topwater fishing
Tyler Brinks

How to Fish Topwater Baits

There's nothing more exhilarating in bass fishing than a topwater blowup. The strikes are often vicious and unpredictable, so fishing with topwater lures is a favorite way to catch a bass for most anglers. Catching fish on topwaters is fun but also one of the best ways to catch numbers of fish with the chance of a giant from spring until fall. Here's a quick primer on the different types of lures and how to fish them.

Types of topwater baits

topwater baits

Tyler Brinks

As topwater fishing has evolved, there have been more and more lures joining this category. Each is fished a little differently and the first thing to understand is the major types of topwater baits.

Poppers: Featuring a cupped face and a small baitfish profile, poppers pop and chug their way along the surface as they create a bubble trail as they work along the surface.

Walking baits: Often referred to generically as a "spook" for the Heddon Zara Spook that popularized this type of lure, there are many different walking baits on the market. Each is relatively similar, a pencil or cigar-shaped bait that walks side-to-side on the surface with each rod twitch. There is also something called pencil poppers that walk and spit water because of their cupped faces.

Ploppers: One of the newest topwater styles, ploppers like the River2Sea Whopper Plopper look like most walking baits but have a tail section that rotates and "plops" the water as it is retrieved.

Buzzbaits: A buzzbait is another fun one and has a skirt just like a spinnerbait with a blade that rotates and buzzes along the surface during the retrieve. They excel in shallow water and get some of the most ferocious bites you'll experience on the water.

Frogs and Toads: Frogs feature a plastic body that can be fished just about anywhere because they are incredibly weedless. The toad is a soft plastic and the tails kick and bubble along the surface when retrieved.

Fishing poppers

This is a target-oriented bait that draws fish from shallow cover like submerged trees, grass, and those hanging around docks. Because they are fished slower, they are not the best for covering large areas. They do best with a slow, methodical popping retrieve that imitates bluegill or other small baitfish.

Work them with short rod twitches downwards to get the bait to pop and create a commotion before pausing. Many strikes will occur as the lure comes to a stop or immediately after you begin working the lure again after a pause.

Fishing topwater walking baits

topwater baits

Tyler Brinks

One of the best types of topwater baits is a walking bait. There are many sizes and colors offered from the various brands and although they look a little different, the action from these baits is very similar.

Learning to walk a lure, or "walk-the-dog," as it's often called, takes a little work to get the right cadence. Short twitches of your rod will make the bait move to one side and then to the other with the next twitch. This action imitates a wounded baitfish struggling on the surface and draws bass to the lure.

One component to fishing them effectively is getting into a rhythm with the right speed, as some days the bass want something moving quickly and sometimes, a slower action is better. Experiment with different speeds and see what the bass want that day.

Using buzzbaits, ploppers, frogs, and toads

Most of the baits in this category are fished with a straight retrieve. Buzzbaits, ploppers, and toads can be fished with a simple cast and retrieve. Ploppers float, so you can fish them as fast or slow as you'd like, but buzzbaits and toads take a bit more attention. These two baits will sink if you let them, so the trick is to retrieve them just fast enough so they stay on the surface.

Frogs are a different animal and fished more like a walking bait with a sashay on the surface. They're great because they can be fished anywhere, even on matted vegetation and lily pads. But don't think you have to have a canopy to catch fish; they work great in open water or when fished around docks and other objects. There are also popping frogs, which share many of the same features as a popper, but have the added benefit of being weedless.

Hooking more fish on topwaters and when to use them

One of the biggest complaints about topwater fishing is the hookup ratio. Bass are often crashing at the commotion and sometimes, they miss the bait and you don't hook them. That's one of the factors, but there's also the angler error component of setting the hook too quickly.

A topwater blowup is exciting and many anglers pull the bait away from fish if they set too fast. Instead, try to wait until you feel the fish with your rod before setting. It's a tricky balance of setting too quickly or waiting too long, but timing is everything. Usually, a two-count after the initial explosion will be enough time to ensure the fish has the bait.

Topwater baits will work for much of the year if the bass feed near the surface, typically anytime the water is 60 degrees or warmer. During the summer, the first light and right before it gets dark will be some of the best times to do it, but fish will hit a topwater in other conditions. Lowlight conditions are always good, whether due to the time of day or cloud cover, but bass will hit them even in the bright sunshine.

Topwater line and gear

Because topwater baits float, line selection becomes critical to get the best performance from your lures. Fluorocarbon lines have become extremely popular but are not a good choice for topwaters. Because this line type will sink, it can pull the baits down and affect the action.

Instead, a monofilament or braided line will be a better choice because both line types float. Monofilament has been a standard for years and works well for all topwaters except frogs and toads, which are often fished around thick grass and need a stronger line. Braided line is a better choice for these lures but can also be used for the other topwater baits.

For rods and reels, a variety of different setups will work. Generally, a rod should have softness in the tip to get the bait to work correctly. Having too stiff of a rod will make it harder to get the bait moving effectively, but too flimsy of a rod and you lack power. A standard medium-heavy baitcast rod should be the right balance for all of these topwaters, except frogs, which are often fished on heavier gear because of the thick grass they are often fished in.

A good all-around reel speed would be something around 7.1:1; it's fast enough to get the bait back in quickly if needed but slow enough that you are not overworking the bait.

Fishing topwaters is an exciting and time-honored summertime bass fishing tradition. There's nothing better than an excellent topwater strike and the chance to catch fish this way keeps anglers throwing these baits every season.