When to Use Topwater Lures for Bass

Certain Times or Conditions Are Best for Surface Fishing

Set of different fishing hooks and lures hanging against a window in the frost

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Topwater lures (also called surface lures) elicit exciting strikes and will often produce when other lures fail, perhaps because they cause an otherwise uninterested bass to attack what appears to be easy or vulnerable prey. Lures included in this category include a whole array of wooden or hard-plastic plugs that float on the surface (including poppers, walkers, and wobblers), as well as soft-plastic lures that float (such as a frog), and lures with a revolving blade (like a buzzbait), which don't float but are fished exclusively along the surface on a steady retrieve.

Using topwater lures can be a good way to hook larger-than-average-size bass, as well as trophy-class specimens. And it's fun because the strike is visual. Most topwater fishing for bass occurs in the summer, but it can also be very productive in spring and fall. Topwater lures are less productive when the water is cold and bass are less aggressive. Here are the prime conditions and circumstances in which you might try fishing with topwater lures:

  • Early Morning. Early morning, when the light is low, is a traditional time to fish a topwater lure. Fish them around shallow cover where bass have moved to feed. Work your favorite lure around bushes, logs, stumps, rocks, and brush in the water.
  • Late Afternoon/Dusk. Just as with early mornings, bass sometimes move shallow to feed as the sun gets low in the sky. As soon as a bank gets in the shade try throwing your topwater offering around shallow cover.
  • At Night. You can use topwater lures throughout the night, particularly in summer when the water is at its warmest, although few anglers actually fish all night long for bass, and tend to focus on the early and late hours of darkness. It's best to choose one that you retrieve in a steady action so the bass can easily hone in on it. A black Jitterbug is a traditional topwater night fishing lure, since its slow "plop, plop, plop" sound gives the bass an easy target. A buzzbait also works well at night, provided that you fish it as slowly as possible.
  • On Cloudy Days. Cloudy days help move or keep bass shallow and feed similar to how they do early and late in the day. So keep fishing your topwater lure during cloudy days. Don't stop using topwater lures as long as the bass ​continue to hit.
  • When Shad Spawn. When threadfin and gizzard shad spawn on riprap and other hard surfaces in very shallow water, throw a buzzbait or popper right on the bank and work it out toward deeper water. Sometimes you have to hit the bank to get a bite. This is a phenomenon common to large southern impoundments, but here you should fish a topwater lure around any area you see shad running the bank and spawning.
  • During the Mayfly Hatch. When mayflies and other bugs hatch around the water, bluegills (bream) move in to feed on them. Bass will follow, feeding on the bluegills. A small popper works great during the mayfly hatch since it imitates the sound a bluegill makes when it sucks in a bug. Work poppers from a range of very slow to very fast until you find what the bass want. Sometimes the plug sitting still after a plop makes it look like an easy meal. At other times a constant popping looks like a bass chasing a bluegill. Since bass are greedy, they'll try to take the meal from the other bass.
  • When Bass Are Schooling. When bass school in open water and chase baitfish, a topwater plug can look like bass chasing baitfish on top. Just as with bluegills, bass will try to take the lure from each other, and there is the possibility of catching two bass on one lure.