Most top-water baits float on the surface and are given action by the fisherman. They look like small struggling bugs, frogs, or injured baitfish trying to swim away. These baits have a variety of actions from popping and chugging in the water to churning it with spinners. Top-water baits offer heart-stopping action when a fish smashes them where you can see and hear the strike. Many kinds of fish in fresh and salt water will hit top-water lures.
Chuggers and Poppers
Baits that chug and pop have a concave face and float on top of the water. When you pull the line they gurgle, pop, and chug in the water. You can work them slow with little gurgles like a dying critter that's an easy meal, or you can work them fast, jerking your rod tip and making them chug along like a fish chasing bait. Both actions will draw viscous strikes from any kind of fish that feeds on smaller fish or other creatures.
Throw a popper beside a stump in a pond, let it settle for a few seconds, then twitch your rod tip to make it gurgle. Hang on! That's when a bass is likely to smash it. Throw a pencil popper near a school of bluefish and jerk it hard and fast. It usually won't go far before a blue tries to jerk the rod out of your hand. In both cases you're attracting the fish with action on top, and when they come to check it out they see something that looks like an easy meal.
Most top-water plugs have light bellies and dark backs. Often they have some kind of pattern on the back but that's not what the fish sees. The bottom of the plug is usually the only part the fish sees so the top color is more for the fisherman.
Some top-water plugs have a propeller type spinner on one or both ends of a cigar-shaped body. When you twitch them they churn the water and make a swishing sound, which attracts the fish. If you use a plug with the spinner up front, tie the line in front of the spinner so it doesn't interfere with the action.
These plugs can be an inch or so long with one tail spinner, or up to several inches long with spinners on both ends. The baits with one tail spinner tend to sit with the tail down in the water so the spinner gets a good bite. Those with a spinner on each end tend to float flat so both spinners can work. Plugs with spinners seem to work better in calm water.
A different kind of spinner top-water bait is a buzz bait. It looks like a spinner bait but has a big wedge-shaped blade that is cupped on the ends. When you reel it the bait comes to the surface and churns along, leaving a trail of bubbles. It's one of the few top-water baits that sink at rest. Buzz baits must be reeled constantly to make them work right. A flat head helps keep them on top and you want to move them as slowly as possible while keeping them on top and moving.
Darters are hard cigar-shaped plugs that float at rest. They have no action at all if you just reel them in, so you must jerk the rod tip to make them move. It takes some practice but you can learn to “walk the dog” with these plugs. When you jerk the bait the nose darts to one side. When you jerk it again it darts the other way. With practice you can make the plug jump from side to side without moving forward much.
To walk the dog with a top-water darter plug you must fish it on a slack line. Leave some slack in the line and jerk the bait, then immediately move your rod tip back toward the bait to give it slack so it can move.
These baits are excellent for big bass and for fishing open water. If blueback herring are present in a lake, darters will catch fish consistently because they make a sound and have action like bass chasing schooling blueback herring on the surface. Although some of the darters are small, most are up to seven inches long.
What knot should I use with top-water plugs?
A loop knot is best on all top water plugs. It allows them to move and have better action. If you don't use a loop knot, use a split ring or snap with them.