Topwaters: The Baits and How to Use Them

Posted by  Monday, April 15 2013 7:00 am
expert

Topwater baits have long been a staple on the fishing scene — and for good reason. Capable of providing heart pounding thrills — and plenty of big fish — surface baits readily hook anglers as much as they do their quarry.

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Poppers are a great choice for calm or rough waters.

Knowing what to throw and when is half of the battle for improving your odds out on the water. This guide will shed some light on the proven baits and tactics for sure-fire aerial action.

Cigar-Style

The cigar-style topwater bait is easily recognizable, in part to the success of its most famous spawn — the Heddon Zara Spook. Incapable of producing any action of its own, cigar-style baits rely solely on the rod manipulation of the angler to impart movement. This action has been coined "walking the dog."

A steady cadence of line retrieve and downward rod jerks makes a cigar bait swim from side to side, almost as if it is sashaying on the surface back and forth. This movement is positively lethal when it comes to arousing the hunger in bass, muskie and northern pike, as well as many saltwater species.

Worked best during calm to moderate conditions, the effectiveness wanes as wave action increases. For bass and small stature saltwater fish, a 3- to 5-inch bait is a proven producer. Larger predators such as pike or muskie require plugs eight-inches and greater in length.

Poppers

Recognizable because of their concave head, popper-style baits spit and spray water with each jerk of the anglers rod. It is this "popping" sound combined with water agitation that brings in the fish.

A great choice for both calm and rough water due to the added sound and commotion, poppers are also a proven producer when fishing over the deep stuff.

Two of the most well known baits are the STORM Chug Bug and Rebel Pop-R, but tackle shelves are now stocked with dozens of creative variations that bring the goods home. However, the Arbogast Hula Popper lays the claim to being the oldest on the scene.

A variation of loud and soft "pops" with pauses throughout the retrieve is your best bet when working a bait of this style.

Prop Bait

As a cylindrical prop bait is pulled through the water, one or more metal "props" kick up and spray water. This is the triggering force behind this bait.

Excellent for bass and muskie, prop baits are best worked in a slow and constant retrieve, or with hard rips and frequent pauses.

Although they lose their effectiveness as wind and waves increase, prop baits are an excellent choice when faced with moderate conditions and active fish.

A handy tip to keep in mind: Always ensure that each prop spins freely and unimpeded. If not, a slight bend inward or outward of the prop itself will generally do the trick.

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Wake baits, some of the newer topwaters on the scene, are known as a saltwater and bass producer.

A proven fish-catching example of a prop bait is the Rapala Skitter Prop.

Wake Bait

The newest bait on the scene, wake baits' design is that of a crankbait with a very shallow lip. The angle of this lip keeps the bait on or just under the surface, providing a back and forth swimming action, as well as a distinct V-shaped trail behind the lure.

Best used under calm conditions, the wake bait is a saltwater and bass producer. It is especially effective when worked over cover or alongside wood.

Designs vary, but models between 3 and 6 inches in length generally fit the bill.

Look for a wake bait with built-in rattles. This added sound component can often turn on the fish, especially when worked in murky or stained water.

The Norman Lures Square Bill Wake is a good example of this category of lure.

Buzzbait

Different from most topwaters as they do not float on their own, the buzzbait is a glorified spinnerbait with large metal or plastic rotating blade(s) that sputter and bubble along the top. The Bass Pro Shops Lazer Eye Pro Series Buzzbaits is a prime example.

Relatively weedless in nature, this bait is a great choice when chasing bass or northern pike in vegetation choked water.

Buzzbaits require a steady retrieve to keep them on the surface, which must start immediately as the bait hits the water during the cast. Any pauses will see your lure sink from view — a definite no-no.

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Frogs and toads are a definite must for every angler's tackle box.

To overcome short striking fish when working a buzzbait, add a trailer hook. Skirt colors can also be used to your advantage. Stick with black for night and white or chartreuse of daytime angling.

Frogs & Toads

A definite must for every bass anglers tackle box, frogs and toads excel when working the heavy vegetation that largemouth call home.

Hollow bodied plastic frogs float on the surface and work best being pulled over heavy slop, pads or weed mats. A steady retrieve or stop and go cadence works well and is best dictated by what the fish show preference to. Always allow the fish to turn with the frog before setting the hook — this will greatly increase your chance for success.

Toads are solid plastic baits that are best utilized in sparser weed growth and pad beds. These baits do not float so a constant retrieve is necessary. Hook points ride up, making this bass catcher virtually weedless — and a bonafide fish producer.

Check out the Bass Pro Shops XPS Frog and Bass Pro Shops Humpin' Toads.

Topwater baits certainly command attention from anglers and fish alike. For heart pounding action and big splashes on top, nothing compares in the lure and bait world. Give these surface baits a go on the water this year — but be forewarned: This is one family of baits that will be hard to put down!

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Last modified on Friday, April 12 2013 3:31 pm
Justin Hoffman
expert

Justin Hoffman is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, with a fishing specialty, based in Ottawa Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the North American School of Outdoor Writing and currently a field editor with Ontario OUT OF DOORS magazine, outdoor pursuits with a journalistic approach keep him returning to the field week after week. A well-established freelance writer since 1999, Justin has publishing credits in many North American magazines and web sites. His photographic stock work also appears regularly. In addition to his writing and photography work, Justin is also a Pro Staffer for TUFF-Line and National Pro Staff. For more information visit www.JustinHoffmanOutdoors.com.

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