Elite angler Brandon Card loves a good topwater bite for several reasons, not the least of which is sentimental. His earliest fishing memories picture his dad, Ab, taking Card and his older brother Jordan fishing with a pail of night crawlers and topwater plugs.
“I remember watching my dad catching big ones on a topwater,” Card said. “Ever since then, when I have topwater in my hand, I’m in my comfort zone.”
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Ranking his topwater lineup high in his overall arsenal, Card points out that the surface game typically starts to shine in the second half of the Elite seasons. Not that there’s no relevance earlier in the year, but getting away from the spawn tends to bring more opportunities for surface bites. From fry guarders, to bream beds, to fish chilling under shady mats, these are the times he feels most optimistic about topwater success.
“I can cover a lot of water with topwaters,” Card said. “I get the quantity, but a topwater also gets you quality. It seems like the bigger fish want to feed upward, so the average size fish seems to be bigger with topwaters.”
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1. The Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil is Card’s go-to topwater. Calling this bait “super versatile,” he’ll throw it in open water or over submerged vegetation.
“You can work the 3DB Pencil fast to cover water, or slowly to keep it in their face,” Card said. “I always have one tied on.”
At 4 inches in length, this bait’s smaller than a lot of commonly used topwaters, so it’s less likely to spook fish with the initial splash. However, Card relies on it’s loud knocking sound for a strong drawing power.
Card’s tip: Use braid and walk the bait aggressively on slack line so it spits water side to side. The more aggressive the better.
“If you fish this bait on mono, you’re not going to get the same action as you will with braid; you’re leaving it lot on the table,” he said. “When you walk it on braid, you can make it come alive.”
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2. A good bet when fish are holding around cover like wood, bushes and laydowns; Card says the Yo-Zuri 3DB Popper offers a best-of-both-worlds performance with solid walking ability complementing that enticing pop. Favoring this bait anytime from the spawn through early summer, Card knows the value of a bait that can toggle between presentation styles.
“I can do both on one cast,” he said. “If I’m walking my popper and I have a fish short strike it, right then and there, I can change the cadence from walking to popping and get that fish to come back and take the bait. It’s kinda cool because I can impart both actions very easily.”
Castability is key, especially when reaching a popper into tight spaces. To this point, Card lauds the 3DB Popper’s aerodynamic form for facilitating targeted casts.
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3. You can’t talk topwaters without including a hollow body frog and whenever he finds a canopy of trash mats, duck weed, hydrilla, milfoil, pads or dead reeds, he’ll pull out the Spro Bronze Eye. He keeps the colors simple: black in heavy cover, bluegill for sparse cover and white for shad spawns.
Card says he throws the narrow nose model most, as it navigates heavy cover best; but for sparser areas, or open spots between thicker canopy sections, he’ll employ the popping version for a combination of walking and that fish-calling bloop, bloop, bloop.
Tip: “A lot of times, when guys come to a thick canopy, they stop walking their frog and just start scooting it along the surface. I always let the frog tell me if it can be walked. That’s my preferred cadence. There may be a little bit of water at the top of the mat where you can still walk it. If it’s too thick, then you just slow down and fish those mats super slow.”
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4. For bream beds throughout the country, and for southern tidal fisheries where the bass diet includes needlefish, Card likes the Yo-Zuri 3DB Prop. As he notes, this bait features a single UV plastic prop on its aft, rather than the common design with metal props on the nose and tail.
Card said this creates a more subtle presentation that allows him to get bit in crowded areas where fishing behind others is a constant reality. A twitch-twitch-pause cadence makes a good baseline, but he may have to go more aggressive to trigger feeding fish or slow down and let the bait sit in their face.
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5. When frogging’s on tap, Card keeps a 4 1/2-inch Yamamoto Small Buzzbait handy for hitting those areas that are too weedy for treble hook baits, but not thick enough to justify the frog. Moving from mat to mat, he may cross areas of thinner vegetation and this is where buzzbait magic can happen.
Favoring black or purple for dingy water or low light and white or blue for shad spawns, Card fishes his buzzbaits with no skirt and a buzz toad or creature bait trailer. He finds this setup gets more bites and makes fish hold on longer.
Fall’s his favorite buzzbait season, but Card knows he can depend on this topwater presentation most anytime he needs to cover water.
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For most of his topwater work, Card likes 40-pound Duel Hardcore 8-carrier braid. If he needs longer casts to reach schooling fish, he’ll go to 30; but for frogging heavy cover, 65-pound Yo-Zuri Superbraid gets the call.
In clear water, he’ll add 18 inches of 20-pound Yo-Zuri Top Knot fluorocarbon leader. He acknowledges fluoro’s sinking nature, but he finds a short leader won’t impair his bait’s action.
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With all of his topwaters, except the frog, Card uses a sweeping hook set. Aware that braid increases the tendency to “over set” the hook and jerk a bait from the fish, he’ll wait until he feels pressure and then sweep.
With a frog, he’ll hit ‘em harder, but Card notes that he wants about half of his swing to have slack in the line — basically, coming right off the slack line walking technique. This allows a brief buffer to let the fish come tight on the bait in heavy cover before he drives home the hooks.