Angling for fall bass with topwater lures

Ken Kieser
Catching bass on topwater lures often results in heart-stopping surface explosions.

Last fall I watched a frog swimming across some pond scum. The poor creature made the mistake of slipping off in a tiny splash of open water and was engulfed in the jaws of a violent attack. A big bass made that frog his dinner.

The following evening, I cast a weedless rubber frog into the same area and flipped it across the scum and into the same opening. I flicked the frog once, then twice before an eight-pound largemouth bass attacked. I fought the bass into shore and released her to fight again. That is typical of fishing topwater in the fall.

Bass and other predator fish are gorging and moving into the shallows. This is a great time to flip Zara Spooks back in shallow areas and “walk the dog” back to your boat. This is accomplished by twitching your rod tip side to side.

Ken Kieser

I almost always have a topwater rigged and ready. You might see a fish or two rise and if you’re fast enough, you can set the hook on a Zara Spook. Early fall is topwater time because the water temperature is such that the bass metabolism is fast and they will be feeding heavily.

Most professional anglers throw topwater lures with a 6-foot, 6-inch medium heavy rod and a reel that gives the longest cast possible, especially when looking for big fish. Many believe the Zara Spooks imitates shad running from a bass.

Sometimes bass want a topwater worked slowly, a good time to throw an old fashion Pop-R. Visible cover is less important in clear water, so focus on weed edges and rocky points and shallow, visible cover when fishing murky water.

Professional anglers consider topwater lures as big-fish baits. Smaller bass my strike, but many bigger fish are caught up top.

The Rattlin’ Spook features eight rattles inside a specially placed rattle chamber that actually enhances the motion of the “walk the dog” retrieve and provides more glide on each twitch. The sound of the rattles mimics the sound of scattering baitfish, providing even more fish attraction. The One Knocker Spook features a single tungsten rattle inside the same rattle chamber.

Certainly, most surface action occurs in the early morning and late evening. A cloudy day may have bass at the top all day, and schooling bass often provide intermittent action if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Most professional anglers, including the king of topwater fishing, Zell Rowland, say that experimentation is the best way to identify the right bait. If there is a little chop on the water, the bait will need to provide more water displacement and noise than a flat, calm day. When you encounter a slick surface, more subtle bait like a Zell Pop or even the Spit-n Image excels. As a rule, the calmer the surface, the slower you can work the bait. But these are just rules which are meant to be broken.

Ryan Stinchcombe fishes tournaments and had a chance to test the Rattlin' Spook just prior to it being made available to the public. He won a jackpot tournament on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller several years ago.

“We fished a wave break made of tires that was about 150 yards long sitting over 40 feet of water,” he said. “In the early morning the shad move in and feed off the stuff growing on the bottom of the tires and the bass follow them up there. You don’t have to be fishing shallow water to catch a lot of fish on topwater.”

In the very early morning or at night, a weedless topwater like the Money Frog or Money Hound are best because they can be thrown anywhere and retrieved without snags. The Money Frog features big paddle feet that churn water like a buzz bait in open water. The Money Hound walks the dog as well as any Spook, providing that side to side retrieve that is the downfall of many great bass.

Start the morning with two different types of topwaters, a prop-style bait and a more subtle style such as a Spook. If there’s a little wind, focus on the prop bait or big chugger first, something that kicks up a lot of spray and makes a commotion on the surface.

“Try it retrieved slowly, at a medium speed and fast before you cut it off the line and try something else,” Rowland said. “When you get a strike, learn from it.”

Stinchcombe caught the majority of his tournament winning sack early in the morning while the fish were relating to the shad and tire wave break, but his biggest fish, a 4.5-pound largemouth, came during the heat of the day as schooling bass corralled baitfish to the surface.

Regardless of your lure choice, catching bass on topwater is the most exciting technique. Heart-stopping surface explosions are the norm, and remember to wait until you feel the fish prior to setting the hook.