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Getting on Top of Things
A Topwater Primer
By Paul Crawford

Next time you boat a bass, take a close look at him. Hold the fish up and look directly at his belly. Unless you've got one really sick fish, you won't see him looking back at you. That's because a bass can't see directly below himself. Now turn the fish around. From the view with all the pointy fins, you see those mournful eyes staring back, just askin' to be put back in the lake. This should point out to the more thoughtful of you that a bass can see directly above himself rather well, thank you very much. Since the very first step in getting bit is having the fish notice your bait, and considering the placement of those unblinking eyes, it shouldn't be too tough to figure out a bait above a bass has a better chance of attracting attention than one on the bottom.

Fact number two, a bass just loves an edge. Most any edge will do, but the ultimate edge is the bottom, and the top of the lake. It's very difficult for a fish to travel much further than the top of the water. From this we may conclude that at least some of the time, fish relate to the top of the water. The reason behind this is rather simple, it's an easy place to feed. If you examine a minnow or a small shad, you'll see that they bear a striking similarity to a bass in physical make up. This in turn means the bait also sees up better than they see down. For a bait fish, which feeds on algae, floating seeds, bugs and such, seeing very well while looking up is generally a good thing. This fact has not escaped the bass. Since the bass also see well looking up; and when they look up they see bait fish looking up; and the bass can then approach the bait from the bottom where the bait fish don't see so well; and it's rather difficult for the bait to travel much further than the top of the water; add it all up and you come up with a bass's favorite answer, free food.

Fact number three. Even a bass doesn't eat all of the time, (a fact commonly know solely by bass fishermen.) So, if you'd like to be consistent about catching bass, knowing how to catch a bass that is not feeding would be a good thing. Fortunately, bass don't have hands. So all of those tasks we use our hands for other than feeding ourselves, a bass is stuck using his mouth for. Investigation, attack, defense, pushing something aside, all those touchy-feely kind of things a bass must use his mouth to accomplish. We know a bass is territorial, vicious when defending a nest, curious, close to the top of the food chain, and a bully to boot. So, if we can interest a bass, we get bit. If we threaten bass, we get bit. If we intrude on a bass, we get bit. If we hack off a bass, we get bit. And if we generally look injured or otherwise unable to defend ourselves, we get bit, (makes you wonder why we don't get bit more often, doesn't it.)

And finally fact number four. If on a peaceful quite day when calming working along a bait, if a big bass blowing up on your bait doesn't make you jump, get your heart racing, bulge your eyes, and flare your nostrils, then you don't have a pulse. Welcome to the world of Top Water Fishing. So much fun it should be illegal, and effective a surprisingly large amount of the time. It's not simple and you have a lot of options to sort through to find the right ones, but nothing in bass fishing is as exciting and rewarding as catching a big fish on top waters. My Dad taught me 40 years ago an opinion I still hold today, "I'd rather catch one fish on a top water than ten on a deep diving plug." Fortunately, it's not a choice you have to make. With a little practice, you may find yourself catching more and bigger fish on top waters than on bottom bumpers.

Where and When to Fish Top Water

"If there is a water surface, then you can use a top water." The only trouble with that statement is you have to know when. "You can catch fish on top waters anytime." The only trouble with that statement is you have to know where. Kind of a chicken and egg problem, isn't it? Fortunately, there are a few rules of thumb to get you started. Like all rules of thumb, they aren't absolutes and don't work all of the time, (what does in fishing?)

First let's go back to that edge thing. The general rule we'll follow is: "The more edges the better." So, first we have the surface which is an edge. Now let's add in it's opposite, the bottom and where these two edges meet, (shallow water near the bank.) Then throw in a few vertical edges, (standing wood or a weed bed.) Finally let's look for a general edge to complement the vertical edge. That puts us on either the outside, (works sometimes), or the inside of heavy cover, near shore in shallow water. Under this theory, this should be the best place in the lake to attract edge loving bass and is clearly the purview of top water baits due to the shallow depth. Let's face it, under these conditions we're only talking 1 or 2 feet water difference between a top water and a bottom bumper. Our experience with other types of baits suggest this is indeed a good spot for feeding fish if we're there at the right time. There are loads of great ambush points for the fish to feed, plenty of cover for them to hide in, run off washing food into the water. And the ideal conditions for attracting the bass will also attract and hold large amounts of bait adding even more reasons to holding bass in the area.

You normally find structure fishermen far from shore working weed beds, humps, points, and such. Any seasoned structure fisherman will tell you tales of large schools of fish coming up by his favorite structure or over his secret weed bed. It's the same types of edges as you find in the shallows, just well hidden well off shore. Those fishing relatively shallow lakes with a hydrilla problem will recognize mats of topped out weeds and hydrilla clumps sometimes running for miles have more in common with shore type structure than with traditional open water. The fish will indeed gang up out here for all of the same reasons we find them near shore and the additional plus of lots of surrounding water to protect them from predators.

And then you've got the case where the fish are there for no apparent reason other than several tons of bait fish, also there for no apparent reason. Those fishing deep reservoirs will tell you time and again about the huge schools of fish schooling hard on bait over 50 or 100 feet of open water. This kind of makes sense. After all we just said the bait will be feeding on the surface and a bug that drops to top of the water doesn't care whether it's 20 feet from shore or 20 miles. The algae will float along the top just as well in the middle of the lake or right by the bank. If you're a bait fish, particularly living in clear water, and have plenty of food anywhere, you're about as safe in open water where you can see predators coming as you are working around a thousand ambush points. And we've long since decided, where there's bait, there's bass.

All of this is both true and nice, but sure hasn't narrowed things down too much. It's time to start looking at the when. This time we'll start out in open water and work ourselves back in shallow.

First, just what is open water? Another old rule of thumb is most of the bass will be no deeper than 3 times as deep as you can see. So, have 1 foot of visibility, and open water becomes anything over 3' deep, (not quite true since a thermocline is often involved with this pattern, but it will do for now.) In a clear lake where you see bottom in 20', open water may not start until you're over 60' deep. The point of the definition is the surface becomes the only edge available for the bass to relate if they are going to feed on surface bait. Typically, this is a summer and winter pattern when the fish are using the temperature difference in the water column to stay comfortable. Like most predators, the bass will feed the heaviest early and late in the day, (out here it is very difficult to make a living at night given the 3 dimensions you have to hunt in.) The particularly wonderful thing about this pattern is if you find them, you find a lot of them. Since these fish do not depend on isolated ambush spots, they cooperate and school heavily. To the fisherman that means if you can ever get the first bite, you'll as often as not load the boat. There are, of course, times when the fish will feed actively all day long and I've even seen them school by bright moon light. But as a general plan of attack, early and late when the water temperature is under 50 or over 85, depending on the area of the country, is when you'll find most of these bites.

Moving over to our more structured oriented open water, we start becoming depth dependent. Of the three basic patterns, the structure pattern is where the depth is the most critical, (the mood of the fish is most important with true open water.) Since you don't normally have a hard limiting edge like the shore to rely on, you're guessing at what depth the fish prefer at that particular moment and whether they will rise to take a bait. The good news is that if there is some cover in the area, these will be ambushing fish and therefore you've got a pretty good chance they will, pardon the pun, rise to the occasion. If you're on a good structure pattern, chances are there will be at least some fish in the area most of the time regardless of season, water temperature, or weather conditions, (structure fish are known for their reliability.) The other good news is, as ambush hunters, the fish will feed on and off most of the day. We can check back on our definition of open water for a little depth guidance. The rule of thumb we had then was a depth not more than three times the visibility. Again, avoid extremes in using this rule. But I can say that one example of a great pattern is buzzing a spinner bait along the top in Lake Erie, (great visibility there), and you can call up small mouth from a bottom hugging depth of well over 25'. But more usually, I prefer water less than 10' deep or so for reliable top water action. One sure sign I use, regardless of depth, is bait fish skipping across the top of the water. We've already covered the fact that it's very difficult for a fish to travel much further than the top of the water, and they only rarely do it without reason. For bait fish that reason normally has to do with a very large mouth trailing a foot or two behind. I can't think of a better sign, regardless of conditions, that a top water lure is something I ought to be trying. There are also more options about methods and types of top water lures you can use around structure than the other two patterns, but we'll get there in minute.

That leaves us back where we started, in the shallows. There are several shallow water techniques, including top waters, that have proven to us that some fish live in this shallow area all year. Past B.A.S.S. tournament results find aggressive top water patterns producing winning stringers every where from 100+ degree water in August to 40 degree water in January where you had to knock the ice out of the tip of your rod. So, again we believe we have the where, (shallow), and the how (top water), so we're back to when? Early and late in the day works everywhere, so that part was easy. For the rest, I look at the water temperature. The magic temperature is somewhere around 76 - 78 degrees, at which time top waters are the perfect bait all day long if you're in the right spot. As the water warms, the fish will start to bury up next to cover in the heat of the day. The hotter the water, the longer they seem to shut down. Now depending on which type of bait you use, this is just a slow down in the action rather than shutting down completely, but by August it can be tough to find a mid day bite on anything up shallow. But if you're a night fisherman, a hot summer night throwing a big loud top water is about as good as it gets! Winter fishing is just the opposite. The fish normally wait until the afternoon sun warms the shallows before they venture in too close to shore. Low light conditions will find them buried deep into a grass ball or cuddled up next to a tree. Winter fish are sluggish and don't have to feed as often as in warmer water, but they do still feed some and the shallows is still a prime area. If you're looking for a slow, non-threatening lure you can work all day in a coffee cup, top waters are an obvious choice. After a few warm days in late winter and the cloud cover of an approaching front, if you can maneuver a slow buzz bait among the ice chunks, you might just get your arm broke by a huge female checking out potential spawning spots while taking in an easy meal.

Categories and Types

Before we get to the different types of top waters, (of which there are many), let's look at the two broad categories, or jobs we'd like the lure to do. There are two separate and distinct jobs a fisherman looking for a limit has to do; find the fish; and catch the fish. Top waters can be great at both jobs, and sometimes a single lure will do both. More often than not, we have to choose different lures for the two jobs and perform the jobs one at a time.

The first job, finding fish, calls for wide area coverage. The fish have a nasty habit of ganging up in one little area surrounded by what seems like miles of unproductive water. If you don't know the spot on that particular day, you want to lure that will cover a ton of water quickly, eliminating the vast majority of it and finding one of those magic spots. Several top waters fall into this category and quite possibly perform the job better than anything else in your tackle box.

The second job is catching fish, even fish that don't really want to bite. The secret to this is normally putting a bait right in front if their nose and leaving it there. The direct opposite of area coverage, we'll call it spot fishing. Again, several top waters are the absolute best choice in the box for working a small spot thoroughly and keeping your lure in the strike zone 99% of the time.

Now that we're armed with our category definitions, lets break things down into types of top water lures. We've got your Buzz baits, Stick baits, Prop baits, Chuggers, Swimming baits, Minnow baits, Floaters, and a few that just don't fit any of the above.

Buzz Baits: The area coverage King. If you ever what to really hack off a worm fisherman, tie on a buzz bait, put the trolling motor on High/Continuous, and go to work. I can't think of any bait in the box to cover an area quicker. Based on a spinner bait with 2 or more blades rotating around the shaft, this noisy contraption attracts attention from a long ways off. Although famous for arm wrenching explosions, as often as not the fish will just suck it in from behind with only a swirl to say he was there. The hardest thing about fishing a buzz bait is to not set the hook. You need a needle sharp hook, (gives you great practice with a sharpening stone), and most of the time I use a small trailer hook or stinger. But given small sharp hooks, I never set them. I've lost far more fish I took the lure away from than I ever had from poor hook sets. When you see the fish swirl, blow up, or just notice it got kind of quiet all of a sudden, do nothing. Just keep reeling at the same speed. The fish will often pull this lure under before munching down. When you feel the weight of the fish, then and only then set the hook. If a fish misses a buzz bait it's even money he'll catch up and give it another shot given the chance. Even given the stringer hook, (assuming you use it point up) these baits are very close to weedless and can be thrown in the thickest of cover. Ideal for fishing over holes in a thick grass bed extending to just under the surface. They also work great when the fish are in the lily pads or around heavy standing timber. Buzz baits are known as big fish baits, and most of them come in big fish sizes. I've found I catch more, and a lot of times bigger fish by down sizing to a little ¼ oz model with 4 blades about ½ the size of the normal blades. This smaller bait also lets me put it in those tight places that a big bait just won't fit. I routinely worm a grub over the stinger hook (curl tail down, away from the hook point), for a little extra flotation letting me slow down the bait. You need fairly flat water for a buzz bait. Anything from glass to a slight ripple will do, (the slight ripple is ideal.) When fishing around weed clumps or timber, throw the bait at least 10' past the target so it's stable when it enters the strike zone. Work it slowly past the obvious ambush point, then speed it up as it moves away from the strike zone. A lot of times a reluctant fish will let the slow bait pass by but just can't stand the idea of it actually escaping at high speed, (Macho Bass!) For equipment, you'll want a heavy duty rod to pull the fish out of heavy cover. Many folks like long rods for extra casting distance and covering water. I prefer a short rod for pin point accurate casts around heavy cover. A compromise is probably right. The line will be out of the water for the most part, so using extra heavy line has no penalty and really helps out horsing big fish around. I use braided line (40 lb.) and love it. Although Buzz baits sometimes work great all day long, (especially in extreme water temperatures, either hot or cold), they are primarily a low light level bait and built their reputation on being one of the best night fishing lures you can throw around heavy cover. Final buzz bait trick. Turns out old baits catch more fish than new baits. As the blades wear out, they will tend to develop a squeak as they turn in the water. Kind of your finger nails on the black board noise that the fish just can't stand. To quickly age a new bait, tie it to the mirror of your truck on the way to the lake, facing into the wind. After 30 miles of wind, the bait will squeak like it's ten years old. What does a Buzz Bait represent to a bass? It might be a swimming rodent, maybe a bait fish school, but I firmly believe they think it's an itty-bitty bass boat and they're get to get it before it gets them.

Stick Baits: Stick Baits are another lure known for wide area coverage and big fish. Actually, I don't really catch many giants on this bait, only one or two fish over 8 pounds in all of these years. But they do have an uncanny knack of catching large numbers of 4 and 5 pound fish, one after another, (talk about upgrade specials.) The embodiment of the Stick Bait is the Zara Spook. While there are others, the Zara Puppy and more recently the Spittin' Image, or even a Chug Bug comes to mind, the Spook remains the main stay and has been boating big fish for over 60 years now. Characterized by the Walk-The-Dog retrieve, it's a comparatively difficult lure to learn to use. The lure is inherently unstable and heavier on the rear of the lure. Many folks rightfully claim the old wooden models out perform the newer ones. You can get the same type of extra back heavy action by adding a few Suspend-A-Dots right in front of the rear hook on the bottom of the lure. If you gently jerk the slack out of your line, the bait will dart in the direction opposite from which it is facing. So, by moving your rod tip back and forth, alternately putting slack in the line and jerking it out, the lure will thrash back an forth in the water causing quite a ruckus. The practice part comes when you try to walk the lure and reel at the correct speed at the same time. Since it is best to keep your rod tip pointed down towards the water when walking the dog, short rods are normally preferred. Your dealing with treble hooks, even though they are the size of a small grappling iron, so medium rod tips and monofilament line are generally better at getting the fish in the boat. Rather than trying to sharpen the treble hooks, I normally just replace them with needle sharp after market hooks and move up to the 1/0 size while I'm at it. With those big hooks, this is not a lure you'd like down in the thick cover, so open water is usually where you'll find these lures. Even with the walk the dog retrieve, there are a lot of variants you can use. You can walk it at a steady pace, stop and go, anywhere from very fast to very slow, and even occasionally use the old rip it across the water 10' then let it set trick. More so that most other top waters, I pay attention to the color of the lure. This is one of those lures I don't want the fish to see too well, preferring they strike at the splash and just kind of find the lure in the middle while they are at it. So, I match the color of the lure to sky. Blue skies, Blue Shore Minnow. Gray skies, Gray Shore Minnow. Dead Calm, Clear with no color at all. Black at night. Bull-frog in low light conditions at dusk and dawn. Probably the strangest thing about these baits is when I like to use them, High Wind. Oh, they work well from calm on up, but really seem to come into their own in a 20 mph wind. Come April or May, look out across the lake at 2 or 3 foot white caps, and there I am in open water, Spook in hand, and normally catching big fish. The trick seems to be to work it cross wind between the waves. Don't know why it works, it just does.

Swimming Baits: These baits have almost become a thing of the past, their niche being filled by Buzz baits. But they do one thing a Buzz bait can't, they float. This type of bait is best characterized by the Jitter Bug or the Crazy Crawler. A very easy bait to fish, just cast out and slowly wind them in since they normally work best on a slow steady retrieve. Like Buzz baits, they are at their best in low or no light conditions. With a big swimming blade up front and being inherently unstable like a Spook, the water pressure on the blade makes the bait roll from side to side yielding their unique plop-plop-plop sound. Again like the Spook, I like to replace the hooks with after market hooks of a little bigger size. Like the Buzz bait, there is little hook setting to be done and since they are often fished around cover, you'd really like to horse the fish to the boat, so a heavy action rod helps, (I still use monofilament line for the trebles.) There are times when the fish won't touch a Buzz bait but will nail a swimmer, and a swimming lure is an excellent come back or follow up bait for a fish that missed a Buzz bait. Their biggest advantage is they can be worked slower than a Buzz bait. You can even stop the bait dead for a while in a likely looking spot, (especially effective in a come back situation.) One other trick you can use for night fishing as long as you're not in a tournament. If you're working along the shore or a grass edge, tie down a rod on the rear deck and trail a swimming lure behind the boat a cast or so as you work along with your trolling motor. Just let the bait start and stop with the boat. But you'd better move quickly when it sounds like someone threw a bowling ball in behind you.

Chuggers: Chuggers fall into a gray area between area coverage and spot fishing. You can either working them very, very slow, or very fast. With a flat scooped out face and a loud "ploop" with every jerk of the rod tip, these most ancient of top waters have been represented by the Lucky 13, Hula Popper, Bass-O-Reno, and lately in fashion with the Pop-R and it's many competitors. Unlike most treble hook baits, you can't blindly go replacing the hooks since the attitude the bait sits in the water is important for it's sound, (plus the tassel on the rear hook is an important part of the profile and needs to be kept.) The traditional presentation of a Chugger was to throw it to the strike zone right next to heavy cover, let it sit until all of the ripples disappeared, chug it once or twice and let it sit again. If you didn't get hit in the first 3 or 4 feet, reel it in and try the next spot. Well, that was great for the first 60 years or so, then Zell Roland burst on the professional bass scene and has made a good living for the last 20 years or so fishing a modified Pop-R fast…very fast. Zell works the bait in a continuous series of quick short jerks either in a steady pattern or an irregular one depending on the fish's mood. He works the lure so fast in fact, this is one of the few presentations where you could probably out speed a Buzz bait. Talk about covering water! If the water is calm enough to keep the waves from tossing the bait out of the water on the jerk, then the conditions are right. For your rod, you need to be able to move the bait against the water resistance yet still have enough give to keep the relatively small treble hooks involved, so something in the medium light to medium range will probably do. The small hooks and the bait action dictate monofilament line, heavy enough to move the lure easily but not so heavy as the effect the action, (10 -14 lb. is about right.) Chuggers are yet another low light or no light option and are noted for working well on cloudy days. Chuggers are also a great choice for stained to muddy water when you need something to attract attention in low visibility.

Prop Baits: Possibly the widest variety of top waters of a single type come with a prop. Dating back into the 20s, some of the more popular names in fishing have been prop baits, the Dalton Special, Devil's Horse, the Torpedo, Crippled Minnow, and countless others have come equipped with a prop on one or both ends of the bait. More subtle than any of the baits we talked about so far, prop baits cause a relatively minor, non-threatening splash as they are jerked through the water. These bait can also be used for wide area coverage, working quickly with a steady series of jerks. But they really come into their own when used for spot fishing. Most modern prop baits have a fairly slender profile and tend towards the smaller size. This makes them ideal for work around isolated spots, letting the bait pause for a period in between slight twitches. To keep the props clear of the water, they tend to float very high in the water, so they are effected by wave action. You can use this to your advantage, letting even a slight ripple on the water give a subtle movement to a resting bait. The small hooks typical of these baits can be replaced, but you should probably stick with the same hook size or even downsize one size. The baits are most effective worked around heavy cover for ambushing bass. You'll want to use a medium to medium light rod for the best action and medium sized monofilament line, (good abrasion resistant line helps here), so chances are fairly good the bass will move the bait into the cover on you. Treble hooks, light rods, and cover are always a poor mix but using small hooks at least helps the situation. If you didn't catch so many fish on these things, they wouldn't be worth the trouble. The non-intrusive nature of these baits means the can be used any time of day, but I alter my retrieve with brightness. The brighter the light, the slower and more irregular the retrieve. For night fishing, I fish the baits fairly quickly with a series of regularly spaced jerks. Since you're using monofilament line around a rotating prop, these lures are not a lot of fun throwing in the wind. The props tend to wrap up and foul the line resulting in a lot of retying and a few lost fish. When the wind starts kicking up waves instead of ripples, I put the prop baits away.

Minnow Baits: These baits have morphed into hard jerk baits so effective, we almost forget they started life as a great top water option. The ultimate hard bait for quite, ever so subtle spot fishing, the Rapala line is so strongly identified with the class as to be synonymous. Sure there are the Rouges, the Long-A line, and other excellent baits, but nothing has yet surpassed the Rapala at the top water presentation it invented. The extremely slender profile of the bait makes it the prefect ambush target when sitting on top of a wary bass. If you lightly twitch the rod tip, the bait will gently dip forward, then spring back, almost returning to it's original position. This means you can put a Minnow bait on top of a fish and keep it there. If the fish seem to be jittery, then a Minnow plug may be your best bet. And this is a serious Big Fish bait. Some of the better fish caught every year come on a Minnow plug. The Broken Back version with it's drooping tail is particularly deadly on big fish, (my first fish over 10 lb. came on one of those.) And as an added benefit, when a spot doesn't pan out, you can simply give it a jerk or two to get it under water, then use it in it's newer role as a hard jerk bait, (seems like I've got an article on that use out here somewhere.) The weight of these lures make them fairly easy to throw in a wind and pretty accurate as well. Since with spot fishing your normally aiming at heavy cover, this is another bait I would not up size the hooks on, (a slightly different story that using the same bait as a hard jerk bait in open water.) Same equipment set up as other small top water baits, medium to medium light rod with 10 - 14 lb. monofilament line. This pretty much a calm water, (preferably clear water), presentation and may be your best option in glassy conditions. It loses some of it's attraction if you even have a ripple on the water. But regardless of season, time of day, or weather conditions, on a windless day, this can be a dynamite bait.

Plastic Floaters: Everything we've talked about so far has some serious metal and/or wood associated with it. But another option to keep in mind is soft plastic baits. There is a whole class of these baits, and several of your normal bottom bumpers that will work as well. Some, like Strike King's Grass Frog have built in action when pulled on top, (I personally prefer their new chugger version, but the original is still a good lure.) Some, like the Mann's Ghost and Goblin series mimic traditional hard baits, (walking the dog with a ghost over a hydrilla or milfoil bed is an open invitation for a big bass to dislocate your shoulder.) And, of course, the old Creme Worm fished weightless has accounted for untold numbers fish over the years. Most all of these baits have one thing in common, they are weedless, or at least as close as you can get to it. This makes them the ideal bait, and a lot of times the only bait you can fish around and through truly heavy cover. We're talkin' throwing them in the middle of a hydrilla field, to holes in middle a heavy pepper grass, fished right through the heart of a pad field, serious emergent cover or beds that top out with a couple of inches of the surface. Now they can be fished in more open situations and are effective at it, but they really shine in heavy cover. Have standing timber so thick you can't get a Buzz bait through it, much less your boat? Plastic floaters are the answer. Since they float, or sink very slowly, most of time you want to fish them slow. Put them in a thin portion of the heavy cover or over a hole and a bass hangin' around that hole just can't stand it. The really fun thing about them is the fish normally have to strike from directly below the lure because of the surrounding cover, so this is a serious explosion, not a little boil. As with most explosions, they aren't always controlled and the fish often miss the lure, so it's another case of waiting to feel the fish before setting the hook. When we say set the hook, we mean it. You'll have slack in the line and normally the fish will already be buried before you can react, so a serious all-you-have-got type hook set is required. Obviously, this type of fishing is not for the faint of heart, or for ultra light tackle. I really much prefer braided lines for this application, (something in the 50 lb. class) and if your dead set on monofilament, start at 25 lb. and go up. Stalks and limbs are almost sure to be involved so abrasion resistance and low stretch help a ton. Similarly, the rod and reel need to be up to the challenge. A lot of folks go right past heavy action and straight to flippin' sticks., (the added length helps in leveraging the fish out.) Now not all of these baits weigh that much, (i.e. floating worms), so there is a trade off between heavy enough to get the fish out and light enough to get the bait in. This is another all day sport for any time the fish are in that shallow strike zone. The wonderful thing about this is when the fish shut down, they will normally bury up in the heavy cover, exactly where these baits excel. You'd be surprised how well these baits perform in hard cold front conditions, (for serious tournament fishing, I'd still go flippin', but this is a whole lot more fun.)

None, or All of the Above: OK. About got all of this covered. But there are several special interest baits that at extremely effective but don't really fit in to any of our types. Their special action or application means that no tackle box is complete without them, so we'll finish up looking at a few favorites.

Chug Bugs: The Storm Chug Bug is a combination between a stick bait and a chugger, working well in either application. A long unstable bait with a scooped front, it's quickly becoming a tournament favorite. The solid chrome color is a hint of orange belly and a blue back is the standard for most conditions. You can just use it as a chugger, but that kind of wastes the bait. The retrieve that's making the lure famous is a two part retrieve taking advantage of all of it's properties and combining several proven top water techniques. Find a likely target, (hole in a weed bed, point, or stump), throw the bait in there, then give it two quick hard jerks, (C-H-U-G B-U-G), then let it sit. I've let it set for up to a minute then had a fish blast it. If after setting you don't have a strike, then just barely twitch, (like a Minnow bait.) This will often trigger a fish setting just under the Bug to blast it. If this fails, then start walking the dog slowly back to the boat, pausing a few seconds around obvious strike zones. Another favorite situation is around schoolers. Cast past the school and walk it as fast as you can through the school, (it will hardly ever make it through.) It's a heavy bait and will work well in a wind. I use medium tackle and monofilament line, varying the size and action and hook size according to the cover I'm working around. Excellent compromise of several top water types.

Rats: Made famous on Guntersville, a BassMasters episode a few years ago has brought renewed interest in this old lure. A simple plastic body molded to look like a rat with a couple of upturned hooks means this lure can be fished over virtually any flat surface, like say a solid mat of milfoil. Fish buried deep in the milfoil will attempt to explode up through the mat to nab the little trespasser. Only about ½ of the fish will successfully grab the lure, and you'll lose a number of those before you plow your boat near enough to extract the fish from the mat, (regardless of what they show on TV, it's better to go in after the fish than try to drag him over the mat.) Sharpening the hooks helps some, but it can be as frustrating to fish this lure as it is exciting. If you don't happen to live on Guntersville, I'm not sure it's a primary tournament choice, but you can't beat it for excitement and thrills. The other good news is it will catch some monster fish. The lure works best in the hot summer and into the fall when the mats are full, healthy, and the fish buried beneath them. Under those seasonal conditions, it will work best in the heat of the day in a bright sun when the fish bury instead of roam around feeding. Extra heavy gear is obviously required.

Bang-O-Lures: Another compromise, this one between a prop bait and a minnow bait. Bagley has sold millions of them for one simple reason, they work. Fish this one as a spot bait similar to the way you'd fish a minnow bait. But the little prop on the rear means you get a little splash and all of a sudden you've got a slender minnow plug that will work in a little wind. The wind is not required, but it is one of the few minnow baits to fish on top with a ripple or even small waves. It also works great when you'd like the very subtle presentation of a minnow bait but you're in stained or muddy water. A very nice compromise and a surprisingly versatile lure. You sometimes have trouble finding this lure, so stock up when you get the chance.

Flappin' Shads: The absolute hottest thing in top water lures the last couple of years. This has the excitement of a rat, the water covering capability of a buzz bait, the non-intrusiveness of a minnow plug, the weedless properties of other soft plastics, and an effectiveness unlike anything we've seen in years. It started life as a traditional soft jerk bait but then someone added a paddle tail. They worked well enough in the traditional jerk bait role and gave a nice and different look used on a Texas Rig. Then one day someone started reeling in quickly with a Texas rig and was totally surprised when a major league size bass nailed the sucker when it skittered over the top. Rig these baits up with the hook pointing up (out the back of the lure), behind a 1/8 oz bullet weight. You can throw them a mile, and do so. Then reel like hell. The trick of the presentation is to get the bait on the top of the water. That doesn't mean ½" below the surface, but right on top. You'll need to keep your rod tip up and have a high ratio reel to keep it up on the way back to the boat. The tail will flap rapidly in the water when you're going fast enough putting out vibrations rivaled only by a buzz bait. You'll being reeling close to as fast as you can, and the fish will murder it! This bait conclusively proves you can't out reel a determined bass. Fish that you thought were only marginally active will blow this thing out of the water. It looks and feels just too much like an easy meal about to get away for a bass to pass up. The speed seems to be the secret, not giving the fish time to look or think about it, just enough time to react. You can throw this bait about anywhere and it works well in any shallow conditions, (in fact, the shallower, the better.) You're line will never touch the water and you've got a pretty good sized hook here, so big heavy equipment with long rods are the order of the day, (I use a 6 ½' medium heavy with 30 lb. braid.) Don't be scared to go over the top of hydrilla mats, through the middle of pad fields, or any place else you'd fish a floating plastic bait. The bait will certainly work the best when the fish are out roaming, but you'll get your fair share of buried up fish as well. Since you can, (and really must), cover so much water with this lure it's picture perfect for looking for aggressive fish in the shallows in a hurry. It doesn't put out quite as much vibration as a buzz bait, so your casts have to be a little closer together, and thus you can't cover quite as much water as a buzz bait, but it's close. Have one rigged as a come back lure for a buzz bait and you'll be seldom disappointed. A great come back lure for a fish that misses this bait is a traditional soft jerk bait. If you haven't tried this bait, you're missing something special.

Well, that's about it for this time. Hope you found something you can use. Top water fishing is the pinnacle of Bass fishing, a joy and excitement that can't be duplicated any other way. It's addictive and has earned a well deserved reputation for producing big fish. Best of luck and we'll see you next time.

Paul Crawford

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