By Larry Dablemont
Most reservoir bass fishermen fish deep in the summer, trying to lure a lunker by bouncing jigs over ledges and rocks. But if you want to fish a topwater lure, there are places and ways to do it even in the heat of the summer. It's easiest when you can concentrate your efforts toward those waters where bass can be found in six or eight feet of water or less.
In large lakes, where low oxygen levels and water temperatures force bass deep, you'll be wasting your time fishing topwater lures, unless you find schools of bass herding shad to the surface, or fish before sunrise or after sunset. Some lakes have a lot of schooling bass activity during the heat of the summer, but they are usually not very large fish, and they don't stay on top very long. Often, bass are found in tributaries leading into the lakes, where there is inflowing cooler water, and higher oxygen levels. To get up into those tributaries, and fish some fairly small holes, you may need a boat and motor you can pull over a shoal every now and then. Some of the holes are deep and clear, but after dark in the mid to late summer, bass in those waters become very aggressive.
Smaller, shallower lakes hold bass which are entirely different in habit that those in big deep Ozark lakes. A private lake or pond large enough to launch a small boat can provide great topwater fishing at night, especially if it is spring fed.
But perhaps the best topwater fishing is found on Ozark rivers which become fairly clear in the summer and yet maintain some current; and that includes rivers all over the Ozarks, in north and west Arkansas and southern Missouri. I've caught bass after dark in dozens of small streams, and there's one nighttime topwater lure that I have caught more largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass with than all others—the jitterbug. Jitterbugs are easy to fish, you crank them back with a slow, steady retrieve producing that bloop, bloop, bloop action on top. When bass hit them after dark, you hear it, then feel it.
Two years ago in late summer, a friend and I flew into a small Ontario lake and camped for one night to see if Canadian bass would hit a jitterbug. In that area, largemouth peak at just a little under seven pounds. We found that they were suckers for a jitterbug, even before it got dark. The first bass, about 4 pounds, engulfed a jitterbug at 7:30 p.m. It didn't get dark until about 11 pm., but when it did, the action just got hotter. We caught dozens and dozens of bass on topwater lures, and almost all ranged from three pounds up to six. Big bass continued to nail the jitterbugs until 8:00 the next morning.
In most large Ozark reservoirs in late summer white bass or stripers will begin surfacing chasing shad and provide great topwater fishing. You can find them on days when the water is calm and shad are massing. They go on summer feeding frenzies and push shad to the surface on and off for hours at a time. Anglers who find this happening need to have lures they can cast for distance, because you can spook these fish with a wake or motor trying to get close. When you find surfacing summer fish, whether its blacks, whites, or stripers, you may find enough action to make your arms tired. But it should be pointed out that it takes more luck than knowledge to find them at times.
One of the best topwater lures for deeper water, or for surfacing blacks, whites, or stripers, is the Zara spook. It's a fairly old lure and it isn't easy to use. But a Zara spook is large and easy to cast. It is most effective for bass when it is slowly jiggled and walked, to cover as little distance as possible with the greatest amount of disturbance on the surface. Anyone can learn to use the lure with some work, but spook-fishing can indeed get into some work.
You may have some topwater lure in your tackle box that will produce great results in a certain body of water at a certain time. The only way to find out is to go out and try it. There are few methods of fishing that are easier to do than topwater fishing. But sometimes the best time to fish a topwater lure is when it is the hardest to see....at night.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.