In Early Summer, Early Bird Anglers Can Use Topwaters for Big Bass Action
By Lynn Burkhead
June 9, 2017
On standard summer mornings, many bass anglers start their day by reaching for a rod-and-reel that features some sort of topwater bait tied on.
That includes most Major League Fishing Pros, too, anglers who have learned the value of tossing surface oriented baits during the first couple of hours of daylight.
For MLF Pro Fletcher Shryock, the best thing about early morning topwater action is the ability to fire away, covering water in a quick and efficient manner as he tries to gain a clue for what the bass are doing on that particular day.
"On highland reservoirs like this one (Lake of the Ozarks), I just want to cover a lot of water," he said. "One of the best ways to do that is with either a (Zara) Spook or a buzzbait."
When the Ohio-based MLF pro gets into a likely area and has a couple of strikes with either one of those topwater search baits, Shryock will then slow down a bit and throw a popper-style bait.
One of the keys in his mind is to focus on high percentage targets bathed by the morning's low-light conditions, either from a lack of sunshine, a mid-morning shade line or even cloud cover that continues as the day matures.
"If it's cloudy, (topwater action) can be good (all day long)," he said.
But even if there isn't a deck of clouds obscuring the early summer sun, Shryock knows that he can milk the early morning topwater bite a bit longer than many anglers think.
And that's not to mention the fact that he often uses the early morning surface bite to pinpoint areas that he needs to probe later on with more methodical presentations like flipping a jig.
"I don't know if it's that you've got to catch them (on a topwater) by 10:00 a.m. and it's over, but it never hurts to (start off with one and to) get off to a good start (in the early morning)," Shryock said.
For MLF Pro Jacob Wheeler, the ability to cover a lot of water in the first period of competition is also a big reason he likes to toss a topwater plug.
"On reservoirs like this one (Lake of the Ozarks), a lot of times they are deep and clear and there is not a lot of cover, so the bass (tend to) roam a lot.
"So the key is to run a lot of water in a short amount of time. For me, that's running down the bank 100 mph, putting the trolling motor on 10 and just getting after it.
"Sometimes that's not going to work, but normally it is, putting a few fish in the boat."
As to what he likes to throw when covering water, Wheeler's surface choices are similar to Shryock's - walking baits, buzzbaits and topwater poppers.
"Usually, early in the day, I've got just about every kind of topwater in the box tied on," said Wheeler, who moved from the FLW Tour to the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit in 2017. "When I get into a concentration of fish, the popping bait is a great bait to (slow down with and) get numbers."
If the dim light of early morning is one time to throw a topwater bait, MLF pro Brent Chapman points out that there is another good one to consider.
And according to the Kansas pro, that's when the late spring and early summer shad spawn is taking place.
"When that's happening, topwaters are really, really good," said Chapman, who recently moved from MLF Select events on up to MLF Cup level competition. "Probably the best (lure to use) in that scenario is a either a popping bait or a walking bait."
If the surface strikes are half-hearted or an angler misses a fish on top, Chapman advises that the fish can often still be caught in a shad spawn scenario with either a squarebill crankbait and/or a spinnerbait.
The key with any of these baits is to quite literally "match the hatch," as Chapman said, in terms of both size (most early summer shad are two to three-inches in length) and color (typical shad patterns in clear, silver, white, chartreuse, light blue, etc.).
How does an angler find a shad spawn pattern to target with surface lures? For starters, Chapman focuses on rocky banks and stretches of rip-rap.
Next, he's always on the lookout for any type of nearby bird activity.
"The best way to find the shad spawn is to pay attention and look for the birds," Chapman said. "A lot of times, you'll get the herons and the white egrets, you'll see them on a certain bank and that's a dead giveaway that there is a shad spawn going on."
Chapman said that anglers will often see the birds from a distance. Once the boat is near the bank, it's usually fairly easy to see the shad flicking around as the spawn takes place.
"The key to the shad spawn is that it's an early morning deal," Chapman said. "The early bird (really does) gets the worm when it comes to the shad spawn.
That being said, Chapman notes that there is value in thinking about the shad spawn later on in the day.
Why is that? Because when he finds a few fish holding in likely areas late in the afternoon (places where the film of shad eggs is visible), the next morning can sometimes produce lights out action as the shad spawn cranks up again in earnest.
"When you have a shad spawn going on and you've caught one or two fish there, there's probably a wad of fish (hanging around) there and it's a matter of finding the right bait to capitalize on it," said Chapman, the 2012 BASS Angler of the Year.
He also notes that if the water is a bit on the dirty side early on in the summer months - especially if water levels are higher than normal - a buzzbait can be a key surface bait to try, particularly around flooded vegetation, brush and laydowns.
"Typically, when the water rises, it will scatter fish out," Chapman said. "I've found that the best way to find them and to cover water is to use either a spinnerbait or a buzzbait.
One thing that Chapman is sure to do is to put a trailer hook on either the black or the white versions of the Picasso Dinner Bell buzzbaits that he typically fishes.
"There's no doubt in my mind that over a couple of days of fishing, I'm going to catch a couple of key fish on (that) trailer hook," he said. "And that will be the difference between doing good and doing really good."
Speaking of doing really good, Wheeler used a couple of topwater baits to his advantage en route to winning his 2012 Forrest Wood Cup title, focusing on bluegill beds as he discovered them.
When Wheeler did so, he tossed either a Rapala Skitter Walk or an X-Rap prop bait to elicit some big surface strikes and to catch some key fish that helped him secure that prestigious title.
MLF Select pro Randy Howell, the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion from Alabama, is another angler who likes to toss topwaters around when the bluegills are spawning.
"It's definitely a good time to catch a big (bass) because a lot of times (in the early summer months) of the year, they are feeding on (those) bream," said Howell.
When Howell targets the lunker bass hanging around the outer edge of spawning bluegill beds, he'll usually throw a fairly good size walking bait to get their attention.
"Usually, I've found that bigger topwaters like the Livingston Walking Boss II or the regular Walking Boss, those are good because they will make a lot of commotion and (they're) fast (to retrieve back to the boat)," said Howell.
With any luck, on that retrieve, there will be a big splash of water as yet another bass strikes a surface lure, one of the most exciting ways - and best ways - to target early morning bass in the first days of sweet summertime.