Over several decades, I have come to appreciate this form of angling more than any other although I will freely admit that there are other ways to catch more fish. At this point in angling history, topwater baits are suffering from diminished popularity, due in large measure to the plastics revolution. If you fish with them, however, you will not suffer from diminished angling fun.
Do not be deceived into believing that these baits are only for early mornings, late evenings, warm weather or calm water. Some of my best topwater catches have come during the noon to early afternoon hours. This is especially so if you are fishing the River, as fish in the Ohio River tend to hold shallow nearly all year. As a result they sometimes bite all day from the top.
There are a number of classic topwater baits that are worthy of any angler. First on the list is the Fred Arbogast Jitterbug. It is a short, fat bait with a large metal lip that causes it to splash and gurgle as it wiggles and rolls from side to side during your retrieve. It drives largemouth bass wild, most especially those in farm ponds.
This bait has produced a number of large fish for me. My favorite color is the red head with a white body and belly. It comes in a number of sizes ranging from 1/4oz. to the massive 1 1/4oz. musky size. When selecting this lure, the bigger the bait the bigger the fish. The 5/8oz. size is about right for trophy (5 pounds and up) farm pond bass. These baits are usually most effective when retrieved with a slow steady motion. Learn to create the “plop—plop—plop” that made this bait famous.
I was introduced to this bait as a kid growing up in northern Hamilton County. That was back in the 60’s when it was still mostly rural. I used to fish after school (and sometimes when I should have been in school) with my brother and the neighbor boy in a farm pond behind our house. There is no telling how many 5 pound bass were caught from that pond every year. And yes, back in those days we ate them; none of us had ever heard of catch and release.
Yet another topwater classic is the Zara Spook. “Spooks” look like a cigar with hooks; but what a bait. “Walk the dog” with this bait and hold on! It will typically produce quality fish when other baits fail. It is effective on all species of bass but is at its best, at least in my opinion, when working stripers and hybrids. If you fish for these brutes use a fast retrieve with lots of splash. Generally stripers and hybrids do not like a pause in the retrieve that is so popular with anglers seeking largemouths, smallmouths, and Kentuckys.
Buzzbaits are also in the classic category, although they are not nearly as old as the others. They are very effective on largemouth bass and spots. At times they can produce quality catches of smallmouth as well. There are probably more varieties and styles of buzzbaits than any other hard bait on the market.
The easiest way to categorize buzzbaits is to break them into 2 groups: “squeakers” or “clackers”. The terms are self-defining. As for color, it is easiest to classify them as light or dark. This is a reaction bait, so color is not all that critical. They can be modified in a variety of ways; maybe that is a subject for another column.
Finally, consider poppers. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The most meaningful distinction among them is in the lip or nose design: the deeper the scoop the louder the pop. Learn to work these baits with retrieves from a slow twitch to a fast skitter. Each style creates a slightly different sound, splash and movement. Keep several styles and sizes on hand. They will catch almost anything that swims from bluegill to stripers.
You will also find topwater lures effective in water much colder than you would believe. I will never forget watching a friend catch several bass in a farm pond by throwing a Spook on top of the ice and letting it slide off the edge into open water. The strikes were absolutely vicious; and this, in water still in the 30’s, during early March!
Rub a little lip-gloss or Chap Stick on your line for about 6 inches above the lure. This will make the line float and keep the nose riding just a little higher. You will get better lure action.