There’s simply no spectacle in bass fishing like a topwater hit. Whether it’s a violent eruption of water or a subtle “gulp,” the strike is what keeps anglers coming back. Besides the fact that topwater lures are just fun to fish, they are also known for catching lunker bass.
The 10 Best Topwater Lures For Bass
Sometimes they’re the only option when fish are dug deep in vegetation or prowling the flats in two feet of water. Whatever the reason for throwing a topwater, anglers have thousands to choose from. So we put together a list with both Hall of Famers and newcomers that have quickly proven their worth.
Arbogast Hula Popper Arbogast Lures
The famed “Hula Popper” has been around for more than 60 years. And for good reason. Its cupped lip scoops water with a short jerk of the rod, producing a loud “bloop” that regularly triggers bass to attack. The strikes are vicious. The skirt of the Hula Popper adds flare to the visual presentation. With two exposed trebles, this isn’t a weedless bait. Fish it adjacent to lily pads, over weedtops or near other underwater structure. You can also pound shallow shorelines with the Hula Popper, as its sound and presentation will easily attract fish from a distance.
Arbogast’s other legendary topwater is the “Jitterbug.” Unlike a popper, the Jitterbug’s double-cupped lip produces and even, rhythmic surface commotion. This lure shines brightest after dark. It’s loud call and intense vibration trigger the lateral line and hearing of nighttime bass on the prowl. And with a steady, straight retrieve, the Jitterbug is a target that bass can easily hit in the dark. This isn’t a weedless lure, so fish it around or over any structure that potentially hold fish. Bass will mostly feed in the shallows after dark, so concentrate your efforts in flats between two feet to five feet of water.
If you’re going to be bass angler, you’d better know how to “walk the dog.” The seductive, (or annoying) topwater action has proven to catch fish time and again. The makers of Heddon “Zara Spook,” literally invented the action over 75 years ago. Since then, the design has been copied by dozens, if not hundreds of lures. Despite the hoard of pretenders, the original Zara Spook is still king. Fish the bait around any potential bass hideouts, making sure to vary your retrieve. Some days bass will prefer a faster walking motion, while other times it may take a slower action to trigger strikes.
The “Knuckle-Head” is the other popper-style lure to make our list. With all the poppers on the market, the Knuckle-Head stands out due to its jointed body and one-of- a-kind body motion. The design is so unique that it earned a patent. In addition to the popping noise, the Knuckle-Head has a slender profile that closely resembles baitfish, and the segmented body produce a swimming action after each “pop.” The presentation replicates a wounded baitfish, complete with flared gills. The Knuckle-Head will dupe daylight bass but excels at night when bass can zero-in on its signal. The bait is also available in a “junior” model for when fish prefer a smaller profile.
The only “prop bait” to make our list is the Smithwick “Devil’s Horse.” Another lure that has stood the test of time, the Devil’s Horse’s double-prop churns water to create surface commotion. Its retrieve can be widely varied, from a fast buzz to a barely moving twitch to entice finicky bass. The Devil’s Horse will catch fish year-round but has earned the reputation as the Number One lure for pre-spawn largemouth. Use the Devil’s Horse to target spawning transition areas from 5- to 10-feet of water and into the shallow flats where bass bed.
The original Lunker Lure “Buzzbait” is another incarnation that inspired countless copycats. The large, single, recurved blade of a buzzbait produces a squeak, rattle and, well…buzz that is absolutely unique. The sound drives bass nuts, and it’s widely known as a big fish bait and tournament winner. The silicone skirt of the Buzzbait creates a visual effect to complement the sound and vibration. Unlike other topwaters, it leaves a long, distinct trail of whitewater for bass to follow. And with a single, upward facing hook, the Buzzbait is fairly weedless and can be worked tighter to wood, weeds and lily pads.
There’s probably not a bass angler alive who doesn’t own an original Snag Proof “Frog.” Frog fishing exploded on the bass fishing scene for its ability to produce heart-stopping strikes and immense fish. This is the bait that started it all. Lunker bass hunker down in lily pads almost year-round. The Snag Proof Frog has an upturned double-hook that tucks into its body, making it completely weedless. Throw it through lily pads or the thickest slop, briefly pausing when it hits and open spot.
The BBZ-1 “Rat” was created for the sole purpose of catching the biggest fish in the pond—think bass that are large enough to eat small mammals. It was designed by pro angler Bill Siemantel. Although one of the newer baits on our list, the Rat gained instant fame for its lunker-catching prowess. It’s one of the more versatile topwaters you’ll find, and can be bulged, waked, or popped. The Rat has two hanging trebles and should be fished close to or over vegetation and structure, but not through it. Don’t overlook the Rat for night fishing, which is when many rodents will come out of their holes for a swim.
No topwater bait has created more media buzz in recent history than Savage Gear’s “3D Bat.” The company famed for its innovative, lifelike and outside-the-box creations went all out with this one. But the 3D Bat lives up to the hype. Granted, few bass may ever dine on bats that wind-up taking a swim, but the overall surface chatter of this crawler-style lure seems to draw strikes regardless of what fish are actually eating. Fish the bait day or night in your big-fish, high-percentage areas, and feel free to toy with the angles of the steel wings to create different walking motions.
The soft-bodied, tassel-tailed frog has become the preferred amphibious lure among bass anglers. There are tons on the market, but Jackall’s new “Kaera Frog” has innovations that set it apart. The most common hollow-body frog problems are hook-up ratio, trapped water, and snagging vegetation. The Kaera frog has diminished those issues to near non-existence with a hole that drains the body on the cast, and a wide, hidden hook that cuts-down snags and increases hook-ups. This is a slop frog, so throw it around the thickest cover you can find. It will easily slide over matted grass and jostle through lily pads where lunker bass are hiding.
Topwater Tactics to Connect to More Fish
Boat traffic on the weekends is always hellish. The personal watercraft (PWC) crowd will be tearing up the surface of the water into a froth, but where you can find water for yourself, you can tear it up too with a topwater bait. With the right topwater tactic, you can connect with more fish on top. There’s no better time to grab a handful of topwaters and chase some largemouths.
Here are three killer tactics to get you into the action, but first a quick tip. If boating pressure is whipping up your lake so that you can’t even get in a single cast, try fishing at dawn, or opt for the dusk-through-dark shift. Hearing a bass hammer your topwater in the dark is one of the coolest fishing experiences you’ll ever have. —Gerry Bethge
1. On Soft Plastic Frogs
There are tons of great frog imitations to choose from these days, with the Booyah Pad Crasher, Rapala’s Terminator Walking Frog, and Stanley Jigs’ Ribbit among my personal favorites. Because frog fishing means that you’re likely fishing mats and lily pads, go with heavy braid as high as 40-pound-test, and a medium-heavy rod. Frog color doesn’t seem to matter too much when the topwater bite is hot. Let the bass eat the bait for a second before you set the hook.
2. On Hardbaits
Lots of choices—both old and new—in this category. There’s no way I’d even contemplate a summer night’s bass trip without both a Jitterbug and a Hula Popper. Black will forever be my go-to color. In the cool, new arena is the LiveTarget Sunfish. I fished it pretty hard last summer and liked it a bunch. Rebel’s Super Pop-R and a Heddon Spook of one iteration or another round out my picks. Spooks are great for castability and a slightly stealthier action, which is great when boaters have bass a bit spooky. For me, poppers are just more fun to fish.
3. On the Fly
Not quite certain how things turned out that way, but I was tossing deer hair bass bugs to largemouths before ever having thrown a topwater lure. I was 12 and I was hooked. Bass bugging is just magical. But don’t take it from me.
Here’s what the hottest bass bug tier on the planet, Pat Cohen, had to say:
“It’s all about the toilet flush—when a bass just inhales one of your bugs,” says Cohen. “The main ingredient to success though is patience—patience on the retrieve and the patience to stick with it. It’s not always fast and furious action on top but eventually a pattern can emerge. That pattern can be a size, a color, a retrieve speed, or a retrieve method. You’ve got to figure out what will make them respond positively to your offering.”
How To Tackle Topwater Bass
These baits and expert tactics
Where to Throw It
Trees and standing timber. Typically smaller than walkers, poppers can also play the short game with brief, targeted casts to structure. A concave face pushes water and air on every twitch for a bold display that pulls deep fish topside.
How to Fish It
Use a sharp, downward rod motion on a slack line to grab air and create maximum pop without too much forward movement. Contrary to walkers, a fluoro leader can help here by pulling the popper down for a deeper blooping sound.
Where to Throw It
The classic side-to-side, walk-the-dog saunter excels in any open-water scenario, but it’s especially productive when bass school on bait pods or target early-morning shad spawns. Also, use these lures to probe points and bluff ends, and crisscross reefs (killer smallmouth structure).
How to Fish It
A braided main line can gather in front of your walker and foul the front hook. A short monofilament or fluorocarbon leader remedies this. But understand, also, that too much fluoro pulls the bait’s nose down and mars the presentation. In either case, a loop knot allows for maximum motion. Try using both high- and low-pitch rattle options to determine daily preferences.
Where to Throw It
Near bass beds in deeper water, or shallow bluegill beds later in the spring and summer. Both long and slender, and short and stubby configurations prove highly effective for irritating bass into coming topside.
How to Fish It
Same as with poppers, twitch these baits on a slack line to get those blades sputtering while maximizing the commotion with short spurts. For enhanced sound, loosen the prop screws just enough to allow the cup washers to rattle. When fishing for finicky bass in ultra-clear water, consider switching to a spy bait—a subsurface version of the standard prop bait intended to be fished slowly on a horizontal plane.
5 More Topwater Fishing Tips
There’s no such thing as too much knowledge, especially when it comes to fishing, and even more to the point when you’re focusing on a single tactic like topwater. Fish are known to throw hooks, break line, get wrapped in structure––anything they can do to prevent getting caught. Learn how to fight back with these skills.
1. Hooks that Hold
Thrown hooks are the bane of topwater fishing. Replacing stock hooks with round-bend trebles offers more bite for greater holding power.
2. Red Alert
When fish are short-striking, a red front hook presents a target point and often improves hookups.
3. Tail Gun’em
If fish follow without committing, feathered rear hooks can close the deal by contracting and flaring with a topwater’s motion. Try red, chartreuse, or white, each with flashy Mylar accents.
4. Know Your Knot
Walkers and poppers do best with relaxed motion, so tie up with a loop knot. Prop baits require linear movement, while frogs need maximum pulling power for the dense habitat in which they’re used most. Both work better with gripping knots like the Palomar or double-improved clinch.
5. Master the Misses
Premature hooksets kill topwater opportunities. Remember, the first thing you see is the fish pushing a wall of water toward your bait, so stay calm and let the fish come tight before reacting. If the fish misses, freeze the bait, let the rings settle, and slowly twitch it to mimic a wounded baitfish. If it’s a no-go, try swapping out baits.