by Justin Hoffman (c) 2001
When it comes to pulse-racing, adrenaline-inducing fishing, nothing can compare to doing battle with a feisty "bronzeback" on a topwater plug. Visually there is nothing more thrilling than to see a big smallmouth shatter the calm surface as it smacks your lure, almost as if it had a vendetta against your "innocent" piece of plastic. Couple that with the hard-fought, aerial battle these fish put up, and there's no denying that topwater fishing for smallmouth bass is one of life's greatest pastimes. By learning the locational patterns these fish relate to, the best types of baits to use under different conditions and how to work them properly, I can bet that fishing on top for smallies this year will become your number one priority.
Scouring the Lake for Smallies
Smallmouth bass typically relate to certain areas during the summer months. Firstly, since smallies are "rock" orientated fish, it is best to find shallow water locations with a good mixture of rocks, boulders and some sand thrown in. Look for water in the two to ten-foot depth, with deeper water nearby, (which are used as a travelling passage.) Irregular sized rocks and boulders seem to hold more fish, and, if you can find a weed/rock transition area, then the spot will become even more productive.
Islands and points are another dynamite spot to locate fish during the summer months. Smallmouth bass are notorious for patrolling these shallow-water haunts in search of prey; namely crayfish and baitfish. If you can find an area with the right bottom structure, you just may find the motherlode.
One last spot that should never be overlooked are underwater humps. These are underwater islands that rise from the bottom, yet the top of the hump is still below the surface of the water. By using your in-board electronics, and or, a topographical map, many of these underwater gems can be located quite easily.
When are the Best Times to Topwater?
There are specific times when you will be more successful when throwing a topwater. One of the best times of the day is early morning when the majority of smallies will be in the shallows actively feeding.
Windy weather can also have a direct impact on smallmouth activity. Increased wave action stirs up the baitfish, which in turn, stirs up the smallies. Head to a wind-blown point, or hump, to cash in on this feeding frenzy.
If the day stays cloudy, then the smallmouth may remain in the shallows aggressively feeding throughout the entire day. Overcast and rainy days really seem to turn smallmouth on, and will have them clobbering your topwater with reckless abandonment.
Dusk is another hot period to search out fish on top. As daylight disappears, the smallmouth will again move into the shallows to search for food, and will readily take your surface-disturbing baits. This action will continue well into the night, (and if you're not afraid of the dark), can give way to heart-pounding excitement that's sure to thrill.
Sorting Through the Baits
There are numerous styles and types of baits out on the market, with each having its own function, and place, in your topwater arsenal. My advice is to choose a few different ones, learn the proper techniques, and experiment to find out which ones work best on your particular lake.
Poppers, also known as chuggers, feature a concave head design that displaces water and creates a pooping sound when jerked with the rod. Some members of this family include the Rebel Pop-R, the legendary Hula Popper and the Rapala Skitter Pop. The belief is that these lures mimic a wounded minnow or frog splashing on the surface. The best technique is to cast them out, wait for the ripples to disappear, and then give soft jerks and pulls with the rod. It is really that simple.
Propbaits are cigar-shaped lures that have either one, or two, propellers affixed to the front or back of the plug, or both. These sputter and splash, creating a surface commotion when jerked in, that provides a visual and audible focus for the fish to key in on. Some of the more noteworthy models on the market are the Heddon Dying Flutter, the Heddon Tiny and Baby Torpedo and the Devil's Horse.
These lures can be used with a straight retrieve, which creates a constant trail of bubbles and sound, or in a stop and go manner. Let the fish dictate what they want and change your technique to suit their needs.
The type of lure that falls into this category has no action of its own, and it is up to the angler to manipulate, and work the bait, in order to five it the desired action. This technique is called "walking the dog" and is achieved by constantly twitching the rod, with pauses in between, which creates a zigzag pattern with the lure. Some lures in this family are the Heddon Zara Spook, Super Spook and Puppy, and the Strike King Spit-N-Image. Although the size of these lures may seem big for a smallmouth, when the fish are in an aggressive mood, they won't think twice about hitting these baits. Originally used for targeting largemouth, anglers in the know are realizing just how effective these "walk the dog" topwaters can be for huge smallies.
Although most people believe that this is a largemouth specific bait, due to past experiences, I can quickly dispel that myth. Buzzbaits have really shone on many of the lakes I fish, and they are a dynamite lure to throw at dusk and after dark. They give off a strong vibration through the water, and their steady commotion on the surface helps the smallmouth easily key in on them.
I have found that my number one choice for colour is white during the day, whilst black seems to be the proven producer at night. I prefer to use a trailer hook with these lures as the bass will sometimes strike short, due to the speed of some of these baits. Give buzzbaits a try this summer, and add a new weapon to your topwater arsenal.
Topwater fishing for smallmouth bass is truly a remarkable thing of beauty. Pound for pound these fish are freshwaters toughest customers. Couple that with the surface-shattering excitement of topwater fishing and you couldn't ask for a better combination. Try topwaters this year and discover how truly awesome this technique can be.
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