Nothing beats the thrill of a topwater bite and you won’t find many anglers who disagree. After all, who doesn’t love the surge of adrenaline when a bass blows up on a popper as it bubbles across the water? It’s excitement unmatched by any other bass fishing technique, so it’s no wonder anglers are always looking for the best time to break out the topwater gear.
While we get the enthusiasm, not every day is a good topwater day. But of course, that’s why you are here. Through plenty of failures and lots of advice from more experienced anglers, we have finally dialed in our timing. Now we want to share that with you. Don’t miss your window on the best action with topwater baits!
The importance of water temperature
It’s pretty tough to start off any discussion of topwater without addressing the importance of water temperature. As cold blooded creatures, bass have metabolisms highly influenced by their environment.
In other words, cold water equals more sluggish feeding and warmer water leads to an aggressive search for food (with exceptions of course). As an obvious result, the topwater bite really kicks off as winter releases its grip. Once things warm up, it pushes baitfish and other prey into shallow surface waters.
But what’s that magic number? At what temperature do bass depart the depths and start to erupt on the surface with their gapping mouths?
Well, like most things, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Depending on your region, topwater action kicks off when water temperatures reach the low to mid-50s in early spring. Topwater really ramps up in the 60-65°F range and persists through late spawn when the water is well into the 70s. However, bass continue to hit topwater in water over 80°F.
Based on that answer alone, you can throw topwater baits spring through fall. Although, you should probably temper your expectations during early spring, late fall and the heat of summer.
For us, 62-65°F is that magic number when topwater season for large and smallmouth bass is in full swing. In our neck of the woods, that is mid to late spring.
Topwater through the seasons
At any given time of the year, there is a bass fisherman in some part of the country coaxing big bass to strike a topwater bait. Without a doubt, you can pursue surface strikes all year. However, certain seasons are more productive than others for producing consistent topwater bites. Let’s see what each season has to offer.
Early spring brings forth a burst of life in most bodies of water. Everything from frogs, mice and baby ducks to aquatic insects and minnows balloon in numbers. All this food means bass ramp up their appetite. But it also means they have a big menu to choose from. This makes it tricky to find aggressive bass willing to work a little harder for your topwater offering.
As spring progresses, fully fueled bass set their sights on larger prey and that is when topwater action starts taking shape. It just so happens that this occurs in the 62°-65°F water temperature range. Now is the time bass have the energy to spend on pursuing topwater baits. Plus, they have the added motivation of preparing for the spawn.
Pre-spawn bass need ample food to prepare for nesting, laying eggs and guarding against predators so this is your best shot at enticing them to break the surface.
Spawning bass cling to their beds but they’re also fiercely protective. Take a slower approach with your topwater baits. Use minnow style lures and pop them slowly. Quivering them in place for 5 or 6 second (sometimes longer) is what it takes to trigger their protective instinct to strike.
Once the spawn is over, bass need food for recovery. Lots of food. They are on the hunt and big splashy topwater baits really get their attention. By now, water temperatures are in the 70’s or 80’s (depending on your region) which means you’ll want to target pockets of cover that provide ample shade for bass. Think docks, logs and lily pads.
Water in the 70-80 degree range is still likely to produce good topwater action throughout the day if you toss the right baits. Especially, on overcast days. However, as summer wears on and the water gets warmer, your topwater itch is best scratched early in the morning or just as the sun is setting.
There might be some point when temperatures rise just a bit too much and the topwater bite is a fool’s errand. Not saying you can’t work a frog through the weeds and pads with success. Just know when to call it quits and switch to more productive tactics.
Fall is certainly a welcome reprieve after long, hot days for both you and the bass. This means you can fish more and the bass feed longer too. It’s been our experience that the first few weeks of fall is one of the best times for topwater. Water temperatures are dropping, the aquatic ecosystem is still in full gear and everything is on the move looking to capitalize on another feast before winter takes hold.
Mornings and evenings in early fall are still the best times to work topwater baits. However, there is usually a short window after the first few weeks of fall when topwater baits are irresistible to bass all day long.
Fall is also a great time to throw a variety of topwater lures. Frogs still produce around weeds, lily pads and woody structure. Spooks are still killer over rocky points or around docks. And a popper is hard to ignore in almost every situation.
You might be tempted to put your boat away for the winter but don’t miss the fall bite. Especially, if you want one more fast action topwater fix.
In most regions, late fall and early winter is going to be your last chance for tracking down a worthwhile topwater bite. Bass really stop responding to prey in the upper water column when water temperatures dip below 50°F.
With that said, there are certain situations where a topwater bite could flare up. But our timing is seldom good enough to take advantage of those small windows. Bass fishing pros talk a lot about warming trends followed by a cold snap, barometric changes and finding the one lake where all that creates a topwater frenzy. However, the average angler is going to struggle finding those opportunities.
Honestly, bass in most water systems start associating to the bottom once water temperatures drop below 48-50°F. So unless you are truly committed to topwater action, consider switching tactics and saving your topwater tackle for spring.
Best time of day to break out topwater lures
Most anglers would love to know the exact time to target bass with topwater lures each day. Unfortunately, there are only generalities and almost no hard fast rules on timing. So, we can only offer you a rule of thumb.
The best time of day for topwater bass fishing depends on the season. Throughout spring, topwater can be effective all day. Once temperatures rise by late spring and throughout summer, topwater fishing is better before mid-morning and picks up again an hour or two before sunset. Cooler fall days often provide all day topwater action.
Night time topwater action
Not everyone has the stamina (or work schedule) conducive to night fishing. But for those who stick it out, night time topwater bass fishing can be off-the-charts good.
The topwater night bite is at its prime during hot summer days. Oppressive heat and blazing rays force bass to seek refuge in dense cover or deeper water. Once the sun goes down, dinner still needs to be served so bass go on the hunt in their shallow feeding grounds.
Without light from the sun, bass rely on all their senses to chase down prey. Topwater lures like poppers, hollow bodied frogs, spooks and buzzbaits make enough disturbance on the surface to help bass zero in on the target.
Focus your efforts in all the usual places you would during the spring time day bite. Work your bait near grass lines, weed beds and downed trees but pay particularly close attention to docks. Especially, those with lights. Dock lights attract zooplankton which draw in baitfish and therefore attract hungry bass looking to score an easy nighttime meal.
Top water tactics for any weather
We’d be lying if we said we aren’t fair weather anglers. If you want to go fishing, you just have to go and that sometimes means fishing in less than ideal weather. Just because the day isn’t 72° and sunny with a gentle breeze, doesn’t mean topwater bass fishing is a bust. In fact, some of the best topwater action happens in less than ideal conditions.
Windy days are one of the biggest challenges for anglers looking to throw topwater baits. Rough chop thwarts the natural action of many topwater lures. Not to mention the frustration of boat positioning and casting in stiff winds.
However, somewhere on the lake there is a spot where wind doesn’t discourage bass from slamming surface lures. Look for sheltered areas where largemouth might be situated around docks or lily pads. Try fishing leeward points and protected bays that block the wind.
Better yet, don’t shy away from the wind at all because wind doesn’t always kill the bite. Choppy conditions can actually concentrate baitfish along windward points, shorelines and around shallow weed beds. Get noticed in the surface chop with baits that ride high in the water. Walk-the-dog baits like Super Spooks or the Lucky Craft Gunfish are top performers for pro anglers.
Rain and clouds
Sitting in a boat getting rained on isn’t exactly at the top of our to-do list but a summer rain has the potential for other worldly action.
When clouds block the sun and raindrops disturb the surface, bass feel more at ease roaming for an easy meal and often crush topwater baits. Plus, unlike hot sunny days, largemouth and smallmouth respond all day long to surface baits when clouds darken the skies.
The key to taking advantage of rainy topwater bites is staying comfortable. Get good rain gear and come prepared so you don’t call it quits when things are just ramping up.
Casting topwater lures on sunny days can feel discouraging. Especially, during the mid-day heat. When the sun is high, bass typically seek out protection from the intense rays. But that doesn’t mean you have to swap out the topwater rod for a worm rod.
Obviously, early mornings and late evenings on those sun-filled days are key times to capitalize on upward feeding bass. Work a popper near docks or rip a buzzbait along grass lines in the morning and break out the spook or prop bait to mimic baitfish that school in the evenings.
But what about during mid-day sun? That’s when we like to pitch frogs in the thick stuff. Matted vegetation and lily pads are promising spots. Don’t pass up shaded docks or woody structure either. Poppers are a good choice for just such a spot. Bites may be few and far between but a mid-day bass could be the biggest catch of the day.
We can’t think of a better way to catch smallmouth or largemouth bass than with topwater baits. It’s challenging for sure but well worth the effort required. We make no claims that our experience is going to be applicable on every lake though. At least you have a better idea of the theory and can put some topwater tactics to use. Go and master topwater bass fishing on your local lakes!
Need some more bass fishing know how? Check out some of our other articles.