By Mark Fike
One of my earliest memories of both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass included boiling water, an explosion of water and my poor young heart trying its best to throb its way out of my chest.
My dad was big on fishing at night when I was young. One of those trips we took was to a local river that ran through town. Fishing at night got us away from most of the crowd because the river was largely uninhabited at night during those days and the catfishing was great.
Having just finished reading an article about topwater fishing at night in an old issue of Outdoor Life, I decided that I would try the methods in the article. As the night wore on and the catfishing became slow, I tied an old, battered Jitterbug the shade of night on the end of my line.
We were set up on a pool that formed in the river just above a bridge upstream of the tiny island we had waded to. There was a calm slick of water upriver of where I was sitting on a sandy stretch of beach.
Into the night I whipped my lure and I listened intently for the splash of the old “Bug” to touch down. It did and I counted to five before tugging on the lure to create the jitter in the bug. In the moonlight, I could just barely make out the ripples it made after I twitched it. I was sorely unprepared for what happened next. The water exploded, my line grew tight and the rod lurched out of my hand.
Dad yelled over to me to ask what was going on and I was busy cranking the old cheap combination spinning setup for all it or I was worth. When the smallie was beached, it was a beauty at just under four pounds. First cast, first twitch and first fish on topwater!
Having become a little less green after that night fishing adventure I was SOLD on the topwater bait and carried it and several back-up lures with me everywhere I fished.
Topwater lures offer anglers a chance to see the fish take the bait. The strike is very often explosive but sometimes it is on the sly too. Just a few weeks ago I was fishing a Mann’s Phat Rat in a pond when the lure suddenly just disappeared. There was not a splash or ripple. It just was gone. Cautiously I took up slack and then attempted to set the hook as I stood up to see what was going on. Where my lure had been was a soft but very large swirl of water much like you would see in a big drainpipe. It reminded me of a whirlpool.
The fish had simply sucked the Phat Rat straight down and made it disappear. Alas, I never got the fish to the boat but I did get a good look at it. To say it made six pounds would be very conservative. I suspect the light action rod had me severely undergunned for the fight but it sure was fun! That night I took a number of very respectable bass.
A word of warning though, of the hundreds of fish I have caught on topwater, most are explosive when they hit. I NEVER get used to the strikes being so violent. There are times when I know the strike is coming and I still anticipate, and still my heart pounds uncontrollably.
It is embarrassing for me at times because I get into the fishing so much that I forget that others are around. These days people are often using social media and never hesitate to post something they see that makes them laugh. I am very good material for social media posts when I get a topwater strike. I never knew I was so animated until my daughter’s friend filmed me one day carrying on and on. I had to pay her good money to NOT post the video.
I jumped and I laughed. Then I bellowed as I fought the seven-pound fish to the bank through the lily pads. When I hefted it out of the water, I smiled really big which I rarely do and then I thought about kissing that fish. All of this was filmed I am told. My heart went cold when I realized a cell phone was pointed at me the whole time. Laugh…
If you like to laugh, have fun and catch fish, give topwater a go. But if your heart is a bit on the weak side, I advise you to at least take someone else along. I can easily see a heart attack on the horizon for an angler who leaves this world with a grin on his or her face and a fishing rod in his or her hands that has to be pried out.
Some topwater such as the Phat Rat mentioned above or Scum Frogs or Pad Crushers can be used in dense cover. There are other weedless lures that many companies make that work well. Mann’s also makes a Hard Nose Toad that is very effective.
Other time-honored and traditional topwater baits remain deadly. Some of my favorites include the Jitterbug, Hula Popper, Pop-R and Tiny Torpedo.
One fairly new topwater bait that has come out in the last few years is the Creek Chub Knuckle-Head Jr. This newer lure is a killer plug on feeding bass, stripers, and blues.