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Topwater time

Catching bass by any means is fun. But most anglers will agree that those crashing a topwater plug are as good as it gets. Unfortunately, as many have also discovered, there is a rather narrow window of time when surface baits will be the most effective lure.

Catching bass by any means is fun. But most anglers will agree that those crashing a topwater plug are as good as it gets. Unfortunately, as many have also discovered, there is a rather narrow window of time when surface baits will be the most effective lure.For those pursuing postspawn bass in Florida, however, consider that window to be wide open.There isn't a better time to throw a topwater plug in Florida than during that brief period between the last of the spawn and the beginning high summer heat," says veteran Middleburg, Fla., guide Jim Romeka. "When those fish come off the beds, they are aggressive. They want to eat, and the water temperatures haven't reached the point where bass will lay up and become inactive in the middle of the day. It's a very busy period for bass, and a surface bait is the easiest meal in town. It's not a long time period. But during that brief window, I think a topwater bait will not only catch as many, or more, bass than virtually any other lure, but short of a live shiner, they'll also catch the largest bass."

 Timing the bite

 While topwater lures can be effective throughout the year in Florida under the right combination of temperature and light level conditions, the "big bite" Romeka refers to is indeed brief. And the time frame will vary across the state.

 "May is definitely the prime topwater time in my area," states Deltona, Fla., guide Eddie Bussard, who concentrates his efforts in the waters between Rodman and the Kissimmee Chain. "You can occasionally start to see some serious surface action by mid-April, and sometimes it will last into the first week or so of June. But May is such a strong month that a topwater plug is going to be my first choice of lures on any given day. And many times, it will be the primary bait I will stay with throughout the day."South Florida anglers, however, will want to get onto that bite a bit earlier.

 "Lake Okeechobee is on a different clock than the rest of the state," notes veteran Big O guide and tournament angler Steve Daniel. "It's even tough to define a postspawn period on this lake because we really only have two seasons — summer, and the spawn. Our bass can start spawning as early as October and run all the way into March, so we can have fish in a postspawn condition by mid-November, and throughout the rest of the winter. But if I had to pick the one time frame when I would stick with a surface bait all day, it would be from late March throughout April. That's our transition period between the end of the spawn and summer, and bass are as active then as they'll ever get on this lake. There is a lot of bait in shallow water. The shad, shiners and bream are all moving into spawn, and the bass are geared to feed big time on that. They are in an attack mode, and an injured baitfish struggling on the surface is about as tempting a target as a bass will get."With the local calendar circled, the next question becomes what portion of the day should be devoted to topwater. The answer, according to these pros, is easy — throw 'em all day long."I don't put much stock in the old 'early and late or cloudy day' philosophy with topwater plugs this time of year," Jim Romeka states. "Those are obviously good times to fish surface baits. But some of the best fish I've caught have come at noon on a bright day. Actually, I think the midday hours might be more productive with topwater lures this time of year, especially for bigger bass, because fish will have stopped roaming around so much and will settle down on defined structure. But they are still geared to hit a surface bait, and will come up to get it. About the only condition that would put me off a topwater plug is a lot of chop on the surface. That generally limits their effectiveness. But beyond that, I will often stay with a surface bait all day this time of year."Despite the fact that they all spend a lot of time with topwaters this time of year, these experts don't toss a wide variety of topwater lures.

 A simple selection works"I think bass are so geared to topwater baits this time of year that you don't have to spend a lot of time finding the right bait," says Bussard. "Just give them something they can find, but be sure you have both an aggressive and a subtle lure available, because there will be times when one will work better than the other."

 Bussard's "aggressive" bait is the double propeller Boy Howdy in a gold finish. He invariably starts with this bait because it can tell him the mood of the fish that day."You can rip this bait and really make some noise," he explains, "or you can just twitch and pause it and make it fairly subtle. If you are on fish, you can quickly figure out their mood, and do it without having to change lures — just vary the retrieve."Should the bass spurn even a softly retrieved Boy Howdy, Bussard shifts to a 3 ¼-inch High Roller stickbait in a Steel Shad color.This is a real quiet walking bait," he notes, "that moves well with subtle rod tip manipulations. If it's flat-calm and bright, the bass will sometimes hit this better than the prop bait, and these are about the only lures I use this time of year. Once I find fish, one of them always seems to work for me."Romeka uses a similar approach, albeit with different lures."May is really an aggressive month, so I always start with an aggressive bait," he says. "I like the MirrOLure Top Dog Jr. in clear, with a gold insert. This is a good-sized, noisy walking bait with an internal rattle that makes more of a 'thud' than a 'click.' It was originally designed for saltwater use, so it's not something the bass have seen a lot. But it's got some serious hooks that will hold a big fish, and my best bass on it so far is 12 pounds."

 When a more subtle touch is required, Romeka opts for a Bomber Long A in blue chrome finish. He notes that this is a very versatile lure that can produce with anything from a soft surface twitch to a more vigorous jerkbait retrieve that dances it just below the surface. But its best use may well be as a "comeback" lure."It's not uncommon for a bass to miss a big, aggressive topwater bait," he explains, "and most anglers have a second rod ready to get back to that fish, which is usually rigged with some type of weedless soft plastic. I prefer the Long A for that role because I don't feel a bass misses by accident. If it really wanted that plug, it would have gotten it, but there was some last minute decision not to take it. But it was focused on a surface plug, and looking up. I don't think it makes much sense to throw a bottom bait when the bass was drawn to a surface bait in the first place.

 "I can catch a lot of those fish if I get the Bomber to them quickly," he states. "And if I get a spot where more fish are missing the Top Dog than taking it, then it's a signal to switch to the Bomber and refish that spot. It's a good two lure approach, and when I'm throwing topwater, I'll have both tied on."Daniel's approach on Lake Okeechobee is similar, but he does add a few more baits to his mix."If you are looking for a big bass on this lake, there is no reason to throw a small bait," Daniel claims, "and if I had to pick the best big bass lure for this time of year, it would be a ½-ounce Lunker Lure buzzbait with a white/chartreuse skirt and a gold blade. Not a lot of people throw this lure on Okeechobee, but other than a live shiner, I don't know of a better way to catch a big bass here."If he gets into a lot of active smaller fish, however, he shifts gears."For numbers of fish," he explains, "I think it is important to pick a lure that matches the forage size the bass are feeding on. April is about the beginning of our summer, and shad will be the primary forage, which means that the smaller Spook-type baits, single rear propeller plugs, and even the 3 ½-inch minnow lures are normally going to be the best bet, because they are the closest-size imitation you can get."One lure many anglers overlook is a popper. However, Daniel ranks it as one of his most productive topwater baits."A shad-finished Rapala Skitter Pop is one of my key lures," he notes. "It's not only a good size match for shad, but it is deadly in the small open pockets in hydrilla and peppergrass that we spend a lot of time fishing."You may have fish holding back inside the grass off the edges of the pocket," he continues. "With the Skitter Pop, I can get it right to the edge of the backside of the pocket, let it sit for a few seconds, and then twitch it just enough to move some water and let it sit again — sometimes for up to 30 seconds. That gives the fish time to locate the bait and ease out of the grass to get it. Sometimes they'll come out and hit it sitting still. But if I don't get a hit after the pause, I start twitching it across the pocket and then stop it again at the front edge. That last stop gets a lot of them, because if the bass was indecisive when the bait crossed the pocket, it often changes its mind when it sees the lure about to get away."Deeper thoughts on topwaterShallow cover and topwater plugs are a proven combination, but anglers who confine their efforts there could be making a mistake — especially during the midday hours."The best topwater day I ever had," remembers Romeka, "was in May, right in the middle of the day, and right in the middle of the Stick Marsh. We had a big patch of scattered hydrilla with a bunch of laydown logs in about 9 feet of water, and it was holding some good fish. We caught more than a dozen bass out of there on Top Dogs, and two were over 8 pounds. One was over 11. Bass holding on midday structure will come up from pretty deep water to hit a surface bait this time of year."

 Bussard concurs, and notes that his biggest topwater lure bass (10.6 pounds) came from a subsurface patch of hydrilla in 11 feet of water on Rodman Pool one May noon. And he'll fish topwater lures over deeper water than that.

 "We routinely catch topwater bass from grassline edges in 12 to 14 feet of water during the postspawn on a number of the deeper Orlando area lakes," he states, "and a lot of them come during midday, when the bass have settled down. Another spot that a lot of anglers overlook with surface baits is offshore brushpiles. It doesn't matter how deep the water is, but if that brush comes up to within 10 feet of the surface, bass will come up to a topwater lure."Even on Okeechobee, where bass in shallow grass is the rule, there are exceptions."Hydrilla walls in 8 to 10 feet of water are great places to fish slow moving topwater baits," Daniel states. "If you get the bait tight to the edge and work it slowly, you'll pull fish out of that deep grass."When that postspawn topwater bite is on," he says, "there is no such thing as the right depth. If you find the fish and get a topwater to them, they'll come a long way for it."