Top That: Sweet Surface Selections

At the end of every fishing season my tackle boxes are a jumbled, unorganized mess. Essentially, this annual scenario occurs because, in short, I'd rather be fishing than organizing.

However, during the winter months I enjoy spending time organizing my baits and tackle trays in anticipation quickly approaching next season. For example, I usually separate and store my jigs by head type: football, swim, brush, and so on.

This winter as I was sorting my topwater baits and it got me thinking. Not counting buzzbaits, there are three basic bait designs: poppers with a cupped type of mouth, prop baits that have either a single prop or one at each end and walking baits which, are cylindrical.

Is there a difference other than action? What is the best time and place to use each presentation? Will the same hungry bass eat each one regardless? Or are there times when one selection is better than the next?

Curious about my past results with each, I pulled out my fishing journal and looked it over to determine when each lure produced the best results. Without a doubt, there are certain topwater baits that work better than others during different times of the year. Below are a few tips that will help you pick the right bait and match it with the best rod-and-reel selection.

Props

From prespawn to spawn I opt for prop-style baits such as the Rapala X-Rap Prop or Megabass X-Plose . Prop-style baits produce an attractive, splashing gurgle with a slight twitch of the rodtip. After a couple quick twitches, I like to let it rest for a few seconds, which keeps the bait in the strike zone longer—thus allowing for more strikes.

I've found the splashing props followed by a rest triggers lethargic fish in the same way a suspending jerkbait does. This presentation seems most effective when the bass are staged in shallow water covering dark-bottom northern bays—the warmer water attracts fish and they strap on the feedbag in preparation of the impending spawn.

If the fish are actively feeding on the surface, even during a hot summer night, try a steady retrieve, just as you would with a buzzbait—the action will be exciting!

Pops

During the peak of spawning activity and into the early postspawn phase—typically associated with warmer summer temps—I love to use poppers. And, I think it fair to assume most of us have early fishing memories of bass destroying an old Arbogast Hula Poppere on a small farm pond or local lake.

Some of my favorite's are Rapala's X-Rap Pop , Kopper's LiveTarget Glass Minnow Popper and . Rebel's Pop-R Plus Poppers stay in the strike zone well, create a lot of commotion and you can cover a fair amount of water with it.

These baits are very versatile as you can work it as fast or as slow as you want to—let the fish tell you how they want it. Since bass are a little more active postspawn, the popping attracts fish from a greater distance, which is different than peak spawn—a time when dropping a bait directly in front of a bedded fish is your best bet.

The sound a popper makes during the retrieve imitates a wounded or dying bluegill, crappies or small bass chasing fry and bass that are guarding young-of-the-year (fry) from other predators. Bass will chase and attack poppers with enthusiasm. I often prefer to use poppers if the water is stained and over or adjacent to a deep weedline.

Walkin' The Dog

Postspawn is all about finding fish and covering water. A walking style topwater is my choice, hands down. The baits can be cast long distances and big fish love to eat them. You will find two types of walking baits in my box at all times: Rapala's X-Rap Walk and, of course, the old favorite, Heddon's Zara Spook .

They make a sloshing noise as you work them through the water with short and quick snaps of the rodtip, but the baits come with internal rattling systems or silent. Personally, I'll choose the silent version on clear waters and implement rattlers under more turbid water conditions.

Hybrids

Megabass has taken bait technology to a new level. The company has combined a popper and a walking bait to produce the X-Pod . It sports a ratcheting jaw that allows you to keep the mouth closed for a walking bait, or by pulling the jaw down it quickly becomes a popper—progressively creating a bigger "bubble" the wider the mouth is opened.

The Megabass PopX has a highly realistic finish, but the innovative design is what sets it apart. Looking at the mouth of this bait it has open holes protruding from the mouth and out through the gill plate—creating a very realistic sound and action. It also has a tungsten weight inside that shifts from side to side, which creates a walk-the-dog action with a popper-style body. These baits are truly in a class of their own!

Another Solid

Don't overlook traditional baits like Jitterbugs , they worked many years ago, and under the right conditions the bait can be lights out today! I always keep a few on-hand and managed to tear a few up every year.

Keep One Tied On

I think it's a very good idea to always have at least one rod and reel rigged with a topwater bait—you never know when it'll come in handy. Specifically, I recall a time when I was fishing the main lake during a tournament and I noticed fish boiling near the shoreline.

I kicked the trolling motor on high and dug my rod out of the storage locker while my partner was trying to decide which rod and bait to use. During the time it took for him to make his decision I managed to put a dozen fish in the boat—we finished the day with a 2nd place finish.

The Right Combo

There are many adequate rod-and-reel options out there, but personally I prefer a 7-foot, 6-inch Abu Garcia Veritas Winch rod matched with a Revo SX reel in a 6.4:1 ratio. I spool it with 14-pound monofilament, which is a critical component to effective topwater fishing; braid and fluorocarbon sink, which hinders the bait's action. You need a line that floats, hence my decision to spool mono on my topwater reels. Also, the line needs to stretch so the fish are able to inhale your bait without you pulling it away during the hookset.

Line stretch also plays a big role for when the fish goes airborne during the fight—it helps to keep a constant pressure on the bait and reduces the loss of contact that typically occurs when fish jump creating slack line.

Finally, following the strike, make sure you give the fish a one-count before you setting the hook—this isn't easy and takes patience, but the results will be better hooksets and that means more fish in the boat.

Take your presentation topside and you will catch more fish throughout the year.


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