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  • North Dakota Wildlife Federation

Topwater Tactics


Summertime means an uptick in fish activity, and it also means fish are looking up for food. Frogs, small mammals, insects and even ducklings find themselves on the surface this time of year along with growing young of the year fish, providing easy targets for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The warmth of the season and the abundance of prey offers up an opportunity to connect with one of the most exciting moments anywhere on the outdoors with an explosive take by these fish on a variety of surface lures. Knowing when, where and what to use this time of year will help create some amazing memories when exploring topwater options.


Summer Timing

Now is the best time of year for surface fishing when it comes to largemouth and smallmouth bass. The warm water makes them more aggressive, and as mentioned previously, there’s plenty to eat in that area where air and water meet. While a topwater bite can materialize anytime something edible is near or on the surface, dawn and dusk tend to make for the best opportunities as the low light periods mean fish are less spooky, and they are often calmer portions of the day when topwater baits like a Zara Spook or Heddon Torpedo can be worked most effectively. Evening and night can be especially good under a full moon when working black or dark colored topwaters, as the bright light helps highlight the body of the dark bait.


Looking Up Locales

Finding a place to fling a favorite topwater bait is often easier as summer starts as well, with many weedlines, stands of lily pads and reeds, and shallow areas of structure playing host to bass that are recovered from their spawn and on the feed. Casting lures such as buzzbaits, with their bubbling propellers, or poppers like the Rebel Pop-R, along side these areas where they transition to more open and slightly deeper shallows nearby, is a great way to start exploring a topwater bite. Don’t be afraid to work the edge of establishing weedlines that are beginning to reach the surface and mat up. Especially

in clear lakes, some smallies and largemouths will race up out of the depths alongside that green wall to smash a stick on the surface after it has splashed down or been worked a bit. Cast beyond likely holding areas and work topwater baits back over prime structure such as rockpiles, downed trees and holes or turns in a weed bed.


Hard or Soft?

Most topwater baits are reaction-type lures. They’re designed to make some noise, draw a look and induce and instinct-exploiting explosion from both largemouth and smallmouth. Having an assortment of topwaters allows an angler to make the most of the opportunity, and balsa and plastic topwater baits, buzzbaits, and plastics that can be worked or reeled in should all be part of a summertime topwater tacklebox. While baits like the Zara Spook and similar walk-the-dog style lures require some finesse and have a learning curve when it comes to snapping the rod to create the side-to-side motion, they are some of the most popular topwaters. Propeller baits like the Tiny Torpedo are fun to rip and strip and make a good amount of noise as they’re retrieved. Buzzbaits require continuous motion, but are by far the easiest to work, simply by reeling them in to turn the blades against the water.


Riggable frog style baits, such as the Zoom Horny Toad, and floating worms and fluke shaped baits allow for added subtleties in a topwater offering and can be worked fast or slow on a Texas-rigged hook. Event bass tubes fished unweighted can be effective topwater offerings.


Wait. Weight. Set.

The biggest challenge of topwater fishing is rarely the finding of the fish, but rather it’s knowing when it is time to set the hook. The sudden explosion of water underneath a topwater lure being retrieved almost always causes an adrenaline-induced hookset, and with it, often a missed fish. The key to topwater success is overriding that urge to haul back on the rod at the moment a fish strikes. Instead, give it a quick 1-2 count, feel for the weight of the fish and hammer the hook home with a strong hookset. It’s tough the first ocuple of times to hold back, but hooking percentages will increase dramatically when the weight of the fish on the other line can be confirmed.


With all the fun that summer brings on the surface of many waters – from boating, to tubing, to just sitting back and relaxing – add some adrenaline to the mix with some topwater fishing as well. Time things right in the proper locations with offerings both largemouth and smallmouth bass can’t resist, and (after a slight pause) set the hook on some seriously explosive memories this time of year.


By: Nick Simonson