Top This!

Seven bass pros share their topwater secrets.

If deep-running crankbaits and Carolina-rigged lizards don’t ring your chimes, it’s time you experienced the sights, sounds and raw predatorial energy that explode when a big bass blasts your surface lure. There are hundreds of topwater baits to choose from, but they all can be divided into seven major categories. We’ve enlisted seven of the nation’s top bass pros to tell you where and how to fish each style, and to share their favorite topwater tricks. Read on.

** Go for A Walk**
By Larry Nixon

Almost any topwater lure twitched around shallow tree stumps or weed lines might get slammed by a bass. But a stickbait like the Heddon Zara Spook has the power to pull bass up from deep water-I’m talking 20 to 30 feet. It’s the best choice of surface bait for fishing big clear-lake structure (points, flats, rock piles, etc.). A stickbait is blunt at both ends, with no noisemaking features such as propellers or a scooped-out lip. The lure’s performance depends on the angler’s skill, and that takes practice to develop. The gold-standard retrieve is called “walking the dog.” Using a 51/2- to 6-foot medium-action bait-casting rod, stand and make a long cast, then stroke the rod tip straight down while turning the reel handle at the same time. One turn per rod stroke is the ticket. The motion causes the bait’s tail to swing left and right so that the lure zigzags erratically across the surface. Work it slowly and it walks with a wide sweeping motion, sort of like a wounded minnow; work it fast to make it skitter frantically back and forth like it’s trying to escape from the bass that’s about to smash it.

The stickbait is the deadliest smallmouth surface lure going. I’ve caught smallies weighing almost 8 pounds on Spooks. And don’t be surprised if you see an entire school of smallmouths swimming with a hooked fish, trying to snatch the lure out of its mouth. Size matters: Always use 14-pound-test mono with a stickbait. Lighter line makes its tail swing around too far, causing the hooks to tangle in the line. Heavier line dampens the action.

** Buzz a Lunker**
By Randy Howell

There have been more 10-pound largemouths caught on buzzers than on most other surface styles put together. To a bass, a buzzbait is like fingernails on a blackboard. It squeals, clicks and churns the water, provoking the mother of all reaction strikes. My favorite buzzer is the Lunker Lure Flat Shad. Its flat head design helps it plane off quickly and stay on top during a slow retrieve. I always fish a buzzbait with a trailer hook, with the point turned up.

I start fishing buzzbaits seriously after the spawn and stay with them through fall. Classic buzzbait water is the back of a shallow tributary with thin emergent grass, laydown logs or stumps. The lure’s single upswept hook lets it slide over the gnarly cover. My favorite buzzbait rig is a 61/2-foot medium-action rod, a fast-retrieve reel and 17- or 20-pound-test abrasion- resistant monofilament line. Cast way beyond your target, sweep the rod tip upward to get the buzzer on top and then reel steadily, just fast enough to keep the bait from sinking.

Changeup pitch: Short strikes are common when using buzzbaits. If a bass strikes at the lure but doesn’t connect, drop that rod and pick up another one pre-rigged with a weightless plastic worm or soft jerkbait. Pitch your changeup offering into the boil and it should get eaten immediately.

Chug And Pop
By Dan Morehead

Like that little smart-aleck kid in your junior high algebra class, a chugger (aka popper) makes a lot of noise for its size. Chuggers are notorious big-bass catchers, but I also use them in tournaments to snatch a quick limit of keepers.

Unlike other topwaters, a chugger doesn’t have to be moved horizontally to induce a strike. It’ll make noise practally sitting in one place. This makes it perfect for target-casting to stumps, weed patches and clumps of lily pads.

My favorite chugger is the Mann’s Loudmouth Chug-N-Spit. When you twitch the rod tip, this bait emits a loud gurgle and actually spits water, which must really annoy bass, judging from the way they plaster it. I fish it on a 6-foot 10-inch bait-casting rod with a stiff tip, a fast-retrieve reel and 20-pound-test mono.

I work a chugger one of two ways: (1) Cast it out, then let it sit on the surface until the rings disappear. Use the rod, not the reel handle, to pop it once or twice, then let it sit some more. This approach is super-deadly around stumps, logs and boat docks. (2) Twitch the rod repeatedly while reeling fast so the lure skitters frantically, popping and spitting water. This is dynamite over submerged grass beds and for schooling bass chasing shad in open water. Spotted bass, in particular, like the faster retrieve.

Feathered friend: Replace the plain rear treble hook on a chugger with a white-feathered treble. The teaser skirt breathes and pulsates in the water when the lure is sitting between pops and looks like a fleeing shad when bass are going for a faster retrieve.

** Float a Jerkbait**
By Kevin Van Dam

A minnowbait is the most subtle topwater lure type, a convincing mimic of an injured baitfish. I use it as a finesse lure in the post-spawn, when bass stick around flooded bushes for a spell before heading out to their summer haunts. It’s also surprisingly effective in cold, clear water and is the first surface lure you should turn to in early spring. My own choice is Strike King’s KVD Wild Shiner. I fish it on a 61/2-foot medium-action bait-caster or spinning stick with 14-pound-test.

Retrieve a floating jerkbait with rod twitches interspersed with pauses, so it dives, rises back to the surface and then floats motionless on top. Vary the intensity of the twitches and length of the pauses until you determine what the fish want. Bass often will suck in a jerkbait when it’s sitting still-it’s a thrill to see your bait disappear in a toilet-flush boil of water.

Smallmouth surprise: Most anglers fish floating jerkbaits around shallow cover. But if you’ve got a clear smallmouth lake near you, try twitching a minnowbait over the deep edge of a gravel spawning flat when the water temperature hits around 70 degrees. Smallies suspend off these flats after spawning and will swim a mile to nail a minnow struggling on the surface.

Plumb The Scum
By Alfred Williams

When thick surface vegetation clogs the shallows, it’s scumbait time. These soft-plastic frog or rat mimics are the only 100 percent weedless topwater lures. Lily pads, pond scum, milfoil, matted hydrilla-no problem, they’ll crawl over anything. I use Snag Proof’s Tournament Frog; it’s weighted for easier casting and has a pair of stout upswept hooks capable of holding a monster bass.

Heavy tackle is mandatory. I use a 71/2-foot graphite flipping stick coupled with a reel with a 4.7:1 retrieve ratio and 50-pound-test braided line. The long rod keeps the line off the weeds; the slow-speed reel acts like a winch to power a lunker out of the grass.

Surface vegetation can be intimidating to an angler because it all looks the same at first glance. But look closely and you’ll see all sorts of pockets, points and holes in the grass. That’s where you want to cast a scumbait. Throw past your target and retrieve the lure in short hops, like a live frog, by popping the rod tip gently. Pause between hops. When a bass takes the frog, immediately raise the flipping stick to 12 o’clock and stick it. Some anglers think you should hesitate to give the bass time to swallow the bait, but that’s incorrect. If you wait, the bass is likely to swim into the grass. Then you’ll have to go into the weeds after it, or risk ripping the hooks out when you try to pull it free.

Surgical maneuver: Cut a slit in the back of a scumbait and insert one or more glass worm rattles. Also, push some pieces of plastic worm into the hollow body cavity; this will give the bait weight for added castability without negatively impacting its buoyancy.

** Give ‘Em The Spin **
By Charlie Ingram

Most propbaits look like stickbaits with a propeller at one or both ends. These topwaters are among the noisiest surface lures, and, like buzzbaits, they trigger reaction strikes from humongous bass. My favorite is the Gilmore Jumper.

Use a propbait when fishing specific targets such as logs, stumps, weed patches and boulders. Fish the lure on a stout bait-casting outfit; I use a 7-foot pitching rod with 20-pound-test mono. Cast close to cover, not way beyond it. And rather than jerking the rod so the lure gurgles and “slushes,” try moving the tip gently-just enough to make the propellers barely turn. Big bass will really eat a propbait retrieved in this slow, teasing manner.

Propbaits are the best surface lures when it’s windy or stormy. In such cases, jerk the rod harder to make the lure spit water with more gusto.

Double trouble: When bass are chasing schools of shad to the surface, fish a propbait with a chaser lure attached. Make a 21/2-foot leader from 30-pound-test mono, attach one end to the propbait’s rear hook and tie a treble hook to the tag end. Stick one hook of the treble into a 5-inch soft jerkbait and then cast the tandem rig into a surfacing bass school. Chug the propbait once or twice and let it sit still. Often you’ll catch two bass at a time.

** Work a Wobbler**
By Mark Menendez

I always carry a Jitterbug in my tackle box. It’s the most popular surface wobbler, with good reason. When you retrieve a Jitterbug past shallow cover, the bait’s crazy wobbling action triggers awesome surface strikes. I’ve caught several largemouths over 9 pounds on Jitterbugs; big smallmouths will plaster them in clear water, too.

The Jitterbug has a wide metal lip shaped like a scoop. When you retrieve it, the lip traps water, causing the lure to wobble from side to side while making a distinctive plip-plop sound. Bass probably hit it because it reminds them of a frog trying to escape; then again, they may hit it simply because its nerdy looks and action annoy them.

Fish a wobbler like you’d fish a crankbait, by reeling it straight in and letting the built-in design features of the lure create the action and sound. It’s a no-brainer; just run it close to or over any bass-holding object. Because this is such a good lure for big bass, I fish the Jitterbug on a 7-foot heavy-action rod coupled with a slow-speed reel and 20- to 30-pound-teinto the weeds after it, or risk ripping the hooks out when you try to pull it free.

Surgical maneuver: Cut a slit in the back of a scumbait and insert one or more glass worm rattles. Also, push some pieces of plastic worm into the hollow body cavity; this will give the bait weight for added castability without negatively impacting its buoyancy.

** Give ‘Em The Spin **
By Charlie Ingram

Most propbaits look like stickbaits with a propeller at one or both ends. These topwaters are among the noisiest surface lures, and, like buzzbaits, they trigger reaction strikes from humongous bass. My favorite is the Gilmore Jumper.

Use a propbait when fishing specific targets such as logs, stumps, weed patches and boulders. Fish the lure on a stout bait-casting outfit; I use a 7-foot pitching rod with 20-pound-test mono. Cast close to cover, not way beyond it. And rather than jerking the rod so the lure gurgles and “slushes,” try moving the tip gently-just enough to make the propellers barely turn. Big bass will really eat a propbait retrieved in this slow, teasing manner.

Propbaits are the best surface lures when it’s windy or stormy. In such cases, jerk the rod harder to make the lure spit water with more gusto.

Double trouble: When bass are chasing schools of shad to the surface, fish a propbait with a chaser lure attached. Make a 21/2-foot leader from 30-pound-test mono, attach one end to the propbait’s rear hook and tie a treble hook to the tag end. Stick one hook of the treble into a 5-inch soft jerkbait and then cast the tandem rig into a surfacing bass school. Chug the propbait once or twice and let it sit still. Often you’ll catch two bass at a time.

** Work a Wobbler**
By Mark Menendez

I always carry a Jitterbug in my tackle box. It’s the most popular surface wobbler, with good reason. When you retrieve a Jitterbug past shallow cover, the bait’s crazy wobbling action triggers awesome surface strikes. I’ve caught several largemouths over 9 pounds on Jitterbugs; big smallmouths will plaster them in clear water, too.

The Jitterbug has a wide metal lip shaped like a scoop. When you retrieve it, the lip traps water, causing the lure to wobble from side to side while making a distinctive plip-plop sound. Bass probably hit it because it reminds them of a frog trying to escape; then again, they may hit it simply because its nerdy looks and action annoy them.

Fish a wobbler like you’d fish a crankbait, by reeling it straight in and letting the built-in design features of the lure create the action and sound. It’s a no-brainer; just run it close to or over any bass-holding object. Because this is such a good lure for big bass, I fish the Jitterbug on a 7-foot heavy-action rod coupled with a slow-speed reel and 20- to 30-pound-te