Topwater modifications you can do yourself

One of the great appeals of fly tying is that the craftsman can design and build a lure that fits a specific situation.

The fly tying process lets an angler be as creative as he wants. And frequently, the tier will create a fly pattern that works significantly better than any he can buy.The same creative urge draws many anglers into building lures or modifying store-bought baits to make them work better in certain situations.Few lures receive more attention than topwaters, possibly because fishermen can see the lure as it's working and visualize how it might be improved.

It isn't surprising to find that many, if not most, bass pros modify their topwater baits to make them perform better.

Pros often will change hooks, insert weights, sand bodies, sculpt the lips and faces of baits, apply detailed paint jobs and add custom trailers as part of their special-is-better philosophy.While some modifications involve Dremel tools, airbrush paint sprayers and other equipment many of us don't have, that doesn't mean the average Bassmaster can't make significant changes in his topwater arsenal. With a little creativity, you can modify your topwater baits to make them perform the way you want. And you can do it without special tools or the skill of an artist.The real secret to being a pro at modifying topwaters, or any other lure for that matter, is understanding what you're trying to do and why you're trying to accomplish it. To learn more, BASSMASTER asked pros to describe some of the modifications they've made to topwater lures.

Yelas' tricksJay Yelas of Texas sums up the philosophy of modifying lures as he describes his prop bait arsenal.

 "What I want is a series of tools for different conditions," Yelas says, "something for every situation and water condition I might encounter."For example, when a lake is windy and choppy, he ties on a Luhr Jensen Woodchopper.

It's a big bait with two big props, and it makes a lot of noise. I don't change this bait beyond adding supersharp trebles because it already does what I want it to do: Call fish to the top in noisy conditions."However, I make a few changes to my second prop bait, the Devil's Horse. I use these for a more subtle action, and I always remove the front prop — as well as change hooks."While many fishermen might just cut the hooks off the hangers and put on split rings," Yelas continues, "I think I get fewer tangles if I unscrew the hook hangers and use them again as they are, only with new hooks."His modified Devil's Horse works well on calm mornings when the bass desire more action from a lure than is afforded by a floating minnow."Finally, I like the Tiny Torpedo for clear water, finesse situations when the bass want a prop bait but the Devil's Horse is too much," Yelas says. "This little bait works well as it is if you use a significantly larger hook in the front. Just make sure that the hooks won't tangle on the cast."The Tiny Torpedo has saved the day for me more than once when the forage was small and the bass wouldn't hit anything larger."

 Morton's magic

Oklahoma pro Jim Morton, promotions manager for Rapala/Storm, takes a different approach in building a popper arsenal. Rather than employ different lures to fit various situations, he relies on one lure, the Chug Bug, which he modifies to fit different conditions."The original Chug Bug wasn't very user-friendly," Morton says. "In its original form, it had little built-in action. It would spit and pop some, but it was hard to fish consistently because it was light and floated flat on the surface."By shaving the lip, I made it spit better, and by drilling a hole in the tail and adding some lead BBs, I got the needed weight. Now I have a bait that can walk the dog and spit and pop at the same time!" (Morton adds that those and other changes have been incorporated into the newer Rattlin' Chug Bug.)Other changes affect the way a Chug Bug (or other popper) fishes.Add just a little weight to the back hook of a chugger or popper to make the rear sit deeper in the water," he suggests. "Instead of floating nearly level on the surface, the bait will be almost vertical. You can pop the bait fairly hard, making a noisy surface disturbance, and it will jump forward, then it slides backward. This lets you pop the bait several times while moving it only an inch or two. This is deadly on corners of boat houses and around other structure."Morton used to wrap little strips of lead around the shank of the rear treble to add weight. Now, he relies on Storm's adhesive SuspenDots and SuspenStrips, as do many other pros.A simple way to change the way a topwater plug works, he adds, is to try different knots."If you want to work a popper very fast, use a knot you can cinch tight against the line tie," he elaborates. "For a looser, slower action with more side-to-side nose action and roll, use a loop knot or a Duo-Lock snap."

 Cook's recipes

 Like Yelas, Ken Cook of Oklahoma likes the Devil's Horse prop bait, but he makes different changes in the lure because he uses it a bit differently.He adds a Stabor Line Lock (a wire harness that connects the line to a lure without a knot; contact to the lure to keep the line from binding in the front prop. Without the Stabor device in place, the line tends to wrap around the front prop when you pull the bait and then stop it. The Stabor, however, "pushes" the line ahead and prevents that from happening.Cook also changes the hooks, but he clips the hooks off the hangers, then adds split rings and new, supersharp hooks."I like the freedom of a hook on a split ring; it gives me a better hooking percentage, and I use it on any lure that doesn't have them.Cook leaves the forward prop on the Devil's Horse, and he adjusts both blades to create a different action. "The flatter (straighter) the props, the more resistance — and more noise — they create when you pull the bait through the water. Bend the blades back, and you get less action and a more subtle bait."Cook also uses a couple of topwaters that you won't find on any tackle store shelves, one of which is unique in what it shows the fish.The "Wiggle Diggle" is a modified, big jointed minnow bait that swims seductively on the surface — something you can't do with stock lures.He starts with a jointed ThunderStick, a 5 ½-inch minnow bait that runs several feet deep. To get it to run topside, Cook heats the lip with a cigarette lighter and bends it downward with a pair of pliers until it is nearly perpendicular to the axis of the lure body. "Bending the lip down makes the bait run shallow," says Cook.He also rounds off the edges of the lure at the joint to let the two sections swing wider. "That gives the lure more side-to-side action at slower speeds," he explains. "And it can run shallow at faster speeds, unlike similar big baits that aren't modified this way."The Wiggle Diggle is a popular bait in Oklahoma at times and is used a lot in Arkansas, especially during winter and early spring. It creates a wake as you swim it along the surface, and it can be deadly, especially on stripers."Cook also fishes the "Oklahoma rig," a topwater concoction that isn't so much a modified lure as a modified presentation."Take a big topwater with quite a bit of resistance — I like Storm's Big Bug — and tie a three-way swivel about 2 feet ahead of it. To the third loop, tie a dropper line that's somewhat shorter than the leader, about 18 inches," Cook says. "On that dropper, thread a soft plastic tube on the line, then slide on a plastic bead. Finally, tie on a treble hook and slide the tube down over the bead and treble."Fish the Oklahoma rig for schooling bass. Some fish will hit the tube, and others will hit the hard bait — and sometimes you'll double up."The large topwater is necessary to make casting easier as well as provide some resistance when you work the rig through the water. "Smaller topwaters will glide forward too much and tangle with the dropper," he warns.

 Gowing's gimmicks

Another pro, Jim Gowing, doesn't fish the national tours, but he's well-known as the designer of PRADCO's Excalibur bait lines, as well as many other favorite lures."Fishermen can do a lot of things to change the action of their topwaters," the lure maestro says. "One of the first that comes to mind is pretty basic: adding split rings. If you add split rings to the line tie and hook holders on a Zara Spook, for instance, the bait will slide a bit more freely." In addition to the extra action, you'll also find that the trebles tangle more frequently, he cautions, but the hassle is worth it."One of the best ways to improve a topwater is to change the hooks to Excalibur trebles," he suggests. "I've found that fish often hit the lure, trying to get the bait to go back under water so they can eat it. When the bass swipes at the bait on the surface, a good, sharp hook like our Excalibur will often tag the fish."The Rebel Pop-R is one of the tried-and-true hard baits that might be responsible for a lot of the emphasis on tinkering with topwaters, he notes. The original Pop-R was made on a mold that was a bit thicker on one side than the other. Fishermen found that by sanding the lips and sides of the bait, they could get a topwater that would be not only more consistent in action, but more effective as well.PRADCO fixed that mold, so the new Pop-R is better than the old one, says Gowing, "but it still can be tweaked a bit by changing to the next larger size hook on the forward treble. This makes the bait sit flatter in the water and provides a different sound, plus more hooking power. He occasionally sands a Pop-R's body until it's nearly paper thin, and then repaints it. "This gives me a smaller, more agile bait that works a bit differently."Changing the sound of a topwater often pays dividends in pressured waters where bass know the BB count of every production bait made. By drilling a hole in the top of the bait, near the middle, it's possible to drop in three or more BBs or other noisemakers."One thing that really helps is to cut a piece of piano wire about half the length of the bait. Crimp a small shot to one end of the wire and then insert the whole thing into the lure. You get an entirely different sound with the movement of the wire, the rattle of the shot crimped to the wire, and the sound of the original rattles as they bang into the wire."Gowing notes that the best way to reseal the lure is to fill the hole (but not the body cavity) with silicone. Another alteration is to drill the hole, fill the body with a lightweight foam or silicone and reseal the hole. This locks most of the rattles in place, depending upon where you drill the hole, and gives you a nearly silent topwater bait.An additional Gowing gimmick is to tie a feathered treble on a short piece of 17- to 20-pound-test monofilament and tie that to the rear hook of a topwater plug. Like Cook's Oklahoma Rig, the trailer often catches a bass by itself, and commonly catches a second fish after the topwater lure is hit.

 Do it yourselfThe list of other easy modifications is limited only by the fisherman's imagination. SuspenDots and SuspenStrips make adjusting the attitude of the bait in the water a snap. Put enough lead on the nose of a lure, and it will dive down when you snap your rod tip. Put the weight on the tail, and you change to a lure that pops its nose out when it comes back to the surface.Switching to larger hooks changes the way a bait sits in the water and helps it hook fish better. And you can clip off the lip of a floating minnow to produce a stickbait that will sit in one spot and twitch.

While almost any lure can be modified in a variety of ways, changing for the sake of change is not necessarily good. Take a cue from the pros and make the modifications only when you've identified the need.