The strike in fishing is arguably the most anticipated moment in the sport. Regardless of the species, the strike is when preparation and expectation meet with a rush of adrenaline. All of us who have experienced the joy that comes with catching fish can relate to that moment when time stops and we realize, “I’ve got a bite!”
The strike can come in many forms – seeing a bobber sink below the surface; feeling the tug while retrieving a crankbait; a light tick on the other end of the line as we drag a soft plastic worm along the bottom. Each of these is exciting in its own unique way, but there is no substitute for the exhilaration that comes with a topwater bite.
With a topwater bite, the senses are not limited to what we can feel on the other end. A topwater bite is like sensory overload when we see a fish take the bait (often with a splash); hear the explosion; and then, feel on the line that the fish got the bait. Then the fight is on!
Late spring and early summer is one of the best times for topwater. The surface of the water is now warm but not outside the range of what’s comfortable to the fish. The shad spawn has been taking place. Frogs, lizards, snakes, insects and other forage have been scooting across the water as they hatch out or fall from overhanging trees.
Bream are becoming a primary forage for the bass now, too. The new forage stirring the surface attracts bream and bass alike. The fish, in general, are conditioned to looking up for food from all the spring activity, so it’s no surprise that they are very susceptible to some type of topwater bite. Because big fish often rule their territories, they can be easily duped with topwater baits.
Here are some of the best topwater choices for this time of year. Each can provide that moment of excitement we are all looking for.
Buzzbaits: Buzzbaits are similar to a spinnerbait in design with a wire form, lead head and a metal blade. The buzzbait blade creates lift and churns the surface of the water. Traditional buzzbaits always had skirts like a spinnerbait. More recently, anglers have been using the buzzbait frame but attaching a soft plastic toad or other trailer. Personally, I like the Netbait Kickin B or Mini Kickin B for this, as a trailer or as the main attraction.
The buzzbait is great for covering lots of water. It allows you to make many casts to potential targets during those prime topwater windows of early morning and late evening.
Ploppers: In recent years, the plopper baits have really come on strong. The most notable is the Whopper Plopper with a hard rubber tail that spins on the back of a hard plastic body. The plopper tail makes a unique sound that has great drawing power to the fish. The plopper includes elements that make it similar to a buzzbait, allowing you to make many casts; however, it is unique in that it can be stopped at will and doesn’t sink like a buzzbait would. If a fish misses the bait, it can be stopped and pulled to see if the fish will come back and take another shot at it.
Walkers: Walking topwater baits are some of my favorites. They are great for calling fish up over open water, as well as shallow water. These cigar-shaped hard plastics can be twitched on the surface in a walk-the-dog type of action. I prefer walking style baits when the fish seem to prefer minnow species, such as shad and herring.
Walking the bait allows it to create a lot of disturbance in one spot. It also maximizes the amount of time that the bait could be in the strike zone. Fish these baits over submerged targets − such as stumps, rocks or brushpiles. Or walk them along the edge of a dock to draw the fish out to your bait.
There are many models of these walking style baits on the market. One that most people can relate to is the Zara Spook. One important thing to remember in walking the bait properly is to keep some slack in the line as you twitch the bait. That allows the bait to dart from one side to the other, throwing sprays of water in the process.
Poppers: Popping-style topwaters are hard plastic baits and are recognized by a deep cup in the mouth of the bait. This cup-shaped mouth pushes water forward, making a “bloop” sound. When fished aggressively, the poppers mimic a school of fish chasing baitfish on the surface. When fished slowly, they can attract bream to the bait, which in turn, attracts bass to it. In fact, it’s my first choice when the fish are feeding heavily on bream.
Poppers can be fished very slowly in shallow water in a more finesse fashion. They are great when cast to shade on the bank because they can remain in the strike zone for a long time and the speed of retrieve is only limited by how often you want to chug the bait. Strikes often occur as the bait sits at rest, so there’s no need to feel that you have to keep working the bait to get a bite.
Toads: Surface toads are amazingly versatile because they can be fished like buzzbait; however, since the hook is texposed (hidden beneath the plastic like a worm) a toad can be fished through cover. Floating debris, grass and trees are no match for a toad. Cast it over the cover and reel through, allowing the soft plastic feet to stir the water. The fish will find it.
Two of the more popular versions of toads are the Stanley Ribbit and Zoom Horny Toad. Each is effective, but they make different sounds because of the design of the feet on the baits.
Using braided line is highly recommended when fishing toads to minimize stretch on the hookset.
Frogs/Rats: The ultimate ATVs in the topwater lineup are hollow-body frogs. Originally designed to fish over thick matted vegetation, they can come through just about anything without hanging up. Scum Frog was one of the first to offer the hollow-body frog. Other brands that are popular include Snag Proof and SPRO.
Anglers in recent years have been using these hollow-body frogs to skip underneath cover – such as overhanging bushes and docks. Once the frog has been cast into the strike zone, it can be walked in place or chugged as in the case of a popping-style frog. This gives anglers the advantages of the walkers and poppers in a design that can be cast directly into the most treacherous habitat.
Braid is a must-have with Frogs because they often have double hooks, and when a fish takes the bait down, it generally runs the line across some type of cover. The minimal stretch of the braid, along with its toughness, makes it a clear choice for frog fishing.
Frogs really do damage when fishing matted vegetation, but they also shine in stained water because of their larger profiles. The larger profile attracts larger fish, so it’s a great way to put a big one in the boat.
Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.