Buckeye Angler: Topwater time arrives

JACK KISER
Correspondent
Cuyahoga Falls resident Frank Guistino shows off his topwater bass that he hooked at Brady Lake.

Largemouth bass anglers wait all year for the prospects offered by the angling activity that adorns more book and magazine covers and memorable film clips than any other ‘topwater bassin.’

What portends the notorious "summer doldrums" for so many, offers the excitement and challenge of fishing's most thrilling possibilities. Whereas the season's "dog days" of summer peak heat keep so many anglers off the water, the sport's most savvy and learned participants know that time of day and the tip-top of the water column are the keys to unlocking the secrets to excitement unmatched and ongoing productivity.

The highway to hot summer success indeed keys in on low-light conditions. This means a primary focus on early mornings, late evenings and outright night fishing. More adventurous groups throughout the nation even sponsor and facilitate literal night-time only tournaments. These derbies are great fun for those so oriented and with the savvy and knowledge necessary to successfully fish them.

Lakes and reservoirs are a preferable option for night bass angling for most, as rivers make safety too prominent a concern.

My first memory of the productivity and excitement of summer topwater bassing was realized back in the 1970s when friends and cohorts would regularly take the edge off the hot summer days by visiting a strip pit along the Cuyahoga River in Munroe Falls, Ohio for a refreshing swim. A couple of us quickly noticed some nice bass cruising by in the crystal clear waters. We made a point to bring along our fishing gear on subsequent excursions. It didn't take that long for us to find success elusive.

Finally, it dawned on local river legend Bernie Miklic that the bass in these waters spooked quickly during the day in these pits. No one went swimming on the cloudier days that would have perhaps offered better possibilities and neither did we.

Bernie and I went back to try these waters in late evening with our Jitterbugs and Hula Poppers. The thrills kicked in very quickly. I had the most success with a new favorite called a buzzbait, which soon also became a river staple.

The buzzbait has since caught more 4-pound largemouth for me than any other bait, regardless of overall conditions and time of day. Its advantage is that it covers so much more water than other topwater favorites like prop baits, poppers and frogs. Among all topwater offerings, only the buzzbait can be relied on to effectively gauge fish-activity levels.

The buzzbait is most effective when cast longer distances, just past targeted areas like weedlines, dock corners, shoreline timber and above schools of baitfish. Try to engage your reel just as it approaches the surface, so it arrives atop the water surface smoothly and quietly as possible. Most hits — these are in no way "bites" or "nibbles" — occur on the first or second turn of the return, be alert.

The other topwater offerings mentioned share a much more limited strike zone. Anglers should try to have the discipline to let the lure sit undisturbed until all the ripples caused by the landing have dispersed. Subtlety is the key on the retrieve. No such thing as too slow. These baits should be your options only after first testing bass activity levels on a given outing with the buzzbait. On those very special premier days, you will never stray from the buzzers at all, as the bass are active enough to remain your clean-up hitters for the entirety of such exciting outings.

Topwater angling in general does not lend itself disproportionately toward either baitcasting or spinning gear. The dividing line may concern lure weight, in fact. Anything more than 1/4 ounces can be either, anything less, go with your spinning gear. Though the weakness of braided line is largely that it looks like anchor rope in the water, this is less a factor at night, especially when considering most braids float. Braid is no negative at night.

One word of caution that should be obvious to any experienced angler is the increased concern of safety at night, late evening or early morning. Wear your safety device and have a reliable light source nearby.

Now get out and enjoy those cooling evenings that follow the hot days of July through September and keep the camera close at hand.