I’m a little late in saying this. In fact, I should have done this column in early May. Luckily, the message is still true.
It’s topwater time, and that’s one of my favorite times of the entire bass fishing year — which for me stretches out to 12 months and 366 days (at least when it’s a leap year).
Maybe you already knew it was a good time to throw topwater baits, but have you considered why this is such a good time for it? The bass may not be talking, but I have my theories.
First of all, the fish are “feeding up” at this time of year. The bass fry that the males were guarding are now food, and they’re up in the water column. So are the shad.
For another thing, now that the spawn is over in most parts of the country, the bass are starting to school up. When that happens, they start to feed more on shad and pelagic baitfish. All that makes it a great time to throw a topwater bait.
My favorite topwater bait right now is the Berkley J-Walker 120 in bone. It’s my all-time favorite walking bait and it gets about 75 percent of my topwater work at this time of year. I love that it has three trebles for better hook-up percentages and a bass-attracting rattle to help it get noticed.
The other 25 percent of my topwater fishing now goes to the Berkley Cane Walker in the same color. I use the Cane Walker when the water is really choppy. It’s a pencil popper, so you can fish it hard, make a lot of noise and do so without moving it very far. Those are important qualities in rougher water.
With either the J-Walker or the Cane Walker, the retrieve is basically the same. After a long cast, I want to have a little slack in my line before twitching the rod tip. You want to move the lure with the rod — not the reel — and you want to feel the momentary tension of the bait only at the very end of your twitch. The slack in your line allows the bait to redirect and gives it the zig-zag walk-the-dog movement that make this bait style so effective.
You might be surprised to learn that I fish these topwaters on 50-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Hyper Braid 8 in green — not monofilament, and I don’t use a monofilament leader. There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, I can make a long cast with braid — even 50-pound-test — so I can cover a lot of water and get my bait away from the boat which can be important in clear water, on calm days or when you see schooling fish and need a long cast to reach them.
Second, I get a really good hookset with braid. If I were to use monofilament, there would be so much stretch at the end of a long cast that I might not get any hook penetration at all. And fluorocarbon line sinks, making it a poor choice for floating topwater baits.
I like fishing the J-Walker on a 6-foot-9 medium action Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature casting rod and Johnny Morris Platinum Signature casting reel with an 8.3:1 gear ratio. For the Cane Walker, everything is the same except the rod action. For that bigger bait, I like a medium-heavy rod of the same length.
You’ll always find one or both of these baits tied up and ready to go in my boat at this time of year…and I don’t need to see any feeding or surface activity on top to start throwing them. I’m usually going to pick them up first and start casting, no matter what.
I can do that with confidence because these baits at this time of year are going to be great for both numbers of bass and big bass. I’ll fish them on main lake and secondary points, around cover near deep water, next to boat docks and in boat slips, really just everywhere you’d expect to find feeding bass in warm weather.
If there’s a secret to catching more fish on this pattern, it would be to wait a beat after the strike before you set the hook. Of course, that’s really hard to do, and I screw it up myself sometimes. Topwater strikes can be explosive, and your instinct is to set the hook just as soon as you see the strike, but if you can wait a beat, you’ll hook a lot more fish.
My other tip would be to stick with this pattern. It’s not just for early or late or when you see schoolers. I’ll throw these baits all day, even in muddy water. And I’ll throw them over 10 or 20 feet of water if the water’s clear. I’ll throw them where other guys are throwing a crankbait or a football jig.
And they work because the bass are feeding up, and they’re aggressive!