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3 Subtle Topwater Strategies for Early-Season Bass Action

Great surface action occurs before the primary topwater bass fishing season heats up – if you use the right tactics! 

Devil's Horse Topwater Fishing LureDevil's Horse Topwater Fishing Lure

The bass attacking my topwater lure didn’t surprise me because I trusted my friend who had handed me the bait to tie on, but the action did seem out of place because of the season. That was many years ago, and it marked my first realization that bass will hit topwater lures earlier in the year than many angers realize.

Throwing topwater lures early in the season provides a fabulous opportunity to target fish that other anglers are missing. Effective spring topwater strategies differ from summer and fall approaches, though, with the fish typically unlikely to chase lures or attack baits that are extra loud or aggressive. Let’s dig into three strategies that can give you a head start on great topwater bass fishing action.

Waking ‘Em Up

Bomber Long A Smallmouth BassBomber Long A Smallmouth Bass

From mid-spring through early summer, when bass are starting to pay attention to forage on or near the surface but sometime aren’t aggressiveness to attack traditional topwater lures, one of the best ways to call up fish and prompt attacks is to fish a shallow-diving lure AT the surface, but not quite ON the surface, so it creates a bulge on top and pushes out a V-shaped wake.

Baits designed specifically for waking include plump lures that have a traditional crankbait design, such as a Bomber Shallow A, and minnow-shaped baits like the Bomber Jointed Wake Minnow. Early in the year, though, some of the best baits for waking are minnows designed to be shallow divers that need to be fished slowly with the rod held high to make them wake, adding a measure of finesse to the presentation.

Arguably the two best early season wakers are the Cotton Cordell Red Fin and a Bomber Long A in the 15A size. Many veteran bass anglers keep a few 15As tucked away for waking the surface on slick-calm days from mid-spring through late spring. The presentation is slow and completely steady, with no pauses or twitches or any other movement. The Red Fin is a little thicker bodied than the Long A and stays at the surface more readily, so it’s just a tiny bit less subtle. It offers a great representation of a gizzard shad or herring swimming close to the surface.

As a final note on waking, this approach isn’t completely reserved for hard baits. While mostly associated with minnow baits or plump crankbaits, waking can also be accomplished with a single Colorado spinnerbait. When the water is stained – even dirty – holding the rod high and swimming a big thumper spinnerbaits at a speed that makes the blade bulge the surface can prompt explosive attacks this time of year.

Pinpointing Targets

Devil's Horse largemouth bassDevil's Horse largemouth bass

Often bass that are unwilling to exert the effort to chase a walking bait or other plug that is scurrying across the top still cannot resist an offering that shows up directly overhead and does the right sort of dance without moving far away. This is why the Devil’s Horse gets used 12 months a year in Florida. We don’t all get to enjoy year-round topwater opportunities, but the same concept applies in most places well before the traditional topwater season hits full stride.

The Devil’s Horse excels as a target-oriented topwater bait for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to engage enticing topwater action without moving the lure far horizontally, allowing you to keep it very close to a stump or stick-up, where a bass is apt to be. Closely related, the action, sound and splash are distinctive but subtle. Finally, it’s an easy bait to land quietly when you cast so it’s suddenly just there, in the fish’s ambush zone.

Target topwater fishing can come into play anytime the bass are shallow and holding tight to specific targets. That might be piece of cover, like a cypress knee; a distinctive spot like a point or cut along a grass edge; or directly atop a bed that a bass is guarding or a bream bed where the fish guarding the beds become the primary menu items.

With this approach, there is no working a lure back. Cast or pitch to a specific spot, let the bait rest a bit, and make occasional twitches until then bait is a few feet from the target. At that point, reel the lure back in and either try the same target again or move to the next one.

A Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad provides a good alternative to a Devil’s Horse for a similar action but a more compact profile. For a similar presentation with a pop, instead of the splash of a turning blade, a Rebel Pop-R or BOOYAH Boss Pop performs well. Both are available in highly transparent colors, which leads to the third strategy.

Getting Ghosty 

Clear Pop-RClear Pop-R

On bluebird days after spring cold fronts and in extra clear water, bass sometimes will push enough baitfish to the surface to show that they are “feeding upward,” but they won’t quite commit to most topwater lures. One of the best ways to coax strikes under those conditions is by getting ghostly with your lure color – or, more accurately, with your lack of lure color.

Clear and mostly clear topwater lures create a distinctive appeal when water color, sky color and click conditions maximize visibility and make fish fussy. There’s no getting in a bass’ head to definitively say why, but it seems like seeing and hearing splashy topwater movements but seeing only glimpses of the lure triggers something irresistible.

This strategy actually remains effective throughout summer and fall when conditions make the bite tough. However, it’s vital during spring and therefore worth noting now.

In addition to completely clear lures, many patterns that are translucent but painted to suggest baitfish have similar appeals when conditions aren’t quite as extreme.

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