May is a great bass-fishing month around South Carolina, and it’s special to me because it’s one of my favorite times to fish a lot of topwater baits. The two months when I catch a lot of fish on topwater are May and September — May because you have a lot of postspawn fish and September because they’re moving up as the water cools.
Topwater baits are probably my favorite way to catch fish. It’s just exciting fishing, the aggressiveness of a largemouth bass going after a baitfish and the explosion on the surface. As a tournament fisherman, I’ve got to be real careful and not get caught up in topwater fishing when there might be other, better ways that I can catch those five fish I need every day. But I enjoy topwater fishing, and in May, I’m going to have on deck several rods with topwater baits tied on, whether I’m fishing up North, in South Carolina or in south Texas.
I divide the topwater baits I like to fish into three categories. I know if we talked about all kinds of topwaters, we could probably talk about five or six different kinds of baits, but I like to fish three styles: buzzbaits, popping baits and frog baits.
Buzzbaits are my favorites, because they’re great baits that will catch big fish, but one of the things I like most is that I can cover a lot of water with one. There are two basic kinds of buzzbaits: single spins and double spins. I really like fishing a Buckeye double spin; it moves a lot more water and leaves a bigger bubble trail at the surface, so it attracts fish from a longer distance away. I’ll throw a single spin if I need a smaller profile, say, when I’ve got really clear water, or around vegetation where the single spin will come over the top better.
I throw buzz baits in 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce sizes. Sometimes, you need a smaller bait if you’re fishing clear water or are around vegetation, and sometimes you need a bigger bait to make longer casts. I always add a trailer hook to my buzzbaits, a 2/0 VMC, and I rig it with the hook up, so it doesn’t snag as much. Sometimes I’ll fish a small, soft-plastic trailer, depending on the size of the profile I need. Most of the time, I’ll use a Yamamoto Swim Senko. I think you can get away with having just three colors of buzzbaits: white, chartreuse/white and black. I’ll play around with some shad colors, but you can get by with just those three.
I’m covering water and searching with a buzzbait, but I’m also trying to narrow down the kinds of targets I’m throwing at to see which ones are going to be productive: weed lines, stumps, letdowns. The cool thing about a buzzbait is the visual ability to see the bait and see where it is when the fish hits. Sometimes with a spinnerbait or crankbait, you’ll get a bite about mid-way back in your retrieve and you don’t really know what the fish was on.
My second topwater bait is a popping bait like an X-Rap Pop. I fish it very similar to the way I fish a buzzbait, but I’ll also fish it slowly and even let it stop. I’ll fish a popping bait when I don’t think bass are aggressive enough to chase a buzzbait.
My third topwater bait is a frog. It there’s a topwater bite, a frog will work. You have popping frogs and walking frogs, and I’ll have both tied on and let the fish tell me what they want. I love to fish a frog around scattered grass or the inside and outside of weed lines. A frog is a really good bait if you want to pause the retrieve a lot. You can really bloop, bloop, bloop that bait along, then let it sit for five or six seconds.
I’ll fish a frog on a medium-heavy, 7-foot BPS Carbonlite bait casting rod with a BPS Johnny Morris signature series reel spooled with 50-pound XPS braid. I like the medium-heavy blank because it gives you the ability to set the hook, but I can still make accurate, long casts. I’ll fish the buzzbait on a 7-foot, medium action BPS Carbonlite rod and the popping bait on a 6-foot-6, medium-light BPS Carbonlite rod. I want all of my reels to be fast, a 7.1-to-1 gear ratio, so if I have a fish blow up on a topwater bait and miss, I can get that bait back in and back out to him really fast.
So that takes us through the last good spring fishing we’ll have in our South Carolina lakes, and with a topwater bait, it can be a fun way to say good-bye to shallow fish for a few months.