Topwater is top fun
It is rated by many as the most exciting fishing possible. It’s topwater lures. Those floating, popping, gurgling, frog-mimicking presentations that drive fish crazy!
Be it buzz bait, stick bait, frog, mouse or bird lure, topwater fishing attracts fish of many species and sizes. Setting the hook into one might be a little tougher with a topwater than other artificial baits, but it all depends on what you want out of a day on the water.
“I’d rather catch one on topwater than five underneath. That heart-stopping boom is worth more than the fish. I’m just crazy about it!” said Dan Cunningham of Columbus, Miss.
Cunningham should be crazy about topwater fishing. He’s the inventor, manufacturer and on-the-water tester for an ever-growing lineup of Scum Frogs. The likeable, squishy and effective topwater lure has been fooling fish for 25 years. There are times when bass can’t get enough of them and northern pike eat them like candy, all the while putting on flashy and splashy displays that are infinitely entertaining.
Other fishermen have their topwater favorites too, usually more than one. Heddon’s lineup includes the famed Zara Spook and gurgling Torpedos. All come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Some are loaded with enticing rattles. All are known to produce explosive fishing action.
“Walking the dog” was made famous by fishermen neatly zig-zagging Zara Spooks across the top of the water. It is a fishing method perfected and preferred by many anglers who relish the moment when a hard-charging fish erupts from beneath the surface. Hook-ups are not always achieved, but the crash and splash of a hungry or angry fish is always exciting.
Topwater lures are designed to catch fish, no question about it. But they are also extremely effective at finding fish. Many anglers consider topwater lures invaluable in that regard. They often expose the presence of fish and nothing changes a fisherman’s attitude and demeanor as much as a visible, noisy splash on the water from a fish attacking a topwater. That’s what topwater lures do – tease and entice fish into striking, even when feeding isn’t on their mind, and they heighten the senses of fishermen using them.
“You can pull in a crankbait and catch fish, but topwaters are really fun,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham began developing the Scum Frog after a fishing excursion with his stepbrother.
“He said he wished somebody would make a good frog with a rubber skirt on it that would come through vegetation,” recalled Cunningham. “I had a friend who was an engineer in plastics help me out. It took four years to get the first one.”
Twenty-five years later, the original Scum Frog, and various varieties of it, are still catching fish. There’s a knack to it though. Fishermen do have to make an adjustment to increase their hooking percentage with Scum Frogs.
“You really have to think with a frog,” explained Cunningham. “You have to hesitate a little bit. It’s really hard when that fish hits the frog. It is best to count to three before setting the hook. I usually fish with my rod tip high. That forces me to reel line in and lower the rod tip before setting the hook.”
Most fishermen instinctively set the hook when they see or feel a fish hit a lure. When fishing a Scum Frog, particularly for bass, Cunningham says an angler needs to wait few seconds after the strike for the fish to fully gather in the bait. Setting the hook too quickly is likely to pull the Scum Frog out of a fish’s mouth.
“The best thing today for Scum Frogs is braided line,” added Cunningham. “Braid takes all the stretch out of it.”
Additions to the Scum Frog family of lures includes a Big Foot that creates bubbles in the water; a new Trophy Series and a Scum Dog made specifically for walk-the-dog action.
Lindners love them
“Everybody does it. We all do it,” said Ron Lindner when asked about topwater fishing.
Lindner, one of the legendary Lindner family of fishing, has appeared on countless Lindner Media Productions presentations. His many accomplishments includes being inducted into several fishing halls-of-fame, founder of Lindy Tackle, inventor of the Lindy Rig, and has three patents and 30 unique designs of fishing tackle to his credit.
While Lindner professed to love fishing frogs, he said too many fishermen probably overlook weedless, plastic spoons. Lindner says they are, in reality, a version of a “wake” bait. Wake baits mimic crankbaits in appearance, but run at the very top of the water column and are known fish catchers.
“Wake baits are not topwater per se, it goes down a little bit, maybe six inches. For all practical purposes it is a topwater bait. The back and tail will come up in the wake a little bit,” explained Lindner. “They are very, very potent things in saltwater for snook, trout and tarpon. In freshwater, I use them on bass.”
James Lindner, Ron’s son, is also a fishing hall-of-famer. In 2003, he was honored as the Rapala Angler of the Year. He has numerous wins and placements on the Canadian-American Smallmouth Bass circuit and is the well known co-host of Angling Edge Television. He’s also a proponent of topwater fishing.
“Generally throughout the summer months, topwaters will catch various species of fish,” said James Lindner. “My biggest bass weight in a tourney was on topwater. I’ve actually fished a lot of topwater all through the Missouri River system. They really, really shine in clear water conditions. Fish can see a bait at a longer distance away.”
James Lindner says fish see a topwater silhouette on the surface, or hear a topwater lure churning, and will come from many feet away to strike it. Sometimes, when nothing under the surface seems to be catching fish, he said he will turn to topwater presentations.
“It’s amazing. Sometimes when nothing is going on under the water, fish will get tuned into feeding on the surface, like when bugs are hatching. Then topwater is really the best presentation,” explained James Lindner. “The biggest thing about topwater is not only how effective it is for so many different species of fish, but that ability in many cases to fish relatively quickly no matter what species of fish in a clear water environment.”
According to James Lindner, topwater lures fished in clear water open up a very large strike window. A misconception, he said, is that topwater lures are limited to calm conditions.
“That isn’t the case at all. There can be a pretty substantial amount of chop on the water. Turbulence can actually be beneficial to topwater fishing,” claimed James Lindner. “Buzzbaits run better in windier conditions, I would personally say, as opposed to Spooks.”
Zara Spooks are a side-to-side topwater lure that will be discussed further at a later juncture of this article.
“Buzzbaits, poppers, Skitter pops, Skitter walks, each one has their own characteristics,” said James Lindner. “I fish frogs more around emergent vegetation. I like Rapala’s X-Rap-prop too. It has double blades on it and puts out a lot of turbulence.”
Skitter pops, and other popper-type lures, said James Lindner, are a particularly good choice when fishing isolated cover or over boulders. Another application for poppers is when fish are not very aggressive. Pauses with poppers leaves the lure in the strike zone for a longer period of time than most other baits.
When it comes to line selection, both Ron and James Lindner were quite particular about what fishing line to use when tossing topwater baits.
“Suffix, of course,” said Ron Lindner. “Fourteen- to 17-pound in mono is really common. Mono allows that action and noses to work.”
“You want to fish relatively heavy line for topwater,” added James Lindner. “Fourteen- to 17-pound mono. Most of us use monofilament other than frog fishing. For frog fishing it would be heavy braid, as heavy as 65-pound tied right to the frog.”
As for a choice of colors, Ron Lindner says he generally prefers light colors for topwater lures. An exception would be when fishing frogs.
“I like a black frog sometimes, but I would probably not use a black prop bait,” explained Ron Lindner.
A wealth of fishing information, including tips on numerous presentations, can be found at (anglingedge.com).
Buzzbaits are considered by many fishermen to be one of the oddest lures on the market. The combination of an oversized, propeller-type blade, single hook, thin wire frame and small skirt may not look like a fish enticer, but there are times when they are as effective as they are exciting. Anglers who try buzzbaits often get hooked on them immediately. It is great fun to watch fish following them and then suddenly explode from the water in a fury.
“Surface lures have various attributes that can be really critical to catch fish. Buzzbaits tend to be a little bit better. They are especially good over submerged cover,” said James Lindner.
Northern pike, bass and muskies are among the fish that will aggressively attack buzzbaits. The noise created and surface silhouette is often too much for a fish to overlook and they reveal their presence. That’s why buzzbaits are often referred to as “fish finders.”
A drawback to buzzbait fishing cited by some anglers is a low percentage of hook-ups. However, it must be remembered that a fishermen is seeing actual strikes, something that is often an unknown when fishing beneath the surface. There are a few techniques a fisherman can employ to increase the percentage of hook-ups too.
Sharp hooks are always a plus. The gap of the hook should be considered, too. A small buzzbait that may be effective on smallmouth bass is not likely to produce a high percentage of hook sets on northern pike. Where pike are present, as is the case in most North Dakota waters, heavier-constructed buzzbaits should be considered. Pike are known to bend or destroy lightweight versions of buzzbaits with a single strike.
Buzzbaits are basically a surface version of a spinnerbait. They are assembled on either straight or angled wire frames. Buzzbait heads can be similar to spinnerbait heads, but some versions have flattened heads that are designed to make them easier to keep on plane on the water’s surface. Often the flattened heads are fixed on buzzbaits with a slight drop in the lower section of wire. The angled wire also creates a slightly larger hook gap.
One key to buzzbait fishing is for the angler to begin the retrieve a few feet before the lure hits the water. What that does is get the blade spinning, assuring that the buzzbait is moving forward and therefore making it easier to keep on top of the water to achieve maximum effectiveness. High-speed reels are an added plus when fishing buzzbaits.
While fish will often blast buzzbaits with a vengeance, there are times when fishermen will encounter short strikes. This is exciting, but also somewhat frustrating to an angler looking for a tussle on the end of the line. Solutions to increasing hook-ups during those times include slowing down or varying the retrieve, adding a trailer hook or changing sizes or colors.
The Zara Spook by Heddon was introduced in 1939 and has been catching fish ever since. According to Heddon, the Spook’s legendary “walk-the-dog” top water action has been written about more than any other fishing lure. “Walking the dog” is the phrase used to describe retrieving a topwater lure in a side-to-side motion, which is what the Spook is designed to do.
It takes a little practice for a fisherman to learn how to impart action to a Zara Spook, but perfection isn’t always needed for Spooks to ignite spectacular strikes. Such action can be irresistible to fish of many species that are more than eager to rip into what looks like an easy meal. Fishermen who experience the excitement of fish striking a Spook will never forget it and will often return to the Spook time and time again as a favorite presentation.
Northern pike and bass, largemouth and smallmouth, oftentimes can be enticed into hitting a Spook on even the toughest fishing days. Fishermen have some choices for what to throw too. Zara Spooks are available in a variety of colors and sizes. Some contain rattles, which create additional attraction.
James Lindner fishes Rapala’s versions of topwater plugs, using them to target big fish. His color preference is “generally silver or natural patterns.” Choices include Rapala’s X-Rap walk, X-Rap prop and X-Rap pop.
“A slow walk-the-dog presentation catches really big ones for some reason. It does. Particularly bass and muskies,” said James Lindner.