Professional bass fisherman Jay Wallen gives a rundown on his favorite topwater lures for bass fishing.
I’ve been a bass angler for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve fished for them from a kayak recreationally for six years, the last three of which as a sponsored tournament bass angler. I’ve developed tried and true topwater tactics and lures from my experiences that I’m happy to share with you.
If you ask any bass angler what their favorite way to catch bass is, they will likely tell you a topwater lure. Those lightning-fast explosions and sudden shadows emerging from cover to devour a topwater bait get the blood pumping and the heart racing like no other style of fishing.
Buzzbaits and Whopper Ploppers
When the water starts to warm up in early spring and gets into the upper 50s, the first topwater bait of the season I throw is the classic buzzbait. Bass are starting to come out of their wintertime lethargy, and their metabolisms are getting back in gear.
Once they get into that late pre-spawn pattern in the creeks, a buzzbait early in the morning and late in the day can be deadly. If you have an overcast or cloudy day, a buzzbait bite can last all day long!
Look for laydowns, culverts, grass, docks, and any kind of visible cover you can find. Throw your buzzbait past your target, bring it as close to the cover as you can, and hold on tight.
Use variable speeds. The bass will tell you how they want it. Don’t shy away from making erratic movements — these can be great triggers. Add a trailer hook to get shorter strikes while in lighter amounts of cover.
My go-to rod is the G-Loomis IMX-Pro Crank Rod 854CBR ($325). The strong backbone and the give in the tip provide a great tool to get the bait where you want it. The rod makes long casts and offers great hook setting power.
Pair that up with a Shimano Curado K reel and 20-pound monofilament or PowerPro braided line, and you’re all set.
A buzzbait is one of the topwater baits that works great from early spring through late fall. I like to throw them on at least a 7-foot rod with a medium heavy action. Pair it up with a 7.1:1 gear ratio reel and, as noted above, either monofilament or braided line. I never use fluorocarbon line with any of my topwater baits.
A great alternative to the buzzbait is probably the Whopper Plopper. It shares many similarities, in terms of action, with a buzzbait.
The treble-hooked bait requires a little different set of equipment and target locations. It can’t be thrown into cover as thick as a buzzbait would. But you can certainly throw it under the same conditions.
Use the same rod and reel setup as your buzzbaits — except with this bait, I opt for monofilament line over the braid. I want the line to stretch to keep the treble hooks from tearing out on the hookset. The Whopper Plopper also shines from spring through fall, being most effective in spring and summer.
The best topwater bait in the world once bass come off the nest is a popper. The big females are in no mood to feed heavily, and males are still guarding fry. Neither wants to chase down anything, seeking an easy meal instead.
A popper provides a tremendous amount of surface commotion without moving very far. It’s just enough temptation to lure those big post-spawn females into striking during what might otherwise be a very tough bite.
You can get away with heavy monofilament line for poppers. Throw them around bedding bass and laydowns, docks, and riprap. Be wary of how close you get to the cover: The trebles will get you hung up if you get too close.
I look for a deep cup in the mouth of the popper and a deep sound. A good popper is all about sound, and paint jobs can also be a factor. My personal opinion: Bass decide whether to hit a popper based on the sound it creates.
Using these, I prefer a monofilament line on a short rod with a slow action. The G-Loomis IMX Pro 6-foot 8-inch medium action topwater rod (802 TWR), paired with a Shimano Curado K, is the perfect choice.
You can also get away with heavy line — go as high as a 25-pound test if the cover demands it.
My personal favorite popper is the Rico from Lobina Lures; the shape of the cup and the internal rattles are outstanding. The brand also dresses its ultra-sharp hooks with a feathered rear hook, which provides a “breathing” look that really makes the bait look alive even while sitting still.
The Rico comes in a variety of different sizes to match the forage size in your lake. Experiment with long pauses, a quick succession of pops, or even walk-the-dog action as the bass get more into a chasing mode.
You can never go wrong with the classic Pop-R from Rebel. Zell Rowland has won hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years throwing the Pop-R, and it will absolutely work for you too.
Frogs might be the most varied topwater baits in existence. Some swim while others walk, pop, or buzz. You can throw them into virtually any kind of cover. For this hand-to-hand topwater combat, you need a big, heavy, stiff rod with heavy braided line and a good, strong reel.
My choice for a frogging setup: G-Loomis IMX Pro 7’4” Heavy Frog rod (884 TWFR), a Shimano Tranx 300A 5.8:1 ratio reel, and at least 65-pound PowerPro braided line. If you are fishing in dense lily pads or hydrilla you might even want to step it up to 80-pound, those heavy aquatic grasses, reeds, and pads can really be abrasive and chew up your line.
The two biggest bass I ever caught (12 pounds 2 ounces and 8 pounds 8 ounces) came from topwater frogs.
My most productive frog has been the original Ribbit made by Stanley. This is a buzz-style frog, with two paddle legs that churn as you swim it across the surface — much like a buzzbait. Unlike buzzbait, however, you can literally throw into anything and it will come out clean.
I hook up and land more fish with this frog by using a single swimbait hook, like the 5/0 Mustad Spring Keeper Weighted hook with a 1/16-ounce belly weight. This gives the frog enough weight to cast with a heavy rod, but not too much weight to sink it and kill the action.
Try throwing it into dense lily pads, hydrilla, hyacinth, laydowns — even open-water flats — for some amazing explosions. The action of the legs makes bass think they’re getting away. And when bass commit to this bait, they hit it running wide open!
Don’t be afraid when fishing heavy aquatic grasses to use this frog all day long. When the sun gets bright and high, bass will bury up in the thickest cover they can get to. The Ribbit is great for calling them out of it!
One of the most common frogs is the Spro Dean Rojas Bronzeye Frog 65. This classic walk-the-dog style frog is worked using a much slower presentation than the Ribbit.
The living rubber legs are long and should be trimmed to your liking. I leave about 1½ inches of tail. This maintains the action of the rubber while making sure fish don’t strike at the tail and miss the hooks!
This is a great frog when the bass are not reacting to the Ribbit and want something a touch more subtle.
This little jewel is deadly right after the spawn on lakes with lots of grasses and aquatic vegetation. You can do so many things with this frog: Walk, pop, chug, or just dead stick it by letting it sit completely still on the mats.
It makes a light popping sound that works really well, especially where the bass are heavily pressured.
Topwater fishing needs to be in the arsenal of every bass angler. I hope this guide provides you at least a place to start when looking at topwater baits and trying to make sense of all the options at the tackle store.
Understanding the ins and outs can make all the difference between having an unmemorable day on the water and catching that trophy bass. Take my tips, apply them to your fishing, and build your own confidence in these techniques. I promise you won’t be sorry!