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Gary Howey

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Fish the Topwater

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

July 16, 2020

Team Outdoorsmen Production Member Larry Myhre, Sioux City, IA. with a huge pike he took using topwater baits on one of his own Larry Myhre custom Fly rods

  As the weeds, make their way closer and onto the top of the water, fishing can be a nightmare, as you’re always pulling weeds from your baits or snagged up.

  Because, most species of fish will rise to the surface to take a frog, duckling, mouse, bat, grasshopper or other insect, fishing surface lures can be very productive.

  In order to fish the surface, an angler needs a little open water before getting into a weedy area as surface baits need to be moving in order to skip or walk across the weeds.

  According to Outdoor Life and Sarasota Fishing Secrets “The Ten Best Surface Baits for bass include Arbogast “Hulu Popper”, Arbogast “Jitterbug” Heddon “Zara Spook”, Creek Chub “Knuckle Head”, Smithwick “Devil’s Horse”, Lunker Lure “Buzzbait”, “Snag Proof Frog”, Spro-“BBZ-1 “Rat”, 3-D “Bat” and the Jack all “KaeraFrog.”

  The “Hulu popper”, with its cupped lip grabs surface water with each short jerk of the rod, which makes a “blooping” sound, which attracts fish from a distance and produces vicious strikes.  It isn’t a bait that can be fished in the weeds as its not weedless and works best along the weeds or in the open couple of feet of water near the shoreline.

  It also has a skirt, which gives the bait extra action. It really works well in ponds with underwater structure, near Lily Pads and over submerged weeds.

  Its sister bait, the “Jitterbug” has a double cupped lip at the front of it. that produces a fish attracting ruckus and truly works best once the sun sets and it gets dark, unlike the “Hula Popper” that’s you’ll want to work with a jerking motion of your rod, the “Jitterbug” change up as this lure works well with either a steady or faster retrieve as the mood of the fish changes from day to day, so if one retrieve doesn’t get a strike, try the other.

  This lure is also not weedless, working best alongside weeds, above flooded structure and in the shallow water along the shoreline, where once he sun sets, bass will be shallow feeding.

  With the “Zara Spook”, you’ll need to use the “Walk the Dog” method, which means the angler using his rod will work the bait right and the left, after a couple of scenarios, let the bait sit, allowing the circles by the bait to dissipate and with no strike, continue doing the same thing, this bait is not weedless, and works well in the same location as those baits listed above.

  I’ve caught some truly largemouth using the Northlands Buzzard Buzzbaits and their Buzzbait Classic baits, Including one of my biggest a bruiser that I lost while filming an outdoor fishing show with good friend and Outdoor Celebrity John McLaughlin, Des Moines Iowa.

  The Smithwick “Devil’s Horse” is a slender surface baits with a spinner both fore and aft which when retrieved will churn up the water and retrieved normally. It’s deadly on bass that are in Pre-S, when fished in water from four to twelve foot.

  I’d cast the Buzzard Buzzbait close to the shore line and towards a submerged log, cranking hard and holding my rod tip high to keep the bait on the surface, as It came by the submerged log, a enormous mouth of a giant bass broke the surface below my lure, I quickly set the hook, way to quickly before the fish had its mouth over the bait,  and as my bait came flying back to the boat, a huge tail broke the surface as the fish dove back into the depths.

  It’s hard to wait the millisecond until the bass has the hook in its mouth before setting the hook, which a buzzbait angler needs to do unless the bass comes out of the water and down on your bait.

 Spinner baits are also excellent baits when run across the surface as well as worked through the weeds with its spinning blades knocking the vegetation out of the way of the hook.


  The Snag Proof Frog as it name indicates is soft body weedless topwater bait imitating a frog with its hook concealed in the belly of the bait.

  This bait can be thrown right on top of the weeds or into open water, where the angler retrieves the frog along the surface with a back and forth movement resembling a frog swimming along on the top of the water.

  Like the Buzzbait, you need some open water to bring the bait to the top, where you can run it along the surface, creating a gurgling sound, while the blades, sending vibration through the water which are detected by the fish’s lateral line allowing the fish to zero in on your bait.

  I’ve used several of those mentioned above including the Hulu Popper, Jitterbug, Zara Spook, Devil Horse, Snag Proof Frog, as well as Clatterbaits and Spinnerbaits.

  Panfish, bluegill, sunfish and crappies will also take smaller surface baits such as a small poppers, small spinnerbaits, grasshoppers or crickets.

  When fishing a small popper or insects, as they don’t weigh much, you’ll need some added weight in order to cast the bait i out.

  I use a small clear bobber attached to the line in front of the popper or insect about ten inches, when using these baits, you’ll need to have some open water between the surface weeds or fish them over  and above the submerged weeds just below the surface.

  Poppers have its own hook, but when fishing insects, it’s best to use a small hook, hooking them somewhere where they still have the ability to move around on the surface to attract the fish.

  If you fly fish, as does my fishing partner and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame Angler Larry Myhre, Sioux City Iowa, who not only fly fishes, he’s also a talented Bamboo Fly Rod builder as well as an expert fly tier.

  According to Myhre, “The most exciting fishing for warm water fly fishermen is topwater. And there’re no shortage of fly rod lures which will get the job done.

   Probably the most common is the foam or cork poppers painted in many colors with feather tails. They come in a variety of sizes, but usually larger is better. Sometimes a more refined approach is needed.    

  That’s when the fly rod man reaches for pencil poppers or a series of surface baits called the Sneaky Pete. These are foam poppers with the head turned backwards so the lure doesn’t “pop” but snakes along the surface in a side to side pattern.

  Then there are the deer hair surface “bugs.” They come in a wide variety of styles and colors, but the favorite of many fly fisherman is the Dahlberg Diver. This bait is a good imitation of a frog and dives beneath the surface on each pull of the fly line and then floats back to the surface.

  One of the newer fly rod surface baits is the Gartside Gurgler. Jack Gartside was a renowned fly innovator and the Gurgler is one of his more well-known patterns.

  For traditionalists, the Muddler Minnow fished on the surface, or just under, is a lure bass just can’t seem to resist.

Most fly fisherman seriously pursuing bass use a 9-foot rod matched with an 8-weight line. It makes chucking larger poppers and surface bugs a lot easier.”

  No matter how you choose to fish top water, when the water warms, there’s few baits that will beat top water.


Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb. a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide and an award winning writer, producer and broadcaster, who was in 2017 inducted into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame”. He developed and was the Producer- Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series for 23 years, with the new Outdoorsmen Adventures television series thirteen week season begins Saturday April 4 at 11:00 am on KCAU-TV, Sioux City as well as throughout the upper Midwest. Howey is also the Co-Host of the award winning Outdoor Adventures radio show heard each morning at 6:45 am throughout South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, looking for more outdoor information, check out, and like Gary Howey’s Facebook pages.

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