By Jeff Samsel

Pleasant temperatures and colorful foliage make autumn a nice time to be on the water. To serious bass fishermen, though, neither is they’re really out there. Bass feed aggressively this time of year and you can have your best trips of the year. Making a good thing even better, bass are often looking up for their meals as the water cools, so topwater lures produce explosive action.

“The nights are getting cooler, the water is cooling off, and the topwater bite is getting better,” Jimmy Houston said. “That will continue as we move more into fall.”

To Houston, each lure is a tool for a particular task. We spoke with him about the specific tools he uses the most for fall topwater fishing.

Rebel Pop-R
“My favorite topwater bait it a Pop-R,” Houston said.

“Or is it a Zara Spook?”
Jimmy Houston
It’s sort of a toss-up for Houston, and in truth conditions dictate which rod he picks up first for the surface approach. He likes the subtlety of a Pop-R, so he throws it any time the wind isn’t blowing much.

“I fish a Pop-R a lot early in the morning and late in the day because that’s when the wind typically dies down in the fall. It’ll blow through the day, but toward evening, the temperature will drop and the wind will lay down. I really like it dead calm for fishing a Pop-R.”

Houston always lets the Pop-R rest and waits for the rings to spread after the lure lands, and it is not at all uncommon for a bass to attack before he pops the lure a single time. When he does start it moving, Houston generally uses a 1-2 or 2-3 popping cadence, meaning he’ll follow a pop and pause by two pops and a pause, or follow two pops and a pause with three pops and a pause. He mixes it up, though, and lets the fish dictate preferences.

Whatever the cadence, Houston uses gentle pops that throw a little water straight in front of the lure to suggest tiny fleeing baitfish. He believes the biggest mistake that anglers make with a Pop-R is popping it too loud.

“I always work it with a subtle movement,” he said.

Heddon Zara Spook
When the wind picks up a bit and starts breaking up the surface, Houston turns to his “other favorite” – a Spook – and his favorite of all the lures in the Spook family is the original Heddon Zara Spook.

“It’s just the right size,” he said. “It also throws a lot of water in both directions.”

Having a surface lure that will get the job done when there is chop on the water is important, Houston noted, because the topwater bite commonly continues well after sun comes up during the fall. In fact, on cloudy days, bass will hit topwater lures all day long.

Houston said that angling the rod down, as opposed to holding it out the side, is a key to learning the famous walk-the-dog action that made the Zara Spook famous.

He normally uses a traditional walking presentation, but does add a couple of variations that help him catch more fish. The first is simply changing the speed of the walking presentation from one cast to the next and taking note of the pace the lure had been walking anytime a fish hits.

The second trick, which takes more practice, is what Houston calls “half stepping.” By alternating normal twitches with a half-length twitches, which bring the bait back to center but not to the opposite orientation, he can make the bait turn a little left or right. That allows him to steer the bait around stumps, dock supports and other features while keeping it very close to the cover.
frog splash
Booyah Pad Crasher
When Houston believes the bass are under mats of grass, lily pads, duckweed or other vegetation that covers the surface, he turns to a Booyah Pad Crasher, which he can work across the top of the grass. If the mats have big openings, he’ll sometimes opt for the popping version so he can work over the grass and then pop it in the open water.

Houston varies his retrieves substantially with the Pad Crasher. At times he works it pretty slowly with hops and pauses. Other times he moves it steadily with rod tip twitches. Often, he finds that the best way to draw strikes is with a quick steady winding, as if he were swimming a spinnerbait or buzzbait, so the frog just skates across the grass.

Houston works a Pad Crasher with his rod high so that when a fish strikes he has to drop the rod tip before he can set the hook. That helps him achieve the hesitation that’s often needed to hook frog fish. Pad Crasher strikes can be vicious, making it difficult to not just react when the fish hits, but an immediate hookset often results in a missed bass.

Booyah Buzz
You didn’t think Houston would be without a wirebait featuring a blade and skirt, did you? When the water cools more a little later in the fall and Houston wants to cover a lot of water, he’ll pick up a buzzbait.

“It seems like it’s best after the water gets below about 58 or 60 degrees, which is normally during November in the South.” Houston said.

He works a Booyah Buzz along pretty much any kind of bank, but his favorite place to throw one is beside riprap or along a naturally rocky bank.