Ish Monroe has to think hard to recall a tournament where prop baits played a role in a strong finish. It's not that he's had so few. On the contrary, double-prop baits have figured a major part in many of his solid tournament performances — but one stands out as a banner event. He was fishing in a CITGO Bassmaster Tour event on Florida's Lake Toho a few years ago when he found a pocket of open water surrounded by thickly matted grass. Monroe, who lives near the California Delta, knew he was going to pull a pile of bass from that spot and he had a strong feeling at least a few of them would come on one of his favorite topwaters, a Smithwick Devil's Horse, a slim surface bait with three sets of treble hooks and two propellers."I had to trim my motor up to get through the grass, but once I got to the edge of that hole, I was able to cast across it if I really cast hard," he recalls.
Monroe stayed on that hole each morning of the event and milked it for dozens of fish. All of them came on a Devil's Horse (Smithwick Lures, www.lurenet.com, 479-782-8971). When the topwater bite died each day, Monroe simply moved out and went searching for larger fish with a jig, but he says many of the bass that fell for the double-prop were plenty large enough to remain in his livewell. Of course, prop baits, whether one propeller or two, don't always catch fish, but when they do, they can be far more effective than poppers, walking baits and even buzzbaits. They can be fished with a variety of retrieves and, unlike buzzbaits, double-props can be stopped next to a piece of cover to entice a bass that might not commit to a fast moving surface bait.A time and a place"I'll use them in the early spring right through the fall," says Monroe. "They are great for a variety of situations, but I think one reason they work so well is that so many people have gotten away from them in favor of baits like poppers and walking baits. The fish have seen so many Pop-Rs and Spooks, they've become conditioned to avoid them in some instances."
Peter Thliveros, a 10 time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Jacksonville, Fla., agrees and says double-props are just one more tool in his topwater tacklebox. Like any other surface lure, they can produce fish when another might not elicit so much as a short strike."A double-prop bait just produces a different sound than any other topwater, even a single-prop lure. They look different, as well, and they act different when you use them," he says. "You get more bubbles, noise, surface disturbance — and that can be what the bass want."When Monroe uses double-prop baits will determine how he uses them. Different seasons call for different retrieves, he says. But, he adds that if one retrieve isn't working, he won't hesitate to experiment and try something else, even if common sense dictates it won't work. Their versatility is exactly why lures such as the Devil's horse are so effective. Monroe will start throwing them in the early spring when the water climbs into the upper 50s. That's when bass start to move shallow and feed in earnest prior to the spawn."The ideal situation is when the water is in the mid- to upper 60s, the water has at least 3 or 4 feet of visibility and there is some submerged grass. They work great over submerged grassbeds. If there is a light rain and a real light ripple on the water, I'm going kill them on a Devil's Horse," he says.Thliveros agrees that these surface lures have a "best" time and place. For him, it's less season-specific than place-specific. He favors them in southern and southeastern waters almost exclusively, particularly lakes with aquatic vegetation. He's tried them in the north and just hasn't experienced high success with them, but Thliveros admits his experiences shouldn't stop northern anglers from trying one."I like to use them over emerging grass and along the outside edge of defined grasslines, but the water has to be clear enough for the fish to see the bait. They also work real well in larger pockets of open water within grassbeds," he says. Monroe adds that double-prop baits serve as excellent search baits, particularly in the fall when bass are chasing shad in the backs of creeks. The California pro will put his electric motor on high and work a double-prop down the shoreline in search of active bass. They also account for some of his biggest bass, and he catches those fish when few other anglers would consider using any topwater — in the middle of a hot, bright, calm afternoon in the summer."I'll sometimes go three or four hours without a bite in the summer, but when I do get bit, it's going to be a big one. I can count on that," he says.Most of the time, however, both pros throw these lures and other topwaters under typical topwater conditions — mornings, evenings and overcast days — but Thliveros stresses the importance of fishing with an open mind.Burn 'em, twitch 'em While many anglers who favor surface baits try to make lots of noise and commotion when the water's surface is choppy, Thliveros sometimes does the opposite. Much of his topwater philosophy goes against the grain of conventional wisdom."When it's calm, I'll work the bait hard, and when the water is rough, I'll work it real soft. I'll work a noisy bait quiet and a quiet bait noisy," he notes.Both pros say it's critical to experiment, no matter what methods are preached in seminars and magazines for specific conditions. Thliveros recalls one bass that slammed a John Henry, a wooden double-prop bait made by JA Lures in Palatka, Fla. (386-325-9273), after he finished picking a backlash. It took him a minute or more to remove the tangle of line from his spool, and as soon as he made the first twitch, the fish hit. The rest of the day, he cast his lure and allowed it to rest motionless on the surface for a minute or more. Virtually all of his strikes occurred as soon as he gave the lure a single slight twitch.
Monroe tends to fish a Devil's Horse slower in the spring, even allowing it to rest motionless for a minute or more during the peak of the spawn. He and Thliveros agree that stalling a double-prop over a bedded female can produce vicious strikes as the fish attempts to guard its eggs. Monroe also likes to fish it like a buzzbait in the summer, and he'll rip it and pause it in the fall to mimic fleeing shad or feeding bass."I usually use a medium-fast cadence," explains Thliveros. "If I'm getting short strikes, I'll slow it down — or I might try a steady retrieve to see if that works. You just never know until you try it."Color Matters? Double-props, such as Devil's Horses, John Henrys, Boy Howdys, Lucky Craft Splash Tail and a variety of others, come in a rainbow of colors. Monroe, however, pays little attention to the various hues available."I just don't think it makes a whole lot of difference. The action is what attracts them and makes them bite. Most of the time, that fish sees the silhouette of the bait as it's looking up at it, so it doesn't know if it's green or blue or silver," he says. "I've got a dozen different colors in my tacklebox, but I tend to throw the same two or three. I use black, smoky shad or clear pretty much all the time."He likes that clear Devil's Horse when he's fishing the ultraclear waters of some western and northern reservoirs. He figures baitfish do a good job of blending with their environment and while they obviously don't turn clear in clear water, they do change hues to blend in better.Thliveros does pay a little more attention to the colors of his surface lures. He favors baits with orange and red bellies in the early spring, firetiger during much of the postspawn and summer, and shad colors — whites and silvers — in the fall.
One color that does matter to Monroe is red, as in red hooks. He gave little credence to the notion that bass are more willing to strike a bait with a red hook, but when a friend suggested he try it, Monroe was pleasantly surprised at the results. He always changes the factory hooks on his Devil's Horses to premium Daiichi black nickel hooks on the front and back eyes, but after discovering the effectiveness of red hooks, he puts a Daiichi Bleeding Bait treble on the center hook eye."I was amazed at the difference. Before I started using red hooks, the fish were almost always hooked on either the front or the back treble. Now, the vast majority are hooked on the red hook. The other nice thing about that is if they miss that red hook, they'll usually end up on the front or the back. It has really increased my strike-to-catch ratio," he adds.Thliveros also changes the hooks on his double-props to 4/0 Eagle Claw round-bend trebles. He says the factory hooks on most topwaters are just too small. He and Monroe both add split rings to most of their surface lures, including those with two propellers, to give the bait a little more action.
When he throws a double-prop, Thliveros does so on heavy monofilament, typically 20- or 25-pound Stren Heavy Cover. Lighter, limper line will sometimes wrap around the front propeller, essentially killing the action of the bait. A stiffer line prevents the lure from riding up and over the mono and ultimately wrapping around the nose of the lure.
You don't ever want to use fluorocarbon on topwaters. It sinks, which is perfect for some baits, but not topwaters. Fluorocarbon can kill the action of even the most buoyant topwaters," he explains.
Monroe typically uses 15-pound Maxima monofilament, but when he's fishing a Devil's Horse in heavy grass, he switches to 40-pound Power Pro braid. He says the bass don't seem to notice the line in heavy cover and he needs that extra power to wrestle fish out of the cover. They do, however, notice the extra commotion caused by a bait with two propellers. And they often can't resist.