An old saying among bass anglers declares they would rather catch one bass on a top-water lure than 10 on anything else.
The shake-inducing strike of a huge black bass savaging a top-water lure at dawn is as addictive as free donuts in the break room at work. Once bitten by the top-water bug, it becomes part of your fishing arsenal for life.
Daytime bass fishing grows increasingly tough in the heat of July and August. Fishing a top-water lure during the edges of the day draws vicious strikes.
“The last hour of daylight to a little after dark is one of my favorite times to throw a top-water lure in summer,” said Adam Shepard, senior biologist with the Center for Mollusk Conservation in Frankfort. “Early and late is a good time to catch bigger fish with topwaters, especially in summer.”
Pre-dawn, dusk and night are also the most comfortable to fish when the daytime temperatures reach the 90s. All three species of black bass – spotted, smallmouth and largemouth – crush topwaters during the low light times in summer.
Shepard, who is an expert kayak tournament angler for bass, makes his lure choice based on water conditions and clarity of the lake. “I really like a buzzbait in the morning,” he said. “I’ve always been a buzzbait guy. Most of our fertile lakes here in central Kentucky get murky water in summer, so I like a black buzzbait on those kinds of lakes.”
He throws a frog-imitating topwater in areas with surface scum or vegetation. “I really like throwing a frog into those shady spots with some scum build up in the little back pocket areas,” Shepard said. “You almost use a flip cast to get it under the nest of tree branches. Just twitch it. You never know when a 4 pounder will hit it in those spots.”
Walking-style baits such as the Zara Spook is Shepard’s choice for clear water lakes such as Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake or Cave Run Lake. These lures are cigar or banana-shaped and move side-to-side with jerks of the rod tip, called by anglers the “walk-the-dog” retrieve.
“It is nothing for them to come from 30 feet deep on Lake Cumberland and hit walking baits,” Shepard said. He adds an extra split ring and upgrades the treble hooks on his walking baits.
“The extra split ring allows the hook to rotate 360 degrees,” he said. “I have better hook up ratios and keeps the fish on better. I also upgrade the treble hook on most of them with one where the hook points angle back toward the shank. They hold the fish better.”
Shepard is enamored of a new style of top-water lure where the back end of the lure has a tail that rotates around an axle on the retrieve, called a Whopper Plopper. It makes quite a commotion.
“I started throwing the Whopper Plopper last fall,” he said. “They designed the lure for muskie fishing, but you can catch nice bass on them as well. They work best in open water, not around wood or weeds. The tail sinks with the nose up at rest and can grab stuff.”
Designed by nationally known angler Larry Dahlberg, the heavy weight of the lure allows an angler to cast them what seems like a mile.
“I love fishing them at night during summer,” said Chad Miles, host of the “Kentucky Afield” television show. “They sound just like alewives or shad when they are skipping on the surface. I use the smallest size and it does well.”
Night is also a good time to fish a large black Jitterbug. They might be the best top-water lure ever for pond fishing at night during summer, but they also work on larger lakes. Employing a steady retrieve and using the jointed 3 ½-inch Jitterbug helps produce strikes on reservoirs and larger lakes.
The popular 3-inch model works great at night worked along weed lines in farm ponds and smaller lakes. On these waters, retrieve the Jitterbug a few yards, let it sit still for a time, then repeat. Bass often mangle this lure when it moves after the pause.
The smallest-sized black Jitterbug is an overlooked producer of stream smallmouth bass from twilight into darkness. Cast the lure above and below stream drops at a 45-degree angle. Reel fast enough to keep it gurgling.
Sometimes fish strike with vengeance, other times they gently suck the lure under and swim away with it. It is as fun as any fishing found and usually produces bigger than average bass.
Get out in the low light, escape the heat and enjoy some of the hottest fishing during the steamiest weeks of the year.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.