There are a lot of pros and cons about what I do, but I've been very blessed to have called bass fishing my job for 20 years, and fishing tournaments, I have to fish certain baits and techniques fish to catch fish and cash checks. Sometimes, that's a drop-shot rig, but fortunately, it can be a topwater bait.
This is the time of year for great topwater fishing. We have a period of good topwater fishing in the spring, but the fall, especially October, is my favorite month of all to fish them. In South Carolina, from Santee Cooper to Hartwell, I feel confident you can go anytime in October and catch fish on a topwater. If I'm fishing a tournament of just out fishing on my pond, I'm going to be throwing a topwater. It's fun and exciting, especially to see a nice bass explode on one. And you can catch both numbers and quality fish on them.
There are plenty of different kinds of topwater baits and plenty of different ways to fish them, but in South Carolina, I think the best thing to do is to divide our lakes into those that have blueback herring and those that don't. At Santee Cooper, it might be best to throw a prop bait like a Rapala X-Prop, while at Hartwell, you might be fishing a walking bait out on a long, tapering point where the herring stage.
In general, on lakes with blueback herring, I use walking-type baits a lot and popping-type baits like an X-Pop or whatever bait in that class you like to throw. As far as colors, just about all tackle companies are making baits in the signature blueback herring colors, and that's all you need.
Soft plastics aren't really considered topwater baits by a lot of fishermen, but in the fall, I'll fish a Trigger-X Drop Dead Minnow, or a Sluggo or a Fluke the surface. I rig it Texas-style, except that I keep the hook point exposed. I'll fish it on a 7-foot, medium-action All-Star baitcasting rod because it's really important to be able to make long casts when you're fishing topwaters. Sometimes you're fishing and you have fish come up that you need a long cast to reach, but in general, with the water in our lakes being very clear during the fall, you need to make longs casts to get your bait away from the boat.
Because you're fishing open water and you don't really need to worry about a fish breaking you off, I'll fish topwater baits on 12- to 15-pound test, and I use monofilament, because fluorocarbon is heavier and baits will pull your baits down a little and inhibit their action.
In lakes that don't have blueback herring, I tend to use more propeller baits like an X-Pop or a Devil's Horse, double-prop baits. The color depends on water clarity, but shad and bluegill patterns are good.
I'm casting around targets and cover, so more than likely, I'm going to be fishing a 6- to 6 ½-foot rod. That's what you need to make accurate casts to blowdowns or, at Santee, around cypress trees. I've got lots of really big bass in the upper end of Santee, in the swamps. In there, you don't even need a 6-foot rod. Because you're fishing more around cover, you'll need to move up to 17- to 20-pound mono like XT or Big Game.
Whether you're fishing in blueback lakes or lakes that don't have herring, the cadence or rhythm or your retrieve is very, very important. It's similar to fishing a jerkbait. The key is finding the rhythm the fish like and will respond to. It may be twitch-twitch-pause, or twitch-pause, or even seven or eight twitches with a pause. You have to figure it out.
As a tournament fisherman, I try to fish baits as fast as I can so I can cover more water, but when I'm fishing topwaters, it's important to pause, because they'll respond to it. I've probably gotten more bites when the bait was sitting still than any other time. When I pause a bait, I'll count it out - one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three - and I'll pay attention to when I get a strike. I don't want the bait sitting there any longer than it has to, but I've have fish blow up on a bait when I twitched it and then let it sit three or four seconds. I've also seen time when you had to walk a bait all the way back to the boat to get a strike; if you stopped, they tended to shy away from it.
Even though fish can't talk, they can let you know what kind of mood they're in from day to day, so you can figure out what kind of retrieve they want, how aggressive they are.
As far as when the best topwater fishing will be, our fall weather varies. We can have hot Octobers and cool Octobers. There are some years when it seems like the topwater bite lasts until mid-November. Usually, year-in and year-out, the first half of October is going to be the best action. At least, that's how it seems to me. Of course, after the middle of October, I tend to spend my time more in a deer stand on the water.
One thing's for sure: take advantage of topwaters in October. It can be the most-exciting action of the year.