No thrill in angling can match that of a hungry bass chomping down on a surface lure the size of a rat. But finding such aggressively-feeding fish is unfortunately the exception rather than the rule. When bass are in a finicky, skittish mood or not aggressively feeding, jumbo surface lures often fail miserably.
More than once I've cast to a prime shallow water target and seen the v-wake of a huge bass fleeing the splash where my topwater bait landed with a "plunk." Not only did the chunky lure not draw a strike, it spooked the fish.
This wariness is especially prevalent on hard-pressured waters, clear lakes and after a cold front pushes through, making bass sluggish and lethargic. It's also often common in summer, when young-of-the-year baitfish are the dominant forage available to the bass.
Largemouth fishermen have learned the value of turning to quieter, smaller offerings in these situations with mini-worms, light jigs and scaled down jerk baits. But for some reason, many anglers don't carry this miniaturization over to their surface lure fishing.
That's a big mistake. Over the years I've found small models of these topwater baits are often far more productive than standard or large versions. It's happened so often that now I typically start with the smallest or next-to-smallest offering a particular topwater lure comes in.
I can scale up larger if necessary. But it usually isn't. The small offerings, I've found, typically draw more action from average fish and just as many strikes from big bass, too.
Think of it. If you're hungry and there's a Whopper on the table, you'll eat it. But if a Junior Whopper was set in front of you instead, you'd probably eat that. And if you were in a sluggish, laid-back mood, the smaller burger might actually be more appealing.
Hard-pressured lakes and super clear waters are prime locations for tiny surface lures. Situations where the available forage fish are small and insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers and mayflies are present also argue for these mini lures.
Look for situations where bass are six feet deep or less. Flats, points, shoals, shelves, vegetation edges, stumps, rocks, riprap, docks and bridge pilings are all good targets. Also watch for fish lunging after bait on the surface.
Four types of topwaters can be deadly on bass in tiny sizes. These include prop baits, stick baits, poppers and wobblers. Stock a selection of each of these in a few locally-proven color combinations.
Stick Baits: Walking the dog is the classic way to fish these baits. Just as it works with the Zara Spook, it works with smaller models such as the Puppy (3 inches) and Pooch (2 inches), as well as other companies' versions of these cigar-shaped lures.
Hold the rod tip low and pump the bait with sharp, rhythmic jerks on a slack line, allowing pauses between the jerks. Also try twitching these lures in the smaller sizes near stumps or lily pads. Finally, try a steady, smooth retrieve like a snake swimming for cover.
Prop Baits: Propellers on either one or both ends of their tapered bodies make these lures spin and gently spit water. The Heddon Tiny Torpedo is one of the oldest. The smaller Teeny Torpedo is also effective on skittish, clear-water bass.
The splash of the propeller makes these lures easy for bass to locate if wind ruffles the surface. Cast and allow them to sit until the splash dissipates, then gently twitch the plug. Wait several seconds. Repeat. If this tactic doesn't produce, try steady pumping.
Wobblers: I've caught bass on huge Jitterbugs, but for clear-water or hard-pressured bass, try the smaller, scaled-down models. They wobble just as enticingly, and won't scare off wary fish. I like them especially near flooded timber, weed beds, and at night. They're great for farm ponds.
Unlike most surface lures, these produce best when reeled back steadily to bring out the bait's enticing wobble.
Poppers: Almost all major lure companies make their versions of these lures, but the Rebel Pop R and the Hula Popper are two well-known versions. Many of these lures in their smallest sizes measure only 1-5/8 to 2 ½ inches, making them excellent choices for hard-pressured waters and clear water lakes and rivers.
These lures are exciting to fish because of the spray and blurping sound they create when you "pop" them. That can help draw fish to them when there's a slight chop on the water and some breeze.
Work them with a rhythmic, pumping retrieve to start. If that doesn't produce, try light twitching so they just make a small disturbance on the surface. This is especially useful if the wind is calm.
Tackle for Tiny Topwaters
It's hard to get needed casting distance or manipulate these lures effectively with heavy bass gear. I prefer light spinning outfits with 6-10 pound monofilament or a light baitcast outfit with 10-20 pound braided line.
Use a rod of 6-7 feet with a flexible tip, but enough stiffness in the mid-section to drive the hook home in a 6- or 7-pound bass. As a final step, since bass often take these smaller lures deep in their mouths, I like to bend barbs down on these lures to reduce the chance of injuring fish that you want to release.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.