(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
Chris Lane loves to fish topwaters for big bass. What experienced bass angler doesn’t? The difference is that while many weekenders and even some pros consider surface lures just a fun diversion, Lane has figured out how to convert that fun directly to tournament cash. Last year at Toledo Bend, he whacked over 88 pounds of bass in four days on a Whopper Plopper to finish 2nd to KVD.
While Lane knows that topwater fishing can be fun and productive for both quantity and quality, over the course of his career he’s also learned that if you don’t adjust your systems, gears and expectations carefully, all you’ll end up with is heartbreak. That lesson came early, at Sam Rayburn in his second career Elite Series tournament. He had the strikes to win it on topwater, but hooked and landed only a small percentage of those that bit because he’d chosen the wrong lines. He still ended up in the money, but 33rd place paid a lot less than the win.
That didn’t discourage him about topwater, but rather encouraged him to fine-tune his game. Whenever the water temperature is over 60 degrees, the water is fairly clear and relatively calm, he’s likely to have one tied on. It’s not just limited to low light times, either. Sometimes he gets a “gut feeling” in the middle of the day and uses one to catch a kicker.
“Bass have a natural instinct to eat bait on the surface,” he said, a fact that he believes is obvious by the positioning of their eyes, looking out and up. Accordingly, he’ll utilize a variety of surface lures to exploit that instinct. One favorite is the Whopper Plopper, which he describes as a “reeling bait.” He said that it “shocked the fishing world” in much the same way that the Alabama Rig did a few years earlier and it continues to elicit some of his best and most violent strikes.
When he needs to keep his lure in the strike zone a little longer, he’ll use a “walking bait” which is not quite as aggressive as the Plopper, or a prop bait. And when he wants to pause the lure even longer, he’ll use a popper, especially when the bluegill are spawning. He’s always sure to have feathers on the back of it so it continues to flutter even while sitting in place. While many of his popper strikes are as violent as those he gets on the Whopper Plopper, others just “suck it in and pull it down.” Of course he’s also deadly with both a hollow-bodied frog and a “swimming frog,” both of which trigger big bass in places where treble hooks don’t dare to tread.
He’s picky about his line when fishing topwaters, preferring Bass Pro Shops XPS braid with the various frogs and the Whopper Plopper. He often uses the braid with walking baits, too – the general rule is that it gets the call any time he’s making long casts or fishing in heavy vegetation. Fluorocarbon is not an option, because it sinks, so when braid is not preferred he’ll typically employ 15-pound XPS monofilament. Sometimes, when fishing an ultra-slow finesse presentation, he’ll go lighter to avoid displacing too much water as the lure sits. He typically uses a Palomar knot, except in the case of prop baits like the Devil’s Horse, where he utilizes a double-clinch knot.
When fish miss the topwater, he has to quickly assess the proper comeback bait. If they’re aggressive, he’ll go back with the same lure, which prevents him from losing time changing rods. If they just nip at it, though, he tends to favor a soft plastic. Nothing heavy, which will often spook the fish, but rather something subtle like a soft stickbait gets the call.
If you want to learn some of Lane’s other topwater techniques, including how and why he and his brother Bobby differ in their preferred toad hooks, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.