Topwater Bass Lures
Some of the oldest lure designs are still among the best baits of all time.
By Gibbs Milliken
As inland waters warm up, so do the bass. They can’t resist the splash, erratic movement, rattle and flash of floating baits. No serious angler should be without a selection of proven surface plugs.
Stick baits: James Heddon is recognized as the creator of the first commercial fishing lure. His hand-carved floater that sent ripples across a Michigan millpond in 1894 has been used with amazing results since production started in 1902. The original design had two dangling treble hooks and a metal collar for surface action. Now more sophisticated and durable styles with loud rattles like the Heddon Super Spook and Zara Spook use the same walk-the-dog side-to-side retrieve to bring aggressive strikes from predator fish waiting in ambush. ($5.74, Super Spook. $5.74, Zara Spook, Pradco, 479-782-8971, www.lurenet.com)
Jointed baits: An-other old U.S. lure company makes the unique Creek Chub Knuckle-Head. Sturdily built and weighted for long casts, this large two-section topwater puts on a great wiggle show for big hybrid stripers and largemouth bass. ($7.99, Knuckle-Head, Bass Pro, 800-227-7776, www.basspro.com)
Propeller baits: Floating lures equipped with spinning blades in the front and rear chop the surface, simulating a baitfish in distress. One of the best of these lures is the Smithwick Devil’s Horse, a sleek design of wood and metal that has been a consistent fish-catcher for more than 50 years. ($5.16, Devil’s Horse, Pradco)
Poppers and chuggers: Very popular are lures that have blunt or scoop-shaped faces. When jerked, they make audible sounds and spit water for attraction. These noisy lures seldom fail to get the attention of lunker bass. Perhaps the most famous is the Hula Popper, designed by Fred Arbogast some 60 years ago. The hula name derives from the replaceable rubber shimmy-skirt that is available in an assortment of colors. Another Arbogast classic from the 1940s is the Jitterbug chugger plug with wide scoops extending out on either side of the head for a side-to-side movement and gurgling water. It is one of the very best night-fishing bass lures to date and comes in a wide assortment of colors and sizes. ($5.39, Hula Popper, $5.39, Jitterbug, Pradco)
More modern designs include the Rebel Pop-R, which is made in three sizes and considered by many pros to be their go-to topwater of choice. Also good is the Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bug, a combination stick bait and popper that features a big eye ending in a flashy Mylar fly-style teaser treble hook. ($5.74, Pop-R, Rebel Lures, Pradco. $4.29, Chug Bug, Bass Pro Shops)
Weedless soft plugs: The latest development in lure technology is the Berkley Bat Wing Gulp Frog, in the form of a snagless floater that has a hidden hook in a soft scent-treated body. This biodegradable bait can be slowly maneuvered through thick weed beds and lily pads to reach bass hidden in thick cover. ($5.49, Gulp Frog, Berkley, 877-777-3850, www.purefishing.com)
Twitch baits: Last, but certainly not least, is the Original Floating Rapala Minnow. No one has yet to equal the seductive look and natural wobbling action of this life-like balsa wood plug with a silver foil coating. In clear small streams and ponds, it is a great choice when twitched slowly across the water like an injured silver minnow. ($4.79, Rapala Minnow, Normark, 800-874-4451, www.rapala.com)
Other recent innovations in surface lures are the addition of internal rattles, spray-on scents and holographic coatings. In many cases, body materials have changed from hand-assembled painted wood to mass-produced molded plastics with bright reflective finishes. Old or new, these classic designs are certain to tempt bass into explosive surface strikes.