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By Jim Porter

By golly, it's almost Summer and topwater fishing is in full swing. Topwater is a great way to fish because:
  1. Anyone can do it
  2. It's so exciting
We don't have to worry about snags, depth control, losing lures, and all those other little miseries associated with crank plugs and other sub-surface lures. Topwater lures normally cast really well and backlashed are not so prevalent. The kids can be distracted, stop reeling, and don't wind up having the lure sink and get hung. In fact, having them pause is a GOOD way to get a topwater plug eaten!! And, finally, if you have ever had the pleasure of seeing a giant bass totally bent on destroying a topwater lure, you already know the excitement and adrenaline rush it generates. If you haven't experienced this, just let me assure you that it is the most exciting, nerve-wracking fishing you will ever do. It becomes totally addictive to some people.

Topwater lures hard plugs, certain blade baits, and some specialty soft plastic styles. They are designed to be fished entirely on the surface and to draw strikes from their ability to easily be seen and their motion/sound. The actions of the various types vary a bit, but are generally totally controllable by the angler. In general, the rules for selection are governed by the wind/water chop (or lack thereof) and the cover being fished.

Hard topwater plugs come in four basic styles:
  • Skitter types (examples are Excalibur Spittin' Image and the Heddon Zara Spook) - These are quiet lures that make little commotion. Their draw to the fish appears to be their subtle appearance and ability to draw the curious. The make little noise and 'skim' across the surface. Low-noise skitter plugs appear to produce best when conditions are also calm and quiet. Retrieve styles are the famous 'Walking the dog', with variations in the number of twitches given and the length of the rest periods. 'Walking the dog' is a accomplished by a series of wrist movement techniques that gives the lure a quick pull forward, followed immediately by some slack line. If done at half second intervals, a series of pulls will cause the lure to first dart to one side and then the other. The key is the slack line after each short pull. You can practice doing it slowly by individual, single pulls. You will see that, as the lure comes forward it will run off to one side or the other on the slack line and will be pointing slightly away from you. The next pull will bring the lure back over into your direction and the following slack line will cause it to turn to the opposite side and slightly away from you again. With practice and by gradually speeding up this technique, you can make the lure dart back and forth, side-to-side, in a slow and undulating manner. A retrieve of 'three twitches (pulls) with a six second rest period, and then repeat' is effective. This type topwater not recommended for night fishing.
  • Propeller-styles (examples are the Smithwick Devil's Horse and the Heddon Torpedo) - This style topwater plug is selected when there is a slight ripple on the surface. They throw a slight spray and lightly disturb the surface, making a type of 'swishing' sound. The drag of the propellers makes this normally a straight-line retrieve lure. A retrieve of 'three twitches with a six second rest period, and then repeat' is effective. This lure type can be used for night fishing during calm conditions.
  • Poppers (examples are the Arbogast Hula Popper and the Rebel Pop R) - These topwaters are our best choice when there is a moderate to heavy chop. Their loud and visually prominent action allows them to be seen and heard well, providing attraction from a distance, as well as in the turbulent water. Poppers can be used to agitate inactive bass and draw anger strikes. A retrieve of 'two or three twitches with a six second rest period, and then repeat' is effective. Occasionally, one or two pops followed by a long (as much as 30 seconds, if you can stand it) produces when nothing else will. These lures are great choices for night fishing.
  • Continuous-retrieve gurglers (example is the legendary Arbogast Jitterbug) - Many anglers fail to recognize the potential of this lure. It creates a lot of disturbance with minimal noise and a very slow action. The lure appears, to the fish, to be non-threatening and possibly injured. It is usually best used with a constant retrieve when there is a ripple or chop on the water. I have used the giant version, called the Musky Jitterbug, with great success during high winds. This style topwater can also be used in a stop-and-go manner. It is a great night fishing lure and can be dangerous for those with a weak heart!

Topwater blade baits come in three styles:
  • Buzz baits (example is the original Lunker Lure) - A buzz bait has affectionately been called a 'TinkerToy' due to its almost comical design. Built on a wire frame in the shape of a safety pin, it looks like nothing a bass eats. So, we must assume that its draw for them has to be curiosity or possibly just the urge to kill. It only works when presented in the area of very active, aggressive fish. You can always run across a single that may take a swipe at a buzzbait. But, it you want to catch a lot of bass, you MUST find active fish dispersed in an area. Fish it around or over some form of cover or obstruction. Keep it on top with a medium retrieve. Always add a trailer hook.
  • In-line blade bait (example is the Hildebrandt Snagless Sally) - With a pair of wire guards protecting the hook, this is the most weedless of all non-plastic topwater lures. The Sally is made strictly for fishing directly in and over obstructions. Drag it slowly across and through weed beds and brush tops. Hold the rod tip high and let the blade gurgle and pop as it breaks the surface. Do not use a trailer hook.
  • Hard plug with blade (example is the Arbogast Sputterbug) - Created years ago by Fred Arbogast, the Sputterbug is a hybrid lure comprised of a floating hard body plug and a buzzbait-style propeller at the nose. It functions the same as a buzz bait, but can be stopped and paused without it sinking. The Sputterbug allows someone to fish in the buzz bait style without worrying about having to keep the lure on the surface. This is great for children, the elderly and physically challenged. It uses two treble hooks, but comes in a weedless model also (called the Sputterbuzz). Fish this lure with a medium retrieve over and around cover. It is not for use where grass is near the surface, as the hooks will foul.
Soft plastic topwater lures are considered 'special purpose' baits with very specific applications.

Hollow-bodied plastics (examples are the 'Snag-Proof' Frog and the Mann's Ghost and Goblin series) - These are thin-skinned, molded soft plastics. They normally have a hook (usually a dual point 'Y' style) running the length of the lure, with the hook points cupping up along the outside of the body. The thin plastic material allows the lure body to collapse under pressure and expose the hooks. These lures must be fished in fairly constant motion or they will take on water and sink. Their special purpose application is being presented right on top of thick grass mats. These lure styles sometimes go by the generic nicknames of 'frog' and 'rat'.


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