Break The Surface To Tempt California Lake Bass

Poppers are one of author Mark Fong’s favorite lures to entice fat largemouth bass to bite. Spring offers a great opportunity to fish topwater baits. (MARK FONG

By Mark Fong

If you are obsessed with bass fishing like me, you know there are few things sweeter than having a big ol’ fish blow up on a topwater bait. Even though it was some 20-plus years ago, I can still vividly remember the sight of a 3-pound Lake Del Valle largemouth breaching the surface to intercept my silver and black No. 7 Rapala Minnow just before it touched down on the water.

Under the right conditions, bass will eat a topwater throughout the year, but for many, the arrival of spring signals the first topwater action of the year. Now is a great time to fish a surface lure. Bass will be in some stage of the spawn and they will be shallow and hungry.

There are plenty of great topwater lures on the market today. From floating minnows to buzzbaits to prop baits, chances are I probably have them somewhere in my tackle box. But day in and day out, I have found that a popper and a walking bait will handle the majority of spring topwater opportunities that I encounter.

Ian Rigler with a pair of nice topwater smallmouth. Now that spring has arrived, “Make sure you have a topwater bait at theready,”Fongwrites,“oryoumight just miss out on some of the best fishing of the season.”(MARK FONG)


The first bass I ever caught in my life was on a popper, an Arbogast Hula Popper to be exact. Poppers have come a long way since that time and they are still excellent springtime baits. When the afternoons are warm and stable early in the season, bass will begin to move up, even when the water is still cool. This is my cue to slowly work a popper – like an IMA Finesse Popper – on the outside edges and around spawning areas. This is a great way to catch a big bass. While I may not get many bites doing this, the ones I do get tend to be quality.

Once the fish are spawning and on beds, working a popper and letting it come to rest above a fish on a bed is a great way to aggravate that fish into striking. Make no mistake: These are not feeding bites; the fish are striking out of pure aggression, as their mission is to get the bait out of their spawning area.

A solid arsenal of topwater baits would include (from top to bottom) a Little Stik, Skimmer Grande and Finesse Popper. (MARK FONG)


After the fish are done with their spawning duties, they are hungry and aggressive. On lakes that have shad-based forage, this can overlap the shad spawn. When this happens, watch out! Wolf packs of marauding postspawn bass will ambush and feast on the schooling shad. A walk- the-dog-style topwater bait is perfect for moving fast and covering a lot of water quickly. There is something about the side-to-side motion of a walk-the–dog-style bait that just excels in the postspawn. When the water is calm, the IMA Skimmer Grande is my choice. If there is some wind and a little chop on the water, I’ll opt instead for an IMA Little Stik walking bait. The Little Stik has a slightly bigger profile and a cupped mouth that spits and pushes a lot of water as it walks across the surface.


I like to throw my topwater plugs on a 7-foot medium-action casting rod. I’ll spool my casting reel up with 50-pound FINS braid mainline and add a short 20-pound monofilament top-shot leader. Braid line is super important because it has zero stretch, which allows for better bait control and positive hooksets. The drawback with braid and topwaters is that the line tends to wrap around the front hooks of the bait, hence the monofilament leader.

So this spring when you hit the water, make sure you have a topwater bait at the ready, or you might just miss out on some of the best fishing of the season. CS