Casting topwater plugs in the middle of a lake with the scorching rays of the July sun beating down isn't what the average angler would consider an ideal day of bass fishing.

But Don Hynum and Steve Smith aren't your average anglers. They have learned from years of fishing the numerous lakes and ponds in Southwest Mississippi that the bass fishing can be just as hot as the mid-summer weather.

Scanning the open water of Natchez State Park Lake, Smith spotted a few swirls about 60 yards off the port side of the boat. Reaching down for the handle, he turned the trolling motor to full thrust, and headed the boat toward the churning water.

"You work the right side, and I'll take the left," Hynum said, referring to the rather large school of largemouth bass feeding ravenously on an equally large school of shad just ahead of the boat.

The two anglers cast identical Zara Spooks to the outer fringes of the churning pool of water. Almost simultaneously, a pair of football shaped 2-pounders engulfed the anglers' topwater plugs.

"Fish on!" shouted Smith.

"Make that two!" Hynum shot back as he sat back on the rod and sent the needle-sharp treble hooks home.

The feeding frenzy lasted for only a few short minutes before the entire school settled back to the depths of the lake from which they came. It may have been short lived, but the fast-paced action had persisted long enough for the pair of anglers to land three more of the chunky fighters.

An experienced topwater bass angler, Hynum quickly reached for another rod with a Heddon Magnum Torpedo tied on and waiting for just such an occasion. Casting the Magnum Torpedo, a larger version of the Tiny Torpedo, to the same area, Hynum let the lure sit for a few moments. With a quick flick of the wrist, he snapped the lure to life, and began working it back with a slow reel-and-twitch action, imitating the sporadic motion of an injured and disoriented shad. After just a few twitches, Hynum let the lure sit again.

Suddenly a curious largemouth rushed up from the depths, exploded through the calm surface of the water and slammed the lure. Waiting for the tell-tale tug on his line indicating that the fish had the lure in its mouth, Hynum set the hook hard on the fish.

"There she is!" Hynum shouted. "And it's a good one. You better get the net!"

It wasn't long before Hynum was soon holding up a 26-inch long, 10-pound-plus largemouth bass for the camera. After a few "hero" shots, he released the lunker back into the lake for another lucky angler to catch another day.

"That was a nice fish," Hynum said as he scanned the lake for another school of feeding bass. "Hopefully, she'll continue to grow and get even bigger."

"You're right," Smith joked. "When I catch her in a few years, she might even be the next state record."

Smith's comments might have been more on the money than he realized. After all, the current Mississippi record largemouth bass, weighing in at 18.15 pounds, came from Natchez State Park Lake.

The excitement of a largemouth bass blowing up on the surface of the water is a thrill few anglers ever forget. And with the dog days of summer come some of the hottest topwater action to be found. Topwater plugs can be broken into seven basic categories: poppers, minnows, prop baits, darters, crawlers, frogs/rats and buzz baits. Let's take a closer look at each.

 

Poppers

There are basically two types of poppers, one "pops" or "chugs" and the other "spits." Both types attract bass with a gurgling and popping sound as they are retrieved across the water's surface.

First introduced in 1941 by Fred Arbogast, the Hula Popper was the first surface lure to feature a hula skirt. This popper was designed to imitate a frog, and was originally made out of wood. Today, only one or two lure companies still make their surface lures out of wood; most are now molded from hard plastics.

The chugger-style poppers, like the 1920s model Heddon Lucky 13, work very similar to the Hula Popper. However, chuggers are designed and colored to imitate injured fish. And while both the Hula Popper and chugger-type plugs would spit water out in front, they both made a fairly loud "pop" in the process.

The spitting-type lures didn't come along until the late 1970s. Among the first spitters to be introduced was the Pop-R. Instead of making only a loud "pop." the Pop-R "pops" and "spits" water several feet in front of the lure at the same time.

All of these lures come in a variety of sizes, but the 3- to 4-inch and the 1/4- to 1/2-ounce sizes are the most popular.

 

Minnow baits

As their name implies, these types of topwater lures are designed to mimic injured minnows or other small baitfish. In 1936, a Finnish lure company introduced the Original Floating Rapala, which was followed years later by the Rapala Floating Jointed Minnow. Both styles, although slightly different in appearance, are similar in presentation, and can be productive in similar situations when fished as topwater lures.

The more modern Sebile Bonga Minnow and Heddon Spit'n Image feature many of the characteristics of topwater walking baits. Unlike the lipped Rapala Minnows, these lipless floating lures make what is called "nervous water," which is a natural sign made by milling baitfish just below the surface.

Their rippling, walking action is more silent than splashy. According to Hynum, this type of topwater minnow bait excels in quiet situations and relatively calm environments.

 

Prop baits

The most popular of all the topwater lures would have to be the prop baits. This is mainly due to there being two variations to choose from. The first style has a single propeller on the rear in front of the back treble hook. The single-prop-style spits water out to one side, or both, and generally sits with the prop end lower in the water than the head.

The second style features a prop on both ends of the bait creating twice as much commotion on the surface as the single-prop style. Both styles run relatively straight due to the props, and can be worked with a continual retrieve or jerked through the water to create more of a disturbance.

"Single-prop baits, like the clear version of the Tiny Torpedo, seem to be better imitations of shad than the double-prop styles," said Smith. "However, the double-prop styles, like the renowned Smithwick Devil's Horse and the Gaines Crippled Killer, have been catching lots of bass since the 1950s by effectively mimicking sunfish and minnows."

 

Darters

These lures are easily recognized by the lack of any type of head or tail modification. Darters are cigar-shaped lures that are built with no action. Their "darting" action is the result of the positioning of the front eye screw. The eye screw on a darter is placed slightly below the center of the lure's nose.

Weighted in the rear, most darters sit with the rear of the lure below the surface and the head out of the water. The action you give this lure can be deadly if worked properly. By snapping the rod tip down from a position straight on with the lure, you can make it dart to one side or the other. With a little practice, you can produce an erratic side-to-side action known as "walking the dog."

Introduced in 1939 by the Heddon Company, the Zara Spook was among the first, and remains the most popular lure of this type. The 3- to 5-inch lengths and 1/2- to 3/4-ounce weights in shad patterns are the most popular among largemouth anglers. Intended to mimic an injured fish, these darter-type lures have always been big bass producers.

 

Crawlers

There probably isn't a bass fisherman alive who hasn't heard of or used the famous Jitterbug. This wobbling surface bait immediately captured the attention of the fishing fraternity when it was introduced in 1938 by Fred Arbogast. Crawler-style surface lures like the Jitterbug are extremely simple to use. You just cast it out and crank it in at the speed you desire.

"Just remember to keep your rod tip at around 60 degrees, and try not to set the hook until you feel the fish pull on your line," Hynum noted. "A bass may strike at a Jitterbug three or four times before finally engulfing it."

Crawlers are most effective during late afternoon or at night. The 2- to 3 1/2-inch sizes are the most popular in either black or frog colors. A largemouth striking a black Jitterbug at night is an unforgettably awesome experience.

 

Frogs and rats

While this category includes all floating soft-plastic lures, most manufacturers refer to them as soft frogs and rats, since the most commonly fished models resemble a frog or a rat. The material these lures are made from is quite different than the soft plastics used in making worms. Instead, they are made of a tough flexible plastic. Their lightweight, hollow bodies hold air, which allows them to float over the thickest aquatic vegetation without getting tangled.

Most models are 2 to 4 inches long, and seldom weigh more than 1/4-ounce. The most common color combinations have green, brown or chartreuse backs and white or chartreuse bellies.

The Scum Frog and Bass Rat, made in Mississippi by Southern Lure Company, are classic lures of this style. These two topwater lures have the perfect design for working over weed mats. Unlike lures with exposed hooks that get bogged down in the weedy mess, these lightweight and weedless frogs smoothly glide over the top of the vegetation. It is common to get four or five strikes for every bass you catch, but it is still lots of fun, and that is what topwater fishing is all about.

 

Buzz baits

"The buzz bait is truly one of the most exciting topwater baits ever made," said Hynum. "I have caught hundreds of quality bass over the years with this lure, and won't leave home without it."

There are two basic types of buzz baits - in-line and offset. Experienced bass fishermen use both in different situations and conditions.

In-line buzz baits have the blade and hook on the same shaft, and usually feature bucktail skirts.

Offset buzz baits, on the other hand, have the rotating blade on one arm and the hook and live rubber skirt on the other.

Buzz bait blades range in size from 1/2 inch in length to over 3 inches. Most buzz bait blades are also as wide as they are long.

The in-line buzz bait is small and quiet, making it particularly effective in calm conditions when the bass are suspended close to the surface in flat water. It is a good choice for overhanging brush, clear water conditions and over aquatic vegetation.

The standard offset buzz bait makes far more noise and is better suited for situations where you need to call the fish to the lure, such as murky and deeper water.

"Split-tailed soft-plastic trailers and grubs work well behind buzz baits," Hynum added. "Both of these trailers add lift and bulk to the bait, making it much easier to work slowly across the surface of the water. Trailer hooks are also helpful on days when bass seem to short-strike buzz baits."

Fishing topwater lures in the summer can be both exciting and productive. And like many of the finer things life has to offer, topwater fishing is something you have to experience for yourself. So when nothing else seems to be working this summer, tie one on and see how you like it on top.