? Any surface hit, even that of a trout or maybe a spawning hand sized bluegill makes for an instant memory and a fish tale. While there are an enormous amount of ways to fool a fish, there’s no denying topwater action has no parallel.
Most game fish relate to and use edges to migrate, but more important to seek out, chase and catch food sources. While most people describe edges as the shoreline, a concrete sea wall, a creek channel or a rip rap dam, seldom does anyone mention the surface as an edge category. The water’s surface is the premier edge! When bass, as well as other species gang up and use the “wolf pack” method of following and then busting schools of baitfish they are utilizing the edge in a way like no other. Pinning the bait to the surface produces what is popularly known as the “jumps”, schools of fish annihilating wads of shad and minnows. After being “herded” to the surface the bait sources have nowhere to go. Similarly bass will push bait towards the shoreline again creating the natural trap of a distinct edge. Make no mistake about edges, especially the surface, are crucial to fish behavior and their lifestyle.
Topwater fishing is effective for a number of reasons. At the top of topwater teasing is the fact that bass feed primarily by sight. Equipped with eyes that are superior to our own, bass have the advantage of discerning colors and light much better than their human predators. Sensing vibration and movement through the use of their lateral line (many fish have the same set up, the salty snook etc.) you can add that to the list of appeal. Bass also are blessed with exceptional hearing. From a physical perspective look at the natural tools of a largemouth bass. A camo color pattern, side set eyes and a 270 degree field of vision, capable a 15 mile per hour underwater burst of speed, and a mouth oriented to easily feed on things above them you have a topwater feeding machine.
Understanding the bass and its behavior positions you to take em’ from the top. Regardless of the food source a fish inspects the potential meal. The longer it has to look, the more likely it is to snub an artificial because of the negative clues or the presentation errors by the angler. This is why live bait can be so deadly. Live, natural forage food gives no indication to being phony. The look, smell, taste and swim like a normal meal. To excel at topwater success consider a few factors. The color in most instances makes more difference to the fish than the fisherman. In topwater most of the time the fish sees only the bottom of the bait and maybe a bit of the sides. The profile, actual shape of the bait can be important especially in low light, dawn and dusk or in muddy water. With a ton of baits to pick from the most important factor is once you tie the bait to the end of the line and cast it out is retrieve speed. The most overlooked and underappreciated factor in fishing success….retrieve speed. The ultimate in sealing the deal is making the lure look alive and easy to tack down and catch. In surface bassin’ there are several ways to work a bait. Here’s a few: I love the take on a buzzbait. It ranges from a silent vortex and the buzzer disappearing to a huge, aggressive bone jarring attack sending spray in every direction. My personal preference and what in my experience appears to be most effective is the slowest, steady retrieve that keeps the bait on the surface. Try casting past the fish holding target and bumping the buzzer into any cover to get a deflection strike. Edges of weed beds, submerged wood, around boat docks and secondary cover all deserve a cast or two. Cup faced poppers, my favorite is the Strike King Spit-N-King in a color known as Oyster #584. Fished on 12 pound test monofilament with a Palomar knot pulled tight toward the bottom of the line tie (makes it spit more water) you cast it out, let all the ripples disappear and begin with a downward snap of the rod (The McCain Kayak edition #802 is my choice for everything topwater) www.mccainfishing.com) the bait will create a “bloop” sound and send water spitting around the area. Pause and repeat. Pre=spawn bass, summer schoolers and fall feeding fish all can’t resist this lure and presentation. Dog Walkers are in a whole different category. The side-to-side action imparted strictly by the angler is accomplished with the use of a slack line downward snap. With a little work and some timing you can make the bait “walk” which bring bass from a distance to bust the two steppin’ intruder. This bait is work, takes time to master but catches monster bass of all species. An oldie but goodie from generations back is the Arbogast Jitterbug. A floater at rest, the shape of the lip creates a natural wobble and gurgling sound that bass have blasted for decades. A number one night time bait for any serious “after hours” angler is the black Jitterbug. A minnow plug, twitched across the top has been a lone forgotten tool of many bass fisherman. Considered antiquated and not sexy enough for today’s bass caster, minnow imitating bait have and given the chance will continue to catch bass for as long as there some swimming. Open faced spinning outfits are an advantage for the twitch, pause retrieve for plugs ranging from a diminutive two and a half inch model to the giant versions. Not to be left out the fly flickers. With the introduction of the Jackson Kayak MayFly bass should beware. Surface flies resembling mice, dragonflies, cicadas, frogs and more are often fashioned deer hair because it’s hollow and is an exceptional floater and bass fooler. Popping bugs and other cork bodied flies are fun and hard to beat for fooling bass under many conditions.
You could easily argue the merits of many other surface skimming baits, colors, sizes, rods, reels, retrieves. With so many methods to fish and catch bass, everyone could make a case for their favorite but for sheer fun and the visual excitement of a bragging size bass, topwater is tough to beat.