The Art of Topwater:
Living Out the Dream
by Bruce Callis
Spring and summer are times we really look forward to and that magic time when the topwater bite turns on. We dream of those explosions as we work our bait across the top of the water. We dream of that leap that stops our heart and then brings it back to beating when they land back into the water. Those are the dreams we all share and all want to relive over and over.
For years, I only knew 3 topwater lures and I used them religiously. The original Jitterbug, the Hula Popper, and the Devilhorse. And I managed to catch a few bass on them, and miss even more. The problem wasn’t the bait. I was learning to use them, learning to not react to the noise of the strike. I learned to wait for the resistance on the other end of the line. The more I threw them, the better I got at using them. Today, I throw them far less and I don’t know why exactly. But I am still searching for that bite.
The frog has become my favorite topwater bait. There are so many choices when it comes to frogs, but it comes down to three basic choices; soft plastic, hollow bellied and popping frogs. All three choices can be worked in, through, and across any cover. The frog can come through lily pads, across the top of grass mats, and through or over laydowns. They can be worked up shallow or in open water, and can bring so much excitement. The soft plastic frog does not float and must be in constant motion to stay on top of the water. But they work great. A soft plastic frog, the Zoom Horny Toad, is what I caught my personal best on and what I am constantly trying to top each and every trip out on the water. The hollow bellied and popping frog all float when at rest. We work them to give them action. We cut the skirt legs to help them walk back and forth for us. We learn to make them dance in place. And we wait for that explosion to happen. The popping frog is unique as it takes the action of a frog and a popping bait and combines them into a lure that can be thrown basically anywhere. I love using mine in the back of the pad fields where the big girls love to hide.
The popper is another amazing choice for topwater strikes. The concave face is what helps the bait as it is pulled to make a popping sound like a bluegill hitting the surface. There are many different versions and designs, but they all are made to do the same thing. They float motionless on the water until we entice the action through our rod tip. While they work great, the treble hooks that hang below them makes it easy to foul, thus limiting where and when we can throw them. But many an angler has landed trophy sized bass on them.
The walking bait is another great topwater bait that gets it’s action from us as we work it back to us. The secret to them is learning to make them dance and walk side to side, sometimes never moving more than an inch or two as we work it towards us. They are great in open water and on the outside edges of vegetation, places where the treble hooks won’t get fouled.
Another choice is the prop style topwater lure. These are equipped with a small prop style spinner on the front, back, or both. These props are what makes the sound as they are ripped through the water. The Devilhorse, Torpedo, Tiny Torpedo and others are all examples of these baits. Like the walking baits, they have treble hooks that don’t allow you to work them everywhere. But they excel around the edges of vegetation and over laydowns. They are also great in open water.
And then there are the hybrids. River2Seas makes a cross between a hollow bellied frog and a jitterbug. It has a soft plastic concave lip like the old jitterbug, but instead of a solid body, it is attached to a hollow bellied frog, making in great in open water and in sparse vegetation since it has no exposed hooks. Livingston Lures also has a hybrid called the walking boss. It has a jitterbug feel to it but a much longer and slender hard body. It too has the treble hooks making it much better in more open water. Another style prop type bait is the Whopper Plopper. The tail spins giving it the action or plop as it is retrieved.
Buzz baits are another choice. These are made with a blade that when retrieved across the top of the water make a churning sound as it buzzes across the surface. They can be used with just a skirt of them or with a soft plastic trailer. They can also be used without a skirt but have a trailer. These work great anywhere except for dense vegetation where the blades get tangled.
Now is a great time to be throwing a topwater bait. No matter the style you choose, it takes time to learn how to use them. Watch plenty of videos, listen to other anglers to learn little tricks that will make the bait work for you. And hold on tight when you feel them on your line. Those explosions and heart stopping moments are what legends are made of. Live that dream!