Poppin' and Walkin' for Bass

By: G. Wayne Byrd


Two of the most productive methods of topwater fishing are using a popper, or chugger type lure, and "walking–the-dog" with a surface walker. When it comes to popper type lures, you may remember the old Heddon Lucky 13, Bass Oreno, or the Heddon Chugger Spook. Lure design has changed drastically since the first production of those aforementioned lures, and now we have such poppers as the Berkley Frenzy Popper, Tsunami Talkin’ Popper, Rapala Skitter Pop and the Lucky Craft G-Splash. For topwater walking-the-dog applications, we have the Heddon Spook and Super-Spook, which have been around for many years and are, still to this day, top producers. Some other surface walkers include Lucky Craft Sammy, Rapala Skitter Walk, Salmo MAAS Marauder and the Yo-Zuri Banana Boat. While all of these lures produce fish in different situations, I have discovered a lure that is producing topwater hits for me on a consistent basis when water and light conditions are right. The lures I speak of are made by L & S Mirrolure. The popper is called The Humpback Mule and is actually a jointed topwater popper. The walking-the-dog style surface walker I prefer is called the Top Dog Jr. Both lures are extremely good quality and have extra sharp hooks, which can really come in handy when you have a bass that might strike you a little bit short, or not hit the lure very hard.

Let’s start by taking a look at when the best time to use a topwater lure would be, and then the techniques involved in producing the most strikes. I have caught some of my largest bass, by far, on topwater lures. My reasoning behind this occurrence is that back in the old days, everybody I knew threw topwater lures. They threw them for 2 or 3 hours in the mornings and 2 or 3 hours in the evening. From an industry perspective, topwater lures are not among the top sellers these days. The majority of the people I fish with these days mainly throw spinnerbaits, plastics and crankbaits. Could it be that the big bruiser bass that have been around for several years have seen all of the spinners and cranks, after being caught several times on these lures, and now tend to shy away from them? I think this is possible, and if you go down South to Texas or Louisiana, you will see huge bass being taken on topwater lures. I have a good friend who says that the bass have seen the same lures over and over again for so many years that they have the serial and model numbers on the bottom of the lures memorized. This might be a bit of a stretch, but almost all the bass I have caught that are over 5 pounds are loners, holding on a particular piece of structure in the lake. I won't say that you never see large bass schooling up, but it is a rare occurrence. Smallmouth bass are different though...they do tend to school up in certain areas, and there can be many large fish all together at one time.
I use topwater baits mainly when the water temperature is 60 degrees or above, but I have caught bass on topwaters when it was in the high 50's. Whenever I see a stump, rock, or maybe a bush, further away from other structure, I throw a topwater right to it. The best way to provoke a reaction strike from a big largemouth is to cast the bait right to the cover, not beyond it. If you cast past the target, the bass will be alert before the bait gets there. You may have seen them boil or swirl when you do this, instead of smashing it. They are tentative when you work the bait up to the cover, and then they just swirl at it, or miss. To provoke a big bass into exploding on the bait you must cast right to the cover! The popper is one of my favorite baits to use in places that have a lot of grass or milfoil that is holding bass. When you retrieve a popper, it requires a fast jerk, which spits water out from the front of the cup-lipped bait, and the bait makes a deep pop or bullfrog sound. You then should let the lure sit for a few moments and repeat this process again. I will never forget, when I was 11 years old I caught my first largemouth bass over 5lbs on a clear popper with a white bucktail. The lure was a Pico Lil’ Pop and what a thrill that was! I watched the fish following my lure, when all of a sudden a topwater explosion occurred, and I was in for a fight. Ever since that moment, I have been a fan of the popper style lure. I like to use it like I would a crankbait from the perspective that you can cover a lot of water when you think of your lure as a search-bait. Simply put, trying to find out where the fish are located.

Walking type topwater lures are another great bait especially in post spawn season, when big bass are around some shallow cover, but they aren't particularly aggressive yet. I use baits with rattles for this also. I've caught a lot of big bass on topwater walkers in prespawn as well as postspawn. Also, on really warm days early in the year, it produces well. I just cast it to the structure, let it sit, twitch it a few times, and they usually just suck it in. To walk-the-dog, you simply snap your rod in a downward motion over and over again throughout the entire retrieve. This will force the lure to zig-zag back and forth from left to right. This action drives bass crazy as they think an injured baitfish is trying to get away. When I am throwing a lighter weight popper or surface walker, I tend to use spinning gear on a 6 ˝ to 7 ‘ rod with a medium action. When I am throwing Spooks or other heavier or larger lures, I switch over to a baitcaster with a 6’6” or 7’ rod with a medium heavy to heavy action. When I am throwing topwater lures in tight areas, with very specific targets, where there is no room for error, I will downsize to a 6’ casting rod. This length is much more accurate than longer rods and easier to control when working an area with stumps and brush, where one bad cast will tangle your lure up and waste your precious fishing time. Although most of my really big bass have come from shallow water, they were always in a place that was near deep water, where one or more grasses came together, and near the main creek channel or water inlet. The fish always had some kind of deep-water escape route nearby. I feel that in larger bodies of water the big bass spend much of their time in deeper water, and just move in and out of the shallows as the opportunities arise, when hunting for food. As I mentioned previously, most anglers use these baits at sunrise or sunset, but I use them all times of the day, especially when the sky is overcast. Big bass are always on the shady side of cover once the sun rises. They can be enticed into striking a popper or surface walker at all times of the day when presented properly. Bigger bass feed more frequently due to their body size, and when they do feed, they want a bigger meal if at all possible. They have to expend a great deal of energy to catch their prey, and want to make sure the size is sufficient to meet their needs. Good luck on your topwater action and e-mail me with any questions.

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G. Wayne Byrd is a professional bass tournament fisherman who lives in Colorado. He is an active contributor to Fishin' Secrets with Eric Allee and Friends. www.fishinsecrets.com

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