I hadn’t thrown a topwater in a while and it was good to be back. This time of year, Florida’s mild winter starts to lose its grip, giving glimpses of things to come as bass prowl the shallows. A prop bait is again a top lure in my box.
It’s best to wait a few seconds after the cast. Let things settle down a bit; allow the rings to disappear, as the old-timers say. During that brief interval it’s nearly impossible not to imagine a lunker easing up to the unknown intruder now lying on the surface. I can just about see the big bass each time, nosing the lure.
Twitch. Pull. Pause.
The props sputter each time, throwing a minute spray off the nose and tail of the lure. Some say the bait resembles a needle fish, but that’s just the repeat of another unproven theory in fishing. Who cares.
Twitch … slurp.
A solid hoosket is immediately followed by an airborne 3-pounder. Hooked fish seem to always jump when you hit ‘em on this thing, adding to the excitement.
Spring is here and things are good again. The birds are singing, the water’s warming and bass are busting topwater baits. Oh, there’s nothing like it.
Or is there?
When I search through my memory bank for some of the earliest, I always come up with experiences on a small reservoir in eastern Ohio. Off-colored waters filled with crawfish and shallow bass, fishing was legendary with a jig-n-pig. Ol’ No. 11 Uncle Josh behind a 7/16 Stanley, the world again perfect. Pitching to shallow targets, it was 50-fish days, with every one hitting the same way. Thump, and a slack-line run at the boat. After a couple cranks of the handle, I’d let ‘em have it, wielding the first true “flippin’ stick” of the day. Gosh, I can still remember the feel of that thump. It was the BEST strike in bass fishing.
Until, of course, spring turned to summer and the fish got on a spinnerbait.
Back at the same lake, my idolization shifted daily from Jimmy Houston to Hank Parker, with an occasional Ken Cook thrown in. Kenny, as Jerry McKinnis called him. We were all just good ol’ boys making roll casts to laydowns – foreign terms to my Ohio fishing buddies. Waking a big blade was something the local bass had obvious never seen and, although they weren’t the 7-pounders I saw on TV, the Midwest chunks still packed a punch. As the bait rolled over each limb, a slight stutter in the retrieve was met by a line-popping wallop I could feel to my elbow. Oh, how I always just wanted one more cast, just to fish up to that next good-looking log just up the bank.
Sometimes, when a summer storm was on its way, I’d put down the spinnerbait and pick up a buzzbait. Nothing was better for big bass. Original Lunker Lure, no trailer. The same lures I’d taped to the side mirrors on my truck - spinning and squealing all the way to the lake. Everybody knew the louder the buzzbait, the bigger the bass.
Isolated, alone, learning. The sound of a buzzbait is the most rhythmic, the most hypnotic in bass fishing. As the mind blends the sound into monotony, it constantly searches for an interruption.
Chup, chup, chup, chup ... kabloush!
Every bass nut who’s ever thrown a buzzbait makes this same noise with their mouth within the first three casts. It’s impossible not to. The strike – the KABLOUSH – it's worth thousands of casts with no result. If we just keep trying, if we wait long enough, the kabloush will come. It has to; it’s the best strike in bass fishing.
About 10 years later, I learned to crank. What I assumed was a brainless technique turned out to be a true art form. Eyes to the underwater world, a crankbait could tell me everything. Bottom hardness, cover thickness, bass presence. At times, it was possible to excite an entire population of fish I’d driven my boat over for a decade.
It was glass rods and kneel-and-reel. Paul Elias, 10+, 20+ and the Double Deep Wee-R. The casts had to be long and perfect to hit the sweet spot. Oftentimes, the lure never touched down, coming back empty-handed. But occasionally, when the lure would hit that perfect place, the resulting strike about took away the rod.
Crank, crank, crank. Steadily deeper and deeper. Please hit the bottom. Crank, crank. There!
Nothing like it.
These memories always keep me from deciding on a favorite way to fish for bass. My dad’s a worm guy; it just makes things so much easier. One tiny tackle box and a few bags of Culprits mixed in with his lunch. But I need to mix it up. Just about the time I decide on a favorite, I get to thinking.
Evidently, the topwater wasn’t happening. A mat of thick grass approached as I floated ahead. Punch rod now in hand, I flopped the big weight through, plastic craw in tow. Instantly, the world beneath erupted as the entire mat bulged up from the surface, riding the back of a giant bass. My line jumped.
Oh, how I can still see that mat bulge up.
There’s just nothing like it.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)