Top water lures from past to present

Many of us remember the little fold up card that came in the box with a Hula Popper that described the correct way to fish that lure. It told us to wait until the rings disappeared and pop the bait, wait for the rings to disappear and pop the bait...however effective this was, top water fishing has made huge advances from this technique. For many bass anglers their first experience with a top water lure is a ferocious top water bass breaking the calm of an early morning outing. Many of these experiences found a bait tied on the end of the line that held a prize spot in the top tray of Dad or Grandpa’s tackle box, baits like the Hula-Popper or the Jitterbug finished in the usual frog pattern or maybe it was the Lucky 13 or a Cisco Kid. Each of these old baits probably bring back a fond memory of fishing trips of old or maybe a teacher that you no longer have the chance to share a boat with. No matter what these old baits do for you one thing for sure is they were the beginning of a technique that is showing no signs of slowing down.

Top water fishing is alive and well and still one of the techniques that professional anglers rely on several months out of the year. Gone are the days where an angler carries only one or two top water lures in his tackle box, today’s bass anglers have multiple tackle boxes just for top water lures. It was in the early 1980’s when Arizona pro Greg Hines won the first U.S. Open bass tournament on a Heddon Zara Spook. This forgotten lure was pushed into the winner’s circle and has stayed there for the past 20 years. The Zara Spook is a long cigar shaped bait that imitates a feeding bait fish on the surface, by gently twitching the rod tip you can work the bait in a back and forth motion referred to as "walking the dog". Many advances have joined the original Zara Spook like the new Super Spook an oversized rattling version of the original Zara Spook and smaller versions like the Spook Jr., Zara Puppy and Zara Pooch. The one thing that I do to many of my top water including the Zara Spook is swap out the factory hooks with oversized Gamakatsu treble hooks. These larger hooks increase the catch ratio and do not effect the action of the bait.

Other walking top water lures that have gained notoriety are a long list of baits from Japan. The Japanese produced lures have an asking price often between $20 - $40. These works of art are a far cry from the original patterns like frog and coachdog. The new baits from Japan are hand painted works of art with individual scales, eyes and even gills painted on these lifelike looking baits. One other thing you will find on the newer plugs from the East is super sharp treble hooks. These walking lures are usually at their best when the fish are chasing schools of baitfish out in open water and off of long points and island tops. Fished on 12-15 pound mono line and a medium action bait casting is the ideal setup of these baits.

Joining the Zara Spook in the re-born bait category is the Rebel Pop-R. This bait was on the discontinued list until tournament pro’s started winning events and letting the cat out of the bag. The Pop-R was reintroduced and also joined by several Japanese cousins like the Michael and the Rico. The Rico was one of the original "high dollar" top water lures from Japan and in the early days it sold at tournaments for over $50. Lobina lures imported only a few colors of the first baits in 1991 and today offer several styles in over 20 colors. The Orient lures feature fine tuned bodies and lifelike color patterns. Fishing with the poppers can be one of the most exciting strikes you will ever have. The action on the baits is usually a cadence keeping the bait moving and looking like an injured baitfish.

There are several anglers that have gone to fishing multiple top water lures on the same line. This technique called a front runner calls for a small single hooked lure tied on the line 12" to 18" above another top water lure giving the appearance that a smaller baitfish is being chased by another smaller fish. Multiple hook ups are common with schooling fish with this rig but you will need an experienced net person on board. Many of the multiple hook ups come after a fish has been hooked on one of the lures and another schooling bass tries to take it away.

The vast styles of surface lures other than the hard plugs like the Zara Spook and the Pop R include Buzzbaits, Frogs and weightless plastics. The Buzzbait has been around since the early seventies when anglers changed the aluminum blade on a spinnerbait causing the bait to run on the surface with skirted hook hanging down just under the surface. The Buzzbait is often an alternative when the cover is thicker such as grass, pads, trees or bushes, it can be fished fairly weed less and will allow you to fish in cover where your treble hook lures will not work. The ideal set-up for the buzzbait is fishing it on 15-25 pound test mono or 30 lb. braided line. The heavy line along with a medium heavy casting rod will allow you to pull fish out of heavy cover.

Frog fishing or it’s cousin The Rat opened up the opportunity to catch bass out of the heaviest cover imaginable like surface moss patches, pads or aquatic vegetation. The heavier cover allows the bass to seek shade in the heat of the summer and also gives them an ambush place on anything that crawls on top of the flooded grass. The frog can be one of the most frustrating lures that anglers can fish as many of the strikes in the heavy cover are missed or the fish misses the bait as it strikes through the weeds. These baits are hollow plastic bodies with large, heavy hooks riding upright in the bait allowing it to be weed less. Most of the frog experts around the country fish this bait on 50 to 80 pound braided line and a heavy 7’6 to 8’ foot casting rod (a flipping stick works well)

The weightless plastic baits like the new cut tail Trixie Shad from Reaction Innovations have been slowly accepted by anglers looking to fish a weedless bait in and around heavy cover. The Trixie Shad looks like a small minnow with a U shaped hook tail that flops back and forth on the surface when the bait is reeled just under the surface. The Trixie Shad is best fished with a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG Super Line hook and braided line. The strike on this bait at times will be one of the most vicious topwater bites you have ever had. The Trixie Shad comes in several colors with the shad and white colors being among my favorites.

No matter what lure you are using or what pattern you are fishing the strike of a bass on the surface is still one of the most exciting ways to catch a fish. If the top tray in your tackle box doesn’t include several or all of these different types of top water lures it needs to. These baits will allow you to fish open water, cover and the thickest possible grass beds.

How do the old baits like the Hula Popper and Jitterbug stack up to the newest baits available today? They still work and still put fish in the boat, if you haven’t used one lately you might tie one on the next time you head out if for no other reason than bringing back great memories of days gone bye.