By Lawrence Taylor
They wait hidden, ready to spring out and give you a fright. Your pulse and heart rate shoot through the roof. They’re not trick-or-treaters, they’re bass, and right now they’re waiting on a topwater bait to come sashaying by. When it does, they’re going to burst out of their hidey holes and destroy it – one of the most exciting moments in fishing.
Fall is the best time to throw a big topwater bait. No matter the water you’re fishing this time of year, topwater should always be a top producer. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s probably the most exciting way to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Everything in a fish’s world is bigger this time of year, and with cooling water temperatures the fish are ready to eat. Bass have a natural instinct to pack on some pounds prior to winter’s harsh temperatures and a big topwater is exactly what they’re looking for – a big meal that looks easy to catch.
Selecting a topwater for your local waters starts with size. Pick one with some heft and size to it. It also should move slowly enough so bass don’t expend too much energy catching it (there’s a scientific explanation about the amount of nutrition provided being greater than the energy expended to catch it, but we don’t need to get that technical). Baitfish are bigger during fall, so bass will be more apt to strike a large bait than a small one. This is no time for finesse.
The best topwaters this time of year are big cigar-shaped lures such as the Heddon Spook that walk-the-dog on the retrieve. Walking the dog means that the bait zigzags back and forth on the retrieve, and it’s up to the angler to impart this action in the following manner. Cast and begin the retrieve with the twitch of the rod tip. The lure should dart to the left or right. Another twitch and the lure darts the other direction. Constantly twitching the rod with a medium-speed rhythm while slowly reeling in slack imparts the walk-the-dog action. Keeping just a little slack in the line is important to getting more “glide” on each twitch.
At a riverine-type lake like Arkansas’ Dardanelle or Oklahoma’s Lake Hudson anglers should keep current breaks in mind as good spots for throwing a big topwater. Big shallow flats with current flowing over them are top producers, as are the heads of islands or humps that break the current. If the water has some color to it, color selection should focus on highly reflective patterns like chrome and G-Finish lures. The new Heddon Spooks featuring rattles (Rattlin’ Spook and One Knocker Spook) also help the bass locate the lure.
At a highland-type lake, marinas and mainlake points as well as cover-strewn flats can produce both largemouth and smallmouth on a Spook or XCalibur Jimmy, both lures of choice for deep, clear lakes. A more realistic color pattern like Ghost is best when you’re dealing with clear water, but chrome and reflective patterns shouldn’t be overlooked.
If you’re headed to a lake that features a lot of weeds, an open-hooked topwater may not be best. The YUM Money Hound, a big cigar-shaped soft-plastic topwater that can be Texas rigged on a big wide gap worm hook, can be cast onto the weed mats and jiggled to attract fish through the grass like a frog and then worked like a Spook once it hits open water. With a weedless presentation the angler gets the best of both worlds – a grass mat lure that works like a frog on top of the weeds and walks-the-dog like a Spook in open water. As with any topwater lure, always wait until you feel the fish before setting the hook.
Fluorocarbon line may be the most invisible line in the water and the future of fishing line, but it’s not what you want when throwing a topwater. Fluorocarbon sinks and will affect the lure’s action. A copolymer line is vastly superior for topwater fishing.
Gear can be baitcasting or spinning, as long as it’s capable of landing a substantial bass. The repetitive motion of walking the dog can fatigue the angler’s arms and some rig one type of topwater on a baitcaster and a different lure/color/size on a spinning rig so they can alternate to reduce that fatigue. This also allows the angler to quickly determine the right color and lure for the day.