I love fishing 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. I think bass believe it is a snake slithering across the surface. This is accomplished by twitching your rod tip side to side.
Professional bass angler and 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner Alton Jones is one of the most consistent anglers on the tournament trail, currently sitting in third in the Angler of the Year race with only one tournament left in the Elite Series. To be successful on the trail, an angler must be versatile and proficient in all fishing techniques. Jones knows how and when to get the most out of his favorite topwater lures.
“I almost always have a topwater rigged and ready,” Jones said. “Even if you’re deep-water fishing, sometimes you’ll see a fish or two blow up and if you’re fast enough you can get that fish on a Zell Pop or Spook. Summer is topwater time because the water temperature is such that the bass metabolism is fast and they’ll be feeding heavily.”
Jones throws most of his topwater lures with a 6-foot 6-inch medium heavy rod and a reel that gives him the longest cast possible, especially when he looking for big fish. His topwater line is 14-pound Silver Thread.
“Topwaters are about the only baits that I still use mono for because it floats,” he said.
Jones prefers a slick calm day for his topwater fishing. Calmer water means the sound of a topwater is more noticeable to the fish.
“A Spook imitates a shad running from a bass,” he said. “There are days when bass want a topwater worked slowly, though, and that’s when I throw a Zell Pop or Pop-R. The Zell Pop has that feather on the back treble, which always has a little undulation and motion even when you’re not moving it.”
Jones says that visible cover is less important in clear water. He focuses on weed edges and rocky points in this type of environment, and focuses more on shallow visible cover when fishing murky water.
“Topwaters are big-fish baits,” he said. “It catches those 3- to 5-pounders that you need in a tournament.”
The new 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.
Early fall is the perfect time to keep a topwater bait handy. While most surface action occurs in the early morning and late evening, a cloudy day may have bass at the top all day long, 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 Stinchcomb, fishes’ tournaments and had a chance to test the Rattlin' Spook just prior to it being made available to the public. He recently won a jackpot tournament on Oklahoma's Lake Tenkiller.
"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 new 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 topwater lures, a prop-style bait and a subtler 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.”
Stinchcomb 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.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.