Topwater fishing is fun. Poppers are a great topwater bait in certain situations.

There’s no more exciting way to catch fish.

Sure, any fish brought to hand is fun. But reeling one in that’s hit on a topwater lure, well, that’s just special.

That’s especially true when it comes to largemouth and smallmouth bass. They don’t just eat baits on the surface; more often than not, they explode on them in dramatic fashion.

Once the water tops 55 degrees or so in spring – and we’re long past that now – and so long as it stays above that going into fall, bass actively hit topwater lures.

Some topwter lures are soft plastic; think of your frog imitations. Others are hard-bodied. Some look very much like something that might be swimming, down to the finest details. Others don’t mimic anything in particular.

All will catch fish at times.

Fish see the lures and think they’re food. And, with no hands, the only way they can confirm that is to attack and swallow the baits.

They do it fast and furious, lest it get away.

Which style topwater to fish when, though, depends on a few things.

Weedless varieties are best around vegetation. Pair them with heavy gear – braid line up to 40-pound test isn’t too much if you’ll be horsing fish out of heavy weeds.

Big baits often catch the largest fish in these situations.

Hard-bodied topwaters – everything from Jitterbugs to Torpeedos to One Knocker Spooks – typically feature lots of treble hooks. Fishing them right in the thickest grass and wood is a recipe for constantly hanging up.

Instead, fish them near and over shallow rock piles, weed beds, brush piles and docks. Fish congregate around such spots most under low light conditions, so fish early and late in the day or when it’s overcast.

You can get away with lighter gear then. Braid, paired with a monofilament leader, in the 12- to 20-pound range, is usually enough.

In most cases, topwater baits are best fished slow. Cast, let the lure hit the water and settle – sometimes until any rings on the water disappear – then bring the lure back in a zig-zag pattern. Or move it just fast enough so that it chugs along, creating a fish-attracting disturbance.

Do that until it’s no longer working, anyway.

Then – what have you got to lose – speed up the retrieve. Sometimes that gets a reaction bite even when the fish aren’t actively feeding.

As for size, fish smaller topwwater lures early in the year and larger ones later, to imitate the size of growing baitfish.

Finally, when it comes to setting the hook, give the fish an extra half second or so to swallow the bait. As this video shows, a bass that attacks a bait often needs a second to move the bait around in its mouth so as to eat what it thinks is food.

Do a countdown of three or so and then let him have it. As one pro angler told me once, you almost have to shut your eyes and strike not when you see the fish explode, but when you feel his weight on the line.

Topwater fishing will test your nerves. But man is it fun.

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See also: Largemouth bass are the fish of summer