Topwater fishing lures are some of the most exciting to use in all bass fishing. From a strong bass whipping it off the surface to a sudden take while casually reeling in, anglers love the strike a good topwater provides. Fun to fish and useful in particular tight spots, both beginners and the more advanced get a lot of success with them too.
The best topwater baits aren’t always easy to come by though. Given the many different types and conditions they are designed for, it’s tough to know what to use and when.
Topwater baits can be purchased online and in-person from tackle shops all over the world. Ensuring you get the best one for your bass fishing needs involves some amount of research. Knowing exactly what they are, what they do and when best to use them, are all important in successfully catching bass.
What Are Topwater Baits?
Just as the case is with most fishing lures, a topwater is designed to mimic the prey of a predatory fish in an attempt to tease it into biting. Typically, as the name suggests, topwater lures are moved about on the surface or top of the water as opposed to sinking deep. This happens because of the lure’s composition and the fishermen’s reeling speed.
Colored to look like the prey they intend to imitate, the typical topwater lure might resemble something like an insect, frog or small fish. The “action” (the way it moves in the water) it provides also resembles that of the creature it’s designed to look like.
A topwater also has the common feature of having one or several hooks built into its body. This enables the angler to hook the fish when it comes near the surface in an attempt to take the bait. Treble hooks, often seen in topwaters, increase the chance of hooking by providing more surface area to penetrate the fish’s mouth.
In terms of material you can find topwaters made from almost anything. The most common materials are metal, plastic, rubber, or a combination. You’ll also find variations that don’t necessarily float (though categorizing them as topwaters becomes a bit trickier) and dive too.
Why and When to Use a Topwater Bait
Possibly the biggest use for a topwater is when the angler wants to draw a fish out of dense underwater foliage or an obstacle that another lure is most likely going to snag on.
Besides that, most anglers opt for using a topwater because they love the thrill it provides. Especially in the case of hooksetting (when a small pause is required to ensure the lure sits in the best place in the fish’s mouth).
The summer months are also another great time to use a topwater. This is because the water is usually clear at this time which allows a topwater greater visibility among potential catches. Seeing the bass come to the surface to take a bait during these conditions adds to the excitement of using a topwater too.
Given the many different types of this bait class though you won’t just see them in the summer and spring months, however. Many anglers carry them all year round, in a range of temperatures and conditions. Most bass fishing pros will usually carry several in tournaments too.
TypeS of Topwater Baits
Topwater variation is big. You’ll find lures of this category in all colors, shapes, sizes and materials. You’ll also see plenty with jointed bodies (creeping into the swimbait or crankbait lure classifications), moving eyes and even ones that vibrate (similarly to spinnerbaits).
The main categories most bass anglers consider are the following.
Poppers can be identified by their mouths, a concave cup shape that looks like a the surface of a bowl. The mouth is also the attachment point for the line via a small metal loop projecting from it.
One of the most common topwater lure types, the popper is also one of the slowest moving. It’s controlled after the cast, by jerking the rod tip to allow the mouth to dip into the water and skid across. This movement provides the “pop” the lure is named for, created as water fizzes over it.
Chuggers are best described as poppers with bigger mouths. Usually these run even slower but displace more water than popper and can cause more disturbance. Something that a really stubborn bass might respond better to.
Wakebaits are a variety of topwater lure so called for their side to side movement at the water surface which creates a wake. This smooth action, coupled with the lateral wobble, looks natural to a bass used to feeding off similarly moving prey.
Another slow moving topwater lure, the wakebait comes into its own when searching out bass who just don’t seem interested in chasing fast moving lures (something that’s common in warm summer water).
Due to its action and wobble a wakebait looks very similar to a crankbait. One way to tell them apart is the lip on the head of the lure. A wakebait will have a much smaller lip, meaning its unlikely to sink deep or displace a ton of water.
The pros recommend fishing wakebaits on calm water, over submerged cover and at low light (dawn or dusk).
Twitchbaits are designed to mimic slow sinking bait fish and are good to use in sight casting (where you don’t see the fish but scout for obstructions in the water that might attract them). Ideal for use in clear water, they work well in attracting small mouth bass that are suspended off the bottom near shorelines or open water flats.
The typical twitchbait is longer than other topwaters, and is fished by twitching the rod a few inches after the cast before giving a larger, more powerful, twitch. This gives the lure a very erratic motion and creates a big flash.
Most twitchbaits sink a little lower than the average topwater so the lift that the ‘twitch’ provides is an important action in presenting this lure. Anglers also advise playing with the retrieve too. This helps in better understanding fish behaviour and then honing your angling approach more sharply.
Propbaits are torpedo shaped lures that have one or more propellers affixed to their body that spin in the water as they are reeled in. This motion helps create disturbance in the water near to the body which goes a long way in drawing bass out from more difficult to reach areas. It also creates noise.
Propbaits are best used in areas with few obstacles or at the edges of cover. This is because their design, with the hooks and the propeller, is likely to snag if it hits anything heavy or thick. Most anglers advise using them on clear days when the surface is still. That way the bass can better notice the sound and disturbance they create.
Buzzbaits are very similar to propbaits but tend to have larger sized propellers. They also resemble spinnerbait lures in the way they are centered on a wire with one arm attached to a jig head and hook while the other arm attaches the propeller.
Considered one of the faster moving topwater classes, the large buzzbait creates significant disturbance in the water splashing and rippling the water behind and in front of it. A little safer to use around cover than a propbait, buzzbaits tend to have their hook sitting upright or vertical in the water. This makes for fewer snags and tangles.
Buzzbaits allow a lot of customisation due to their attachment to a jighead that can be dressed with a skirt (attachment that ‘dresses’ the hook to look more like a baitfish). Due to their design they also sink (uncommon for a topwater). To sit on the surface then they must be played in constant motion with the angler commencing their reeling right after the cast.
Jumping baits refer to topwater baits that “jump” on the surface. Commonly they resemble frogs moving across the water surface. A motion that drive some bass wild.
This type of topwater is lure is most effectively used while keeping the rod tip down slightly and the motion constant but not overly fast. Depending on the size of the lure you might want to accentuate the motion but jerking the rod a little too.
Jumpbaits aren’t hugely popular in American bass angling circles but get a lot more love in places like Thailand and Vietnam which provide warm freshwater fishing environments all year round.
Frog topwater baits are simply categorized in that they are designed to look like frogs. Usually green or brown in color, these lures usually have a soft bodied hollow component with tails that flutter in the water.
Another recognizable feature of frogs is their in-set hooks that pop out when a bass takes the lure. This helps keep the lure weedless and prevents it snagging. Something that’s crucial when running it naturally over the surface.
For some anglers using a frog can prove tricky given this in-set hook feature. For a beginner not used to hook setting they might find they get lots of bites but fail to convert them. That’s why more experienced anglers suggest resetting the hooks with pliers. Helping them stick out more and more easily hook a bass.
Topwater plugs are hugely popular lures in places like Florida where there is lots of clear warm water fishing. Just like other classifications in its imitation of a baitfish on the top of the water, plugs are best recognised by the right-to-left action they provide in the water. This is sometimes referred to as “walking the dog”.
Running slower than buzz and propbaits, plugs are usually hard bodied and have a concave shape on their head much like poppers and chuggers that provides a similar disturbance and sound in the water. This presents the bait like a wounded fish laying and moving sporadically.
Stickbaits/Torpedos/Spooks/Walk the Dog
These names classify long and skinny topwater lures that have treble hooks and an action that’s basically the same as a plug. Where plugs might be a big thicker in diameter, these narrower lures are fished by jerking the rod tip by the angler. This causes the lure to zigzag from side to side slowly.
The control the angler has over the lure’s action is one reason for opting for this classification of topwater. They are also one of the more simple topwaters, featuring no propellers, lips or curved faces.
Pairing Topwater Baits with Other Gear
Due to the wide array of topwater subtypes, it’s possible to use them with most angling gear. More often than not, topwaters are fished in freshwater rather than saltwater. That’s why you’ll see them most commonly recommended for bass fishing purposes rather than deep sea angling.
Knowing how to pair them with rods, reels, and line, however, can help you make a better choice when it comes to picking the best topwater baits for bass.
Typical bass fishing rods work the best with topwaters. The choice between spinning or baitcasting rods is largely preferential, but most beginners tend to opt for spinning rods with topwaters when starting out as the cast is generally easier to manage.
Rods around 7 ft in length are great for topwater fishing but anything around that range is likely to work just as well helping you maneuver and move the lure around on the water’s surface.
Medium action rods with a lot of parabolic bend help an angler drive in the treble hooks of a topwater easily without causing damage to the fish or lure itself. Anything heavier than that might prove overkill.
Reels with a 7:1 gear ratio or anything within that range work well with topwaters. That enables an angler to keep up with a bass running with the lure while having enough drag to ensure it doesn’t snap the line or escape.
The retrieval is important when it comes to using most topwaters so you’ll want a reel that’s comfortable to use and sensitive enough to adjust your motion and rhythm accordingly.
Line is one of the more important choices when it comes to topwater lures. This is because they are designed to float.
Fluorocarbon, a popular bass fishing line that has the least visibility in the water, is generally not recommended for use with a topwater because of its built to sink. Attaching a topwater with this line type is likely to negatively affect its action a lot more than braided or mono line would. Although it is largely a matter of preference.
Most topwater aficionados suggest using 30 to 40 lb braid with topwaters or mono line in the range of 17 to 20 lb. Both these line type float on the top of the water making it much easier to work almost any topwater effectively and hopefully catch more bass.
Best Topwater Baits for Bass
Picking out the best topwater baits for bass on the market can be tough given the large number. Hopefully the following five favorites, however, can help you see the advantage a reliable topwater can bring to your fishing.
This weedless hollow body frog is made from soft, elastic material that makes it strong and durable enough to use with whatever size bass. The double hook design might need a bit of tweaking but the interior weighting system and flow-through design help it jump over the surface causing a lot of disturbance. The twin skirts and 3 different sizes (3.8-inch, 4-inch and 4.5-inch) mean there’s a frog for every condition and water type. 18 pieces.
These topwater plugs run like small torpedos in the water with tail propellers and two triple barbed hooks affixed to the body. This 3 pack set features two 1⅞-inch, ¼ ounce plugs colored to resemble baby bass and black shiner and one 2½-inch, ⅜ ounce model designed like a bullfrog. The vibrancy of these lures gives them a pop and presentation that’s really strong in clear water.
This Rebel series is one of America’s best known topwater bait lines that’s helped set the standard for generations. The Pop R is designed for both fast and slow retrieves and is well tested in producing explosive surface strikes. Durable and long-lasting you won’t need to replace these topwater poppers for years to come. Some users advise attaching a split ring for easier line attachment though and the paint work tends to flake after multiple long sessions. Despite all that the Pop R is still one of the best value for money popper topwaters available.
The Heddon Super Spook has a ‘walk the dog’ action simulating wounded baitfish struggling on the surface that’s one of the most effective around. Recommended for use with an 8-10 lb test line, this topwater is robust with a realistic finish that makes it versatile in almost any topwater condition. 9 cm in length this is one of the longer lures on this list and runs with a high pitched sound for extra disturbance.
This noisy topwater plug has a distinctive half crawling action and magnetic weight transferring system that makes it both fun and effective to use for bass anglers of any experience level. Complete with a side moving propeller and stainless steel wings, the fizz and rattle this lure provokes is good for drawing in largemouth bass from the river banks or other areas of heavy cover.
The best topwater baits for bass come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Using them, especially if you’re switching over from other lure types, can provide an extra level of enjoyment you might previously have been missing in your fishing too.