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Over the Top for August Bass
by Scott Bonnema
What could be more fun than watching a giant largemouth explode from out of nowhere and bust a top water bait? Probably nothing; it’s what bass fishing is all about. Working top waters is as pure as it gets and why it’s a favorite technique of top professional anglers. The only downside is that it’s not always the most effective method for putting fish in the boat. On the other hand when conditions are right there’s no more exciting way to get the job done. Knowing where and when is the key, and there are some factors to look for. Good shallow cover is the most important piece of the top water puzzle and includes fields of lily pads, reed banks, stands of cane, inside weed lines, and mats of healthy weeds. Another place to look is over the top of deeper growing weeds, and is an area that is often overlooked. Where you look will depend on what’s available and its good to have options and the more likely cover you have the better. A combination of the above can be even better, like where a stand of cane lines the shoreline edge inside of a big pad field. Quite often there will be an open area between the cane and the weed edge and is a high percentage spot for finding shallow running bass. Pockets of open water in heavy pad fields and matted weeds are also high percentage spots and should never be overlooked. On the other hand don’t let a dense jungle of matted weeds fool you into thinking there’s no way bass could operate in something that thick because they definitely can. Heavy surface weeds can mask what’s actually underneath and there’s likely to be plenty of runs of open water down below. Bass can do quite well in such an environment and will cruise back and forth looking for something that has made a fatal mistake. It’s amazing how well a bigmouth can hone in on something on top and then get through all of those weeds and still nail the bait. Heavy cover calls for heavy gear and is no place to worry about finesse. Longer bait casting rods like seven and a half foot flippin’ sticks, along with heavy monofilament or braided line is the only way to go. Anything less will result in big fish hooked and lost and won’t do you or the fish any good. Where you might be able to get by with something a little lighter is over tops of the deep weed line but it still requires stiffer rods and at least ten or twelve pound test. Productive top water baits vary greatly in style and shape and what you use will be determined by where you want to throw it. Baits with exposed hooks like Skitter Pops and Skitter Props are excellent picks for working on top but require open water to be effective. They’re perfect for working open water edges like along the inside and outside edges of heavy weed growth, or over the tops of deeper growing weeds that don’t quite reach the surface. Although the baits are similar, there are some differences. For example; the Skitter Pop has a cupped face that pops and throws water when you snap the bait forward. A hot technique includes casting the bait out, letting it sit as long as you can stand it, and then working it back with a snap, snap, snap of the rod tip. It creates a lot of noise and commotion and can really turn fish on. The Skitter Prop on the other hand has a slender face, and a prop at the rear that spins and sputters and can be retrieved a couple of different ways including bringing it back at a steady pace or using a swish and stop technique. With the rod tip in the down position you can pull the lure a couple of feet and then let it set, tack up the slack and the pull it again. From there you’re in the perfect position for rearing back and setting the hook when the bait does get attacked. A hot top water lure that has been producing monster bass is the Rapala Skitter Walk. It has exposed hooks as well but is designed to be retrieved in a “walk the dog” fashion.
The technique includes casting the bait out and then working it back by snapping the rod tip down and reeling up line at the same time in a rhythmic motion. The result is a bait that works back and forth and can drive big bass nuts. Buzz baits are another good choice and are great search lures because they can be worked rather quickly allowing you to cover more water. Although they do have an exposed hook they are designed to land and run with the hook in the up position which makes them more weed resistant. They can be run close to and over lighter weeds and lily pads but become ineffective when it comes to the heaviest cover. In that case only the most weed proof baits are in order, like plastic frogs and weedless spoons. Frogs can worked with a twitch, twitch, twitch and wait technique while the spoon can worked a lot faster which can help you to eliminate water which can be particularly important when you have acres of potential shallow water cover. Weather and time of day can also effect just how productive top water baits can be and there are some peak times and conditions to look for.
Early in the morning and late in the day are the two top periods for working top waters, especially if the winds are relatively calm. Another thing to look for is steady weather, particularly towards the end of a long warming trend. In fact the period just before a cold front is expected to arrive can be exceptionally hot and is a great time to be working a fast moving top water bait. Right before a cold front arrives the bass can go absolutely crazy and the action on top can be phenomenal. As good as it might be don’t stay too long and risk your own safety. A fast approaching front can be on you before you know it and things can go bad in a matter of moments, and there is no fish worth risking your life over. The late summer period can be one of the hottest times of the year for working top water baits. Fish that had been spending the summer in deeper haunts will often show a renewed interest in shallow water and the action can be pretty intense. Sticking big bass on top can be a real adrenaline rush and is downright addicting. All it takes is the will because now you know the way.

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