AS WINTER approaches we enter one of the best times of the year to target impoundment bass on surface and near-surface lures. With water levels rising in many of our lakes, it’s also one of the best times to find fish up in the shallows. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together and it should be a ripper topwater season.
The best time is the first hour after the sun’s glow can be seen in the sky. At this time of year, depending on cloud cover, the time will be around 5:45am to 6:45am. As you get to know the lake you’re fishing, you’ll find little coves and pockets behind hills that are protected from the sun for a little longer. Often some of the most productive surface luring spots are in the shadows of these hills. Mix in some submerged weeds near the bank, grass or lilies and you’ve found topwater Nirvana. Similar approaches can be applied in the late afternoon.
If the day is overcast the surface luring action can last longer, and sometimes you’ll find the bass will hit surface lures in the middle of the day (in winter), but only occasionally.
Tie your lures on by torchlight at the boat ramp before you head out in the pre-dawn. Trying to tie a knot in the half-light with bass busting the surface all around you is frustrating, so have a few rods rigged with different styles of lure. There are many lure styles and I’ll discuss these later in the article. First, I’ll take you through the retrieve options.
The three basic retrieves are the straight retrieve (maybe with a few pauses thrown in), shaking the rod tip and the ‘walk the dog’.
The straight retrieve is simple – just cast the lure out and wind it back to the boat. To spice up the retrieve you can lay the rod over to one side and lead the lure, bumping into a tree or some grass. ‘Bumping the stump’, as it is called, will increase your strike rate and can encourage cautious fish to bite.
Shaking the rod tip is arguably the best retrieve, but only a few lures are good enough to dance to your string. Simply point the rod tip up at approximately 60 and shake it as you slowly retrieve the lure. At times, stop winding and let the lure sit still. At other times, leave the lure in place on the surface but shake the rod tip so that the lure shuffles from side to side. Short, fat walkbaits with upswept ‘banana’ chins are ideal for this retrieve. The lure that I’ve seen perform best with this tactic is called a Quick B.
Lake Maroon local Trevor Elliott – a passionate topwater bass angler – rates the Quick B as one of the best all-round topwaters for impoundment bass, remarking that the Quick B will walk on the surface no matter what you do with the rod.
‘Walking the dog’is the name given to the zigzag path of the lure when it’s retrieved with a twitching, wrist-snapping rhythm. You’ll sometimes hear it referred to as ‘ZZ Topping’. The method can be used with surface and sub-surface lures.
After you’ve cast out and the lure has splashed down, point the rod tip downward towards the water’s surface. Wind in the slack, and by snapping your wrist, twitch the rod down towards your feet for about 15-20cm. When using some lures, such as subsurface jerkbaits, this twitch will need to be a fairly serious jerk. Continue this downward twitching in a rhythmic cadence, each twitch occurring on a slack line. After each snap, allow a little slack to form in the line. You may even lift the rod tip a little to throw some more slack into proceedings.
When the rod is snapped down on a slack line the lure will turn and glide to the side. On the subsequent twitch the lure will turn the other way and glide off to the other side. Thus the lure swims back to you while carving Zs across the surface – left, right, left, right.
As your rhythm develops (it’s best to watch the rod tip rather than the lure until you get into the swing) you’ll retrieve line via the reel with each wrist twist. Depending on the speed of the retrieve, you may choose to recover line either during or after the twitch. On some days the retrieve needs to be super slow, with pauses after each step of the lure so that it rests on the surface. At other times the walking the dog retrieve can be rather quick and you’ll still get strikes and hook-ups. The quicker the retrieve, the more water you can cover.
There are many lure types that you can use for surface and near-surface bass’n on our impoundments in NSW and QLD. Here are few of the basic styles.
Flukes, Slug-Gos, Baby Bass Assassins, and other soft jerkbaits tend to plane towards the surface when there’s the slightest line pressure on them – especially when floating lines are used. To get these lures to jink around, twitch them upward on the retrieve with a raised rod tip before letting them freefall for a moment, then continue walking the dog.
An alternative, if you want to keep the lure below the surface, is to rig the lure on a weighted hook. Either wrap some lead wire around the hook shank or use a Texas style jighead.
Because bass often strike at these lures a few times before hooking up they can pull the plastic down, causing it to bunch up in the gape of the hook. This reduces the chance of a hook-up and can ruin the action of the lure for that retrieve. To avoid this you can superglue the bait to the offset neck of the hook (or back of the jighead) so the plastic won’t get pulled down during a succession of strikes.
These cup-faced, hard-bodied lures can be a little noisy for bass, so subtlety is recommended most of the time. Little bloops are generally best. One way to muffle the lure’s noise is to hold the rod down to the side and gently twitch the rod tip. Use a sinking line, such as fluorocarbon, as your leader will also keep the lure down in the water.
For a faster retrieve, raise the rod tip up with line held out of water for a faster, slashy, spitty action.
Some poppers can be ‘walked’ after a pop or rod jerk – just use the same method as outlined for walking the dog.
These versatile lures can be made to perform all kinds of topwater actions, including dog-walking, popping, spitting, slashing, and the like. The design of the stickbait allows the bait to be worked very slowly, moderately, or very quickly without losing any of the ‘ZZ motion’ or losing control.
It doesn’t really matter what you call these lures – over time the lines of union demarcation have become blurred – but basically they’re long, slender, hard-bodied lures, generally with shallow running bibs (deep-diving versions are also available).
Crankbaits tend to be fatter in the body or at least shad-shaped, and minnows and crankbaits have a wobbling/swimming action on a straight retrieve. Twitchbaits often respond to subtle rod action whereas jerkbaits (often suspending subsurface lures) are designed to perform with aggressive rod work. Some jerkbaits have no action when employed with a straight retrieve, while other lures fit into all four categories.
With jerkbaits and twitchbaits the angler uses their rod to impart action into the lure.
Twitchbaits are shallow floating minnows used for topwater.
If you’re using twitching minnows, cast parallel to weed bed edges or along the face of recently flooded grass on calm, early mornings, and even above submerged weed. Let the lure sit after casting, until all the ripple rings are gone. You may get hit right away. If not, wait as long as you can stand… and then wait a little longer. Then twitch the lure again so it sends out more nervous ripples but doesn’t really move forward. Pause and wait, and wait some more; the strike will often happen during the pause. Then move the lure forward. Keep your rod tip down next to the water, and just as you wind all the slack out of your line, jerk the rod tip to the side and give the reel handle a few quick turns before jerking the rod tip again. Repeat the process and then stop.
Now you’re back into the ‘pause and wait’ part of the cycle. The minnow will float back up to the surface. As the water ringlets dissipate, you can practically see your twitchbait quaking with the fear of what might happen next! The next unmoving floater to get smashed by a big bass won’t be the first.
Continue this retrieve pattern all the way back to the boat.
If you’re using suspending lures with this method they won’t float back to the surface, but everything else with the retrieve is the same.
These small fat, crankbaits have very short, underslung bibs that jut out perpendicular to the lure’s axis. Wakebaits can’t really dive;. as you retrieve them they just wobble across the surface with half the lure in the water and half of it out. They can be straight retrieved, walked or shaken as you work them back to you. Such lures seem double-jointed, as they almost turn in their own length. Wakebaits have a cult following amongst a handful of regulars at lakes like Maroon and Cressbrook.
With heavier lures of 10g or more you can use baitcasting outfits. For the lighter lures, spin rigs are more popular. Some anglers use spin outfits for all their topwater work.
I like to use a spin rod for shaking and a baitcaster for walking the dog. Walking the dog rods need to be fairly short (around 1.8m) because they tend to be used in a ‘tip down’ fashion. Shaking rods can be 1.9m or longer as they are generally used with the tip up.
Rod stiffness is best related to the lure. Some lures respond best to a stiff rod, generally jerkbaits at the larger end of the spectrum, while more flexible rods are suited to smaller lures and less aggressive retrieves.
Some lures operate best by tying the line straight onto the lure. Alternatively, you may need to use a loop knot with a small loop to prevent the hook from catching the fishing line. For walk the dog action, monofilament type lines are generally easiest for walking the lure properly, as braided and fluorocarbon lines don't have enough stretch when twitched.
1) This bass hit a Sugoi Splash popper as it walked the dog across the surface. At other times the fish will hit when the lure sits motionless on top of the water, and the most exciting hit is when the bass intercepts the lure as it splashes down on the cast.
2) Long skinny minnows and twitchbaits fished suspending just below the surface, above or parallel to the weeds, can be just the ticket as the sun rises – a time when bass sometimes become shy of surface lures.
3) Short, fat bibbed wakebaits are great to show the bass when they’ve seen everything else. Not many people use them on our lakes and the bass seem to be curious about lures they haven’t seen before.Reads: 1003