An Expert Guide to the Best Topwater Lures

If you're looking to catch some bass this summer, this article is for you! Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist details the best top water lures for catching bass.

A purple lure attached to a fishing rod.

Wakebait Setup: Cashion Icon Swimbait Rod, Lew's Super Duty 300, CL6 Baby Possum Midnight Purple. Photo courtesy of Danny Palmquist

Picture it now. It's been a long hot summer’s day. You spent it working on your lawn, or maybe at the office under artificial lighting. Responsibilities come first, but you’d prefer to be on the water. Or were you hiking with the family? Family activities are enjoyable, but you’re ready for a little me time doing your favorite hobby.

You arrive at the lake by dusk. Less dedicated anglers head home to avoid the bugs, so you have the water to yourself. As the croaking frogs get louder, you grab your rod and tie on your favorite topwater lure, a hollow body frog.

There is an opening in the lily pads. You cast your frog just past it, then reel it in. Twitch. Twitch. BOOM! A trophy largemouth bass blows on the frog. You set the hook. Congratulations, you just landed your new personal best!

There's nothing more satisfying when bass fishing than watching a big one blow-up on a topwater lure. It’s an experience you will never forget. If unprepared, that memory quickly turns into the one that got away. Here are some tips and tricks to fishing with topwater lures to land the catch of a lifetime.

When and Where

A man in a fishing boat.

Photo by Braxton Apana

In some geographical regions, you catch bass using topwater lures year-round. But for many of us, we have to wait until late spring and summer for consistent success. Post spawn is the best time to throw topwater lures.

Shallow water is ideal for lures that float on the surface. Post spawn, bass thrive up in the shallows with nearby places to hide in the shade under lily pads, submerged vegetation, and downed trees.

How and Why

When fishing surface lures, anglers usually use a baitcasting setup. Since shallow water typically contains lots of weeds, use heavy line. Not to mention it’s much easier to manage with a casting reel.

When bass hold to cover in the summer heat, they don’t like leaving their cozy hiding spots to feed. Present your lure as close to them as possible. Be careful not to spook them and prevent them from biting.

Casting gear is better at accurate casts because the line runs parallel to the rod vs. perpendicular like in a spinning setup. When using casting gear, it's also easier to thumb the line to slow it down, which makes a subtle presentation on the water.

Casting gear is also essential when fishing topwater lures because they have higher gear ratios. This makes it easier to reel in the slack for easy hooksets when fishing frogs and to keep buzzbaits churning on the surface of the water.

Now that you know what it takes to be successful when fishing topwater lures, let’s move on to the best methods for catching bass on individual techniques.

Buzzbaits

Buzzbaits all lying together.

Buzzbaits. Photo courtesy of Danny Palmquist

Being stealthy is key to approaching the water and catching your limit of bass. Buzzbaits are anything but crafty, but in the right circumstances, they can be deadly. With this technique, use a casting setup with a gear ratio fast enough to keep the lure's blades churning on the surface of the water. Doing so creates a bubble trail that attracts bass.

For consistent success, you need the right gear. A heavy to medium-heavy casting rod has the backbone for a good hookset. A fast to moderate-fast action rod allows the fish to get the bait in its mouth and load up the rod. It makes for an easy hookset without removing the lure from its mouth.

To keep the blades of the lure churning on the surface of the water, use a reel with a fast gear ratio, somewhere between 7:1:1 and 8:1:1 like a Lew’s Tournament MP. Using a braided line, like the 50lb Sunline SX1, maintains the power you need to keep those blades turning. A mono or copolymer leader gives just enough stretch to let the fish fully engulf the bait.

To set the hook on, use a medium-heavy to heavy rod with a fast tip like Dobyn's Fury 734c designed specifically for buzzbaits. It’s a heavy-power rod and the taper of the tip makes for solid hooksets.

How to Fish Buzzbaits

Let’s move on to how best to approach the water with this essential power fishing technique.

When the sky turns dark as a storm front approaches, a buzzbait is the most successful choice. Fishing them parallel to the bank right before a storm is when I have the most confidence to catch a lot of fish in a short time.

Another brilliant way to target bass in these conditions is with a buzzbait fished under overhanging trees. Bass stage underneath them in anticipation of the rain washing insects down for an easy meal. Buzzbait fishing under trees is a fantastic way to take advantage of that. Point your rod tip down towards the lure to keep it steady on the surface.

Buzzbaits are also the most beneficial during the fall transition. During this change of season, bass spread out in pursuit of baitfish. As a result, buzzbaits are one of the bass lures I prioritize this time of year. My number one strategy is to cover lots of water quickly. The commotion made by a buzzbait is perfect for drawing bass from a distance.

Frogs

Some hollow frog lures.

Dobyn's Fury 735c, Lew's Super Duty Wide Spool, assorted hollow body frogs. Photo courtesy of Danny Palmquist

It's tricky to fish and mitigate snags and hooksets in thick vegetation surrounded by matted grass and lily pads. Fishing hollow body frogs is an excellent way to approach the water when the weeds have filled in and the frogs are the most active. To be successful in fishing with hollow body frog lures, use a casting setup with a heavy backbone rod and a soft tip.

Hollow body frogs have heavy wire hooks flush with their soft, hollow body. To collapse the body of the lure and penetrate the lips of a fish through a mouthful of grass, use a rod with some backbone. Dobyn's Fury 735c is a popular and affordable choice. To be successful with this tactic, use braided line.

To reel in the slack for a hookset and yank bass out of cover quickly, a high gear ratio reel with a sturdy aluminum body like a Daiwa Tatula 8:1:1 is necessary. The reel’s dual braking system makes it easy to cast frogs a long distance and skip them under docks without unnecessary backlashes.

How to Fish Frogs

Here are some pointers to make you a more successful frog angler. Bass become more active as temperatures rise. But when the mercury hits a consistent 85°F and up, they become sluggish and hold to cover more tightly. When this happens, deliver your lure directly to them to get them to bite. Cast directly up against hard structures like stumps and laydowns, and to small pockets of open water in beds of grass and lily pads.

Poppers

A bass popper.

A bass popper. Photo by Curtis Fry

Poppers are yet another great topwater bait for largemouth and smallmouth bass. They are a relatively small lure in this category, but create a lot of splashing to attract plenty of big fish. They are the one lure I recommend using on a spinning combo. A medium-power rod with a moderate to moderate-fast tip, like Temple Fork Outfitters’ Professional Series, is ideal for fishing poppers.

How to Fish Poppers

Poppers are great when fished around minimal cover. With your rod tip down, giving the lure a quick pop causes the cup lip to create a splash and a commotion that attracts hungry bass. One of the smaller topwater lures, poppers work well in deadly heat or during the transition to spring when bass are still sluggish.

I don't fish poppers as much as I do the other techniques. But I always have a few in my tackle box for when other techniques aren't producing for me.

Wakebaits

Wakebaits all hanging up on rods.

Wakebaits. Photo by Danny Palmquist

One popular trend is bass fishing with big swimbaits. They became trendy in the California Delta and have taken on a life of their own. Wakebaits are a subcategory of swimbaits that float on the surface of the water. They are my favorite topwater bait to throw.

Wakebaits typically feature a bill at the front, which causes the lure to move back and forth on the retrieve. This creates a lot of noise and leaves behind a big wake. Wakebaits imitate rats and similar rodents. In this section, let’s focus on fishing rat-style wakebaits.

Big rat lures come in a variety of sizes. But I'm referring to those that weigh between 2 - 4oz. Rat lures of this size and weight require a specialized build to handle them. As lures that rely on treble hooks, use a rod with a moderate to moderate-fast action.

The slower tip on these Swimbait rods accommodates treble hooks. Moderate-action rods enable anglers to keep fish pinned on the retrieve, making it less likely for them to shake free from the lure. And, since wake baits are designed for long-distance casting, swimbait rods are significantly longer than conventional fishing rods, typically between 7’ 6” and 8’ long. One of the best and most popular rods to use with wakebaits is the Dobyn's Fury 806. It's an extra heavy swimbait rod with a nice, slow action that allows the rod to load up for easy hooksets.

Wakebait fishing also requires a specialized reel. A swimbait reel is a 300-size casting reel with a gear ratio between 6:1 and 7:5:1. They have the sturdy gearing systems necessary for casting and retrieving heavy lures and fish. A Daiwa Lexa LX HD is a superb choice for big swimbait fishing. The 300-size reel has an elongated power handle with a large knob to give anglers leverage to manage heavy fighting fish.

How to Fish Wakebaits

With wakebaits, as well as any other swimbait, making long-distance casts is crucial to your success. A loud wakebait will call to bass from afar. Making long casts with a slow and steady retrieve will allow bass to come from a distance to check out your lure. Sometimes, bass will come right up and strike a wakebait. Other times, they will follow it before deciding whether to eat it or not. One way to convince followers to bite is by varying your retrieve. Including some pauses in your retrieve can trigger reaction strikes. Walking a wake bait like you would a frog is also a great way to fish them when you’re around lots of cover and structure. You can experiment with these different retrieves to determine what it is that the fish are looking for.

If you have made it to the end, congratulations! With the right gear and techniques, you can take advantage of one of the most exciting categories in bass fishing. If you have any questions, reach out to a Fishing Expert here on Curated!

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Written By
As a lifelong angler, I have experience fishing a wide variety of techniques. My passion is fishing for bass. I put a lot of time and effort putting together technique specific combos and optimizing them so I can land more fish and improve my overall experience. I am also a writer and photographer,...

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