Topwater Fishing

February 11, 2009 by  

By Jon Mitzel

Topwater fishing lures that Jon uses most often

Topwater fishing lures that Jon uses most often

Long-awaited May is a great time to enjoy catching fish on surface baits. Northern pike and largemouth bass are aggressive fish and will readily attempt to chase food on or near the surface. The action is tough to beat, and most hits are vicious in nature. What an exciting way to catch a fish.

Northern pike and largemouth bass are abundant in waters across the Midwest and these two fish are known for their aggressive attitudes. While the baits I choose vary between pike and bass, my quest is the same… trigger fish to strike at something moving across the surface.

The northern pike has to be one of the most easiest fish to catch, as their aggressive behavior drives them to attack most anything passing in eating distance. An aggressive fish, by nature, calls for aggressive tactics.

Fish that will likely swim up and attack a top-water bait are going to be found in water less than 5 feet deep. Ideally, look for new-of-the-year weedbeds where the tops of reeds are just peaking out of the water. This will begin to occur

Pike spend a lot of time shallow in the month of May and are great fish to target top water fishing.

Pike spend a lot of time shallow in the month of May and are great fish to target top water fishing.

in late May. But most importantly, pike will be shallow due to slightly warmer water and post-spawn. The far, back-ends of bays, near moving water or shallow flats are ideal places to look for active pike. Spend more time concentrating on shallow water areas. A foot of water certainly isn’t too shallow if you can get a bait there without spooking fish.

My top-water box isn’t light, but the selection is grim. Although it’s full of numerous colors like green, chartreuse, black, white, brown and a few mixed colors, they all are on the same bait. The buzz-bait for northern pike is by far the most productive. Occasionally, I’ll throw a prop-bait if the buzzer isn’t producing. But most importantly, you’ve got to be fishing the right locations if you’re looking for some intense top-water action.

Jon Madison with a nice 20 largemouth caught on a buzz bait, one of the most popular top water lures for decades

Jon Madison with a nice 20" largemouth caught on a buzz bait, one of the most popular top water lures for decades

I recall numerous times fishing Devils Lake in late May, casting a buzz-bait from the bow of the boat, and as it was recklessly retrieved a northern pike quickly narrowed the distance between him and the bait only to viciously attack at the boat. Great excitement.

The buzz-bait also works very well for shallow-water water largemouth. But again, fishing the right areas is important. You don’t cast surface baits over deep water. Largemouth bass love structure like sunken trees and weedbeds. Personally, I like fishing new-of-the-year green weeds that extend a few inches from the surface. It makes maneuvering a bait through an open pocket easy.

The buzz-bait is a great top-water bait for bass, but others like prop-baits, poppers, frogs and plastic worms work very well for shallow-water aggressive bass. But they each have their places and times where they shine.

For example, when vegetation hasn’t surpassed the water surface, a prop-bait or popper are good choices. Because of their double set of treble hooks, they easily get hung-up on vegetation. Once vegetation has reached the surface, a buzz-bait will generally work best as it can easily be retrieved over the top with little or no disturbance. And once vegetation has become thick and other baits will hook weeds, the only other option is to fish the open pockets with a grass frog or plastic worm.

I prefer to fish a 7.5- to 10-inch curly tail that resembles a small snake, and fish it with a long-shank hook and no weight. With no split-shot or bullet sinker attached, as many bass fishermen prefer when fishing the worm, it’s more suitable for shallow water weed areas with no weight. A spinning rod with 8- or 10-lb. test line is suitable enough to make decent length casts. A slow-to-medium retrieve that activates the tail and a subtle rod jerk every second or so is deadly on shallow-water bass. The intense action top water fishing provides is what drives me to cast for hours with surface lures.

On occasion, fishing can be slow, but it’s that split-second when a fish explodes on a bait on the surface that makes the effort worthwhile. The strike always comes without warning, and therein lies much of the excitement of top water fishing. Take your eye off your surface bait for even a second, and that’s when you’ll get nailed. It’s funny how that works, but that’s something we still feel when on the water throwing top-waters.

I  recall dozens of top-water highlights. One that’s still stuck in my throat was a time when fishing a small lake stocked with largemouth. On our way back to the ramp, I stood at the bow casting a green plastic worm to the shoreline. It was just about dead calm and as my worm slapped the surface a huge bass I’d estimate between 7 and 8 pounds launched straight out of the water and came down on the worm. He missed and I never felt a thing, nor did he make another attempt at the other casts I threw his way. I would have loved to boat that fish just to get a good look at it. He would have been released.

Another occasion I recall was several years ago on Nelson Lake in W. North Dakota. The sun was setting and we decided to fish one more shoreline with buzz-baits. It was a shallow flat with an old tree stump sticking out of the water and a place that became known as “Hole Number 1”, because it always held bass, often big bass.

The water was as smooth as glass, making for ideal surface-bait conditions. On a retrieve, a very large

fish rolled on my buzz-bait producing a wake a half-foot high. The size of the fish was incredible, but we never saw even a fin and the fish never took a swipe at anything else again.

Those are just couple of things that eat away at me to this day. I would have liked to got a good look at both those fish.

There’s many other great memories of fishing top waters for bass and pike. Some of the hits I’ve enjoyed over the years still amaze me that a fish can hit something so hard. And many times with crankbaits, jigs and other lures that dive beneath the surface, you never get to see the fish attack a bait. That’s the beauty of fishing top water baits; you get to witness, if you’re paying attention and not looking at that flock of ducks over yonder, that fish explode on your bait. The hits will catch you off guard, and they’ll leave you shaky, wondering when the next hit will come. Most off all, it will make want to come back for more.

Even though fish can be taken with top water baits throughout the entire open water season, May is your best bet when it comes to action. Big fish can be found shallow because of the spawn and slightly warmer water temps. Casting top waters to aggressive pike and bass could quite possibly be some of the best action you’ll get all spring and summer.

I can hear that buzz-bait being retrieved to the boat, creating that unique sound, then being attacked without warning… “clink, clink, clink, clink, slam!

What great excitement.


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