This past May, while practicing for the Bassmaster® Elite tournament at Lake Havasu, Brandon Palaniuk tied on a big topwater lure to use in the ultra-clear water. The Yamaha Pro finished 10th in the event, and now, three months later, he still has that same surface plug on his rod.
“It’ll be there until late October or early November, too, as long as the water remains warm and clear,” laughs Palaniuk, “because to me, summertime means topwater time whenever I’m fishing in clear water. Once the water temperature reaches about 70-degrees, baitfish normally start moving closer to the surface, and bass begin relying more on their vision for feeding.
“A lure that moves a lot of water and makes a commotion on top of the water immediately gets their attention. You can literally ‘call’ bass to a topwater bait like this, and because you’re working the lure pretty fast, you can cover a lot of water at the same time. Topwater lures have been a primary choice for summer fishing for years in clear water.”
Topwater Bass Tips
The Yamaha Pro’s preferred lure choice has a distinct and extremely effective side to side action known as “walking.”
These types of lures are not new, and in fact, have been in use by bass fishermen for more than 80 years.
The original walking lure was named the Zaragossa Minnow, but its name was soon changed to the Zara Spook, and it is still made today.
“These lures really are easy to fish,” adds Palaniuk, who has designed his own walking bait for one of his sponsors. “I try to make a long cast, then use short, quick downward snaps with my rod tip to start the bait moving. You need to do this with a little slack in your line, which is why the lure swishes from side to side, but when you get into a steady cadence, the lure literally walks across the surface.
“Often, when I’m fishing specifically for largemouths, I’ll stop my retrieve periodically to let the lure sit for a moment, but for smallmouth the best retrieve is often faster and without any pauses. For me, a basic rule of thumb that seems to be pretty universal, is the clearer the water and the cleaner the bottom, the faster I can retrieve, making bass just strike out of reflex.”
He does not use fluorocarbon line because it sinks and hinders his lure action.
“I have caught bass walking a topwater lure like this over 30-feet of water,” says Palaniuk, “but most of the time I’m working it a little more shallow. I particularly look for ambush points where bass may be hiding, and these can include long rocky points, grass lines, visible cover like brush and rock piles, and even submerged timber. I want the fish to have close access to deep water, and I always search for the clearest water I can find.”
In contrast to other topwater patterns, which typically last only an hour or two in the early morning and perhaps another hour late in the afternoon, big walking lures may attract strikes throughout the day. Some of Palaniuk’s best times frequently occur around midday, when he’s caught fish in the five to seven-pound class. Because these types of lures cause so much commotion, Palaniuk doesn’t limit himself to calm conditions, either; he likes a slight ripple on the surface, and has even caught bass in three-foot rollers.
“I’m convinced the absolute keys to catching bass with these types of lures in the summer are fishing in clear water and causing a lot of disturbance,” emphasizes the Yamaha Pro. “Bass are relying heavily on their vision when they’re feeding, and surface lures like this that cause a lot of noise get their attention immediately. After that, their instinct just takes over.”