Late Summer Bass Topwater Tips
By Owen Gartner
As we move out of the dog days of summer and into this sunny season’s final days, most bass anglers have one thing on their mind: topwater fishing!
From frogs to poppers, walkers to Ploppers, there are a myriad of bass topwater baits on the market that produce both quantity and quality this time of year. In fact, there are so many that it can be hard to make decisions about where your money is best spent to capitalize on this exciting late summer bite. Here at Discount Tackle we are committed to making sure hardworking anglers get the most for their dollar, so we’ve put together a small guide to help you make the most of this time of year.
How pressured is your fishery?
Believe it or not, the best plan of attack for using topwater baits for bass fishing late summer can vary significantly by how much fishing pressure your local fishery sees. That’s because fish that see more baits thrown at them tend to become wary of their presence and de-sensitized to their strike inducing action by the tail end of the summer. Conversely, fish that see very little fishing pressure, such as those living in remote lakes and rivers or in private ponds, are less finicky and picking the right bait can be less about deception per se, and more about simply keying in on the fish’s local feeding patterns and preferred forage. Thus, throughout this guide you may see some variation in recommendations for different baits depending on fishing pressure.
Buzzbaits are one of the simplest topwater lures out there and can be a great late summer bait for topwater newbies and aficionados alike. In the late summer, buzzbaits really shine when you are fishing over grass or weeds that are just under the surface and you can't throw a lure with treble hooks without getting hung up. Broadly speaking, there are few different sub-types of buzzbaits: double buzzbaits, clacker or head knocker buzzbaits, skirtless buzzbaits, and then of course the tried and true original: the skirted single buzzbait.
Double and clacker-style buzzbaits are best when fishing open, choppy, or murky water because the increased presence and water disturbance is easier for bass to find and track, really "calling them in." Strike King's The Double Take Buzzbait is a great choice for fishing these conditions as its counter rotating dual blades stir up an impressive commotion. If fish seem to be shying away from a double buzz's large profile, but you still want some extra sound and vibration, the Strike King Swinging Sugar Buzz has a loud, squeaky clacker, but a much more manageable profile than a double buzz. Additionally, its swinging, articulated design makes it harder for fish to throw the hook as you battle, helping improve landing rates.
Standard buzzbaits, like the Strike King Tour Grade Buzzbait or War Eagle's 3/8 oz. Buzzbait, and skirtless buzzbaits, such as the War Eagle Buzztoad can be a particularly good late summer choice on fisheries that see significant amounts of pressure. The smaller, more natural profile becomes more effective at drawing strikes from tight-lipped fish and skirtless models are less likely to get short strikers nipping at the tail of the skirt, failing to hook up. With practice, most skirtless buzzbaits can be skipped under docks and overhanging timber too, which can be an absolutely killer late summer presentation.
Pond anglers should also be sure to check out the Booyah Pond Magic Buzzbait, a small 1/8 ounce buzzbait that can easily be thrown on light tackle and comes in great selection of pond forage-imitating colorways, such as "Firefly," "Grasshopper," and more.
Poppers are another classic topwater bait that are right at home in late summer bass fishing. Nonetheless, all too often people think of poppers as an old bait their grandpa threw and overlook these simple yet productive lures. Poppers really work their magic when bass have schools of baitfish cornered in the backs of inlets and coves and they're blowing up on the surface. They can also be a fantastic topwater searchbait for figuring out where fish are congregating.
Arbogast's Hula Popper and Rebel's Pop-R are the simple poppers many of us may remember from childhood, but these lures are still great, inexpensive choices today. They both have consistent, reliable action and come in a range of tried and true topwater colors. The added lifelike action of the Hula Popper's skirt makes it great for picky, late summer fish that don't seem interested in other poppers. The low price of both of these baits also means there's much less heartbreak when you loose one in a tree or get snagged up on cover. If you're looking for a price-conscious popper with more detailed, "match-the-hatch" colorways, Berkley's Bullet Pop is another great choice.
For those wanting to step-up their popper game this summer, the Evergreen International OB-68 Topwater Popper is a great improvement over more introductory poppers. In particular, the OB-68 is designed to be extremely easy to cast long distances and has a well-balanced body that responds well to sensitive rod work, allowing it to easily handle a variety of challenges, from slow action by standing timber or rocks, replicating the high-speed action of a bait chased by backwater bass, to nimble turning action within a narrow range via high-speed rod twitches. We also recommend fishing all poppers with braided mainline and the lightest fluorocarbon or monofilament leader you can get away with to ensure optimal sensitivity and lure action.
Spooks, walkers, pencils, hard stickbaits - surface walking baits go by many names and have been around for a long time. Like poppers, walking baits are best thrown over schools of actively feeding fish in either the early morning or close to sunset.
In late summer, the real key to fishing walking lures like these baits is ensuring you are fishing a lure with a size and profile similar to the local bass' preferred forage. If the baitfish in your local waters are relatively small, try a smaller topwater walker, like the Heddon Zara Puppy, a downsized version of their classic Super Spook walking bait. Conversely, if bass are keyed in on larger shad or panfish, an upsized walking bait like the Strike King KVD Mega Dawg can be an excellent choice.
Nothing screams summertime surface fishing more than throwing a frog and that's just as much the case in the late summer as any part of the season. For those unfamiliar with hollow body frog fishing, frogs excel at fishing over and around extremely heavy cover because the way the double hook sits around the body of the frog prevents it from snagging. Because of this, frogs can be particularly effective late summer, especially in places where vegetative cover is the thickest and most robust during this time of year.
While many hollow body frogs look the same, some certainly work better than others. Some of our favorites include the Booyah Pad Crasher as a reliable, yet inexpensive option and the River2Sea Bully Wa as a super durable workhorse that offers a more fine-tuned presentation at a slightly more expensive price point. Finally, for those serious frog enthusiasts looking for something new to try, the Megabass Pony Frog provides anglers with a meticulously crafted frogging experience that even the most seasoned frog fishers will appreciate.
Optional rattle that comes with the River2Sea Phat Mat Daddy
If you're fishing extremely heavy cover and struggling to get bit on your usual frogs, we highly recommend checking out River2Sea's Phat Mat Daddy Frog. Designed by frog fishing legend and MLF Pro Tour angler Ish Monroe, the Phat Mat Daddy is weighted and comes with an optional rattle. The additional weight of the frog pushes down on the thick vegetation and that pressure, in combination with the optional rattles, creates a visual and sonic profile that's easier for fish to pick up on and track than standard hollow body frogs.
Ploppers and more
The past decade or so has seen a lot of innovative new topwater baits that quickly gained reputations as big bass slayers. Now most of us are familiar with the Whopper Plopper and its humble history and meteoric rise to fame and while the Whopper Plopper is another great late summer topwater choice, there are a few other innovative topwaters worth mentioning.
The Jackall Chopcut is an updated take on classic deep-bellied topwater prop lures like the Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad. It employs a single oversized propeller on the front of the lure that spins even at the slowest crawl and produces a variety of sounds depending on the speed of the retrieve. If you fish a heavily pressured lake whose underwater residence see lots of Whopper Ploppers, switching it up with a Jackall Chopcut could be the key to catching those finicky fish that have learned their lesson from being fooled by the Whopper Plopper one too many times.
Another fantastic late summer topwater that just recently hit the market is the Megabass i-WING 135. This unique topwater lure exhibits micro pitch waves - small vibrations that evoke the sound of a small school of fish that swarming to weakened bait. However, the i-WING truly soars when you kick your retrieve into high gear, taking off with a buzzing-crawl unlike nearly any other topwater on the market. This wide retrieve range is powered not only by wing size, placement and painstaking hydrodynamic design, but by advances like the patent-pending R.A.B. balancer, which anchors the i-WING's crawling action by acting as a counterweight. All in all, while the Megabass i-WING 135 will cost you a pretty penny (unfortunately we are unable to offer a discount on this lure due to manufacturer MAP policies), its unique action is unbeatable when fishing a tough late summer topwater bite and is a must have for serious topwater enthusiasts.
If you're an angler that fishes topwater on a heavily pressured fishery, it may be worth while to modify some of your favorite topwaters as you move late into the summer to change up your presentation.
If you frequently get fish following your hard lure, but refuse to commit and make a firm strike, try adding a red treble to the front of the lure. Not only does this help signal that the target is in distress (by making it appear bleeding or wounded), it helps encourage the fish to hit the whole lure, as they see the red hook as a weak spot prime for attack. Additionally, the use of round bend trebles can help improve your hook up ratio when fish are short striking - although you should be aware that while this style does make it easier to hook fish, the hooksets can be more precarious and you may sacrifice landing ratios.
Comparison of round bend treble (left) and standard treble hook (right)
Another small modification that can make all the difference in the late summer is the use of a feather dressed treble hooks on the rear of the lure. Feathered trebles add little bits of lifelike movement and flash that can make all the difference when fish have seen every topwater under the sun.
If you're having trouble getting successful strikes on hollow body frogs there are also a few tricks you can use on these lures to improve late summer success. If fish are consistently short striking, try trimming the skirted "legs" of the frog to make the target more compact. A frog trailer hook can also be useful in these scenarios.
If the bass are more or less on target, but just not getting hooked, you can try boiling the frogs to soften the plastic and make it collapse more easily. To do this simply get a cheap pot that you do not plan to cook food in (to avoid plastic/lead contamination), fill it up with water, and bring it to a boil. Then grab one frog at a time with a pair of tongs and dunk it under the boiling water for about a minute. Then pull it out and let it slowly air cool on its own. Once the frog has cooled you can continually repeat this process until you've found the right balance between softness and lure integrity. Just remember, there is such a thing as too soft, you don't want to weaken the plastic so much that it breaks open and rips after a vicious strike.
If you aren't fishing around too heavy of cover, you can also try using pliers to slightly bend the hooks up and out so they are less flush with the frog body and can more easily penetrate striking bass.
Don't forget, you always want to throw your topwaters with a braided, co-polymer monofilament, or nylon monofilament mainline and/or leader. That is because these lines are buoyant and will help your lure stay up top on the surface and produce the proper action. Fluorocarbon mainline is generally not a good choice for topwater because it sinks very easily and is therefore less easy to manage and get the correct lure action.
Topwater fishing is one of the most exciting parts about bass fishing and late summer is a prime time to be throwing this presentation. While topwater fishing can be hard to crack at first, with the help of this guide and a bit of hard work, you'll be a topwater ace in no time!