No one will argue that topwater fishing leaves anglers always wanting more. It’s the most fun way to fish given the visual nature of your interaction with the bass. So fishing topwaters is what a lot of us anglers look forward to every year. And to have success, you need to be well versed on the best topwater lures and when to fish each of them.
About 6 or 7 categories of topwaters will cover all of your bases and get you a lot of your most memorable bites and action in bass fishing.
Categories of Topwater Lures
Here is a quick rundown of the best topwater lures by category:
- Prop Baits
- Wake Baits
With just a few of these topwaters, you can have a lot of fun and the expanded list gives you lots of options and fun ways to interact with bass. We’ll go into depth by each category on when you should fish this type of topwater and some of the best options in that category of topwater lures for bass. And then we’ll talk generally about the best setups for topwater fishing.
Best Overall Topwater Lures for 2023
- Best Popper: Rebel Pop-R P71 – Buy from Basspro
- Best Walking Bait: Megabass Megadog – Buy from Basspro
- Best Pencil Popper: Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil Bait – Buy from Basspro
- Best Wake Bait: PH Custom Lures Wake Up – Buy from Tacklewarehouse
- Best Prop Bait: Berkley Choppo – Buy from Basspro
- Best Frog: Strike King Popping Perch – Buy from Basspro
A popper is just a small floating tapering cone shaped carved or molded bait that mimics a small bait fish with a cupped mouth that provides the bait a lot of commotion and splash to draw fish in for a closer look. It’s a great spring bass fishing topwater when fish are coming shallow and looking to make a nest near a shallow piece of cover. It can be really good in clear water and even in dirty stained water.
The most effective ways to work a popper are with small twitches of the rod tip on a semi slack line. You want to make the bait cup water and make a gulping or popping sound while splashing on the surface. Some poppers can be worked with slight twitches in a cadence and the bait will walk back and forth why popping along.
These are really effective around spawning fish, and also around a shad spawn. And are most effective fished in small areas usually around some shallow cover like wood or grass or even boat docks.
Why the Rebel Pop-R P71 was voted best
The Rebel Pop-R is an iconic popper. It’s stood the test of time being more than 50 years old. And this new revamped model comes with better colors, sharp dressed Gamakatsu trebles, has a nice knocker in it (something secret about the original P70s is the good ones had the rear weight come loose and make the bait knock) and still is only $7.99. It’s a dang fish catcher just like the original P70 was at one of the best price points for a popper.
Rebel Pop-R P71 is available at:
Some of the best poppers on the market would include the following baits:
- Yellow Magic Japanese Popper
- Megabass Pop Max
- Berkley Bullet Pop
- Team Ark Z-Pop
- Water Wood Sugar Baby/Daddy
- Don Iovino’s Splash It
Best walking topwater lures
Walking topwater baits are made to be cast long distances and then be retrieved with a series of short rod twitches on semi-slack line that gets the bait gliding back and forth in a walk-the-dog routine. Walking topwaters can cover a lot of water as fast or slow as you want to work the lure. They are great for schooling fish, fish on expansive flats or backs of pockets. They are great to work over flooded bushes and grass or along rip rap. They can as small as 4 inches and as big as 9 inches in length. Some are made out of balsa but most are made out of plastic with rattles inside of them.
An offshoot of walking baits is pencil poppers. These are generally heavier, longer and with a bulbous tail section. They are created to be able to walk in chopping conditions or less than ideal topwater conditions. This is what we throw on the big waters like Kentucky Lake on windy days to still provide enough commotion to get bit because they can still walk even going up and down in the waves.
Why the Megabass Megadog was voted best
The Megabass Megadog is a work of art. It’s really a big swimbait except it’s a solid body walking bait. But it’s designed to catch trophy bass. This is not a run of the mill topwater. It’s a giant bait that weighs 4 ounces. So it has to be thrown on a swimbait rod. But you can cast it a mile and call up big trophy bass from a distance. It walks beautifully. Comes in beautiful designs. Has incredible strong sharp hooks on it. Yet it walks like a normal topwater. Like it literally doesn’t wear your elbow out jerking it from side to side. I thought that was a very cool design concept the way it glides without a lot of resistance on your arm. It’s super pricey.
Megabass Megadog is available at Tackle Warehouse
So if you are looking for a run of the mill good walking bait at a much lower price point, the Strike King Sexy Dawg is a staple among most bass fishermen in the know as are the Heddon Super and Chug’n Spooks.
The other walking baits on the market right now would include the following:
Best Pencil Poppers
Best Pencil Poppers would include the following:
Best prop baits
Prop baits offer a propellor on either the back or both the front and back. The ones on the back can also be full rotating butt sections that cause the bait to “plop” through the water like a super slow buzz bait. They can be long and skinny, short and fat or a larger size all together.
Generally speaking the short fat ones with twin propellors mimic bluegill and shad well and are often subtle versions of topwaters that work well when fish are skittish like in clear water and later in the summer when they have been fished for a lot. The long skinny prop baits are usually really good around the spawn in shallow water on lakes that are generally pretty clear with grass. And the ones with a rear plopper can be good from spring to late fall and can cover a lot of water and draw fish really well. So choosing the right plopper is generally dependent on the mood of the fish and the season you are fishing.
Why we voted the Berkley Choppo best prop bait
Cost is always a big factor for us. The Berkley Choppo (review) fishes very clean, has a great sound and profile, comes in great colors, holds up well to abuse, and only costs $11. We’ve caught so many bass on this bait and will continue to for a lot of years. The nice thing about good prop baits is once you buy a few, you’re set. Most have limited windows where they are effective but the Choppo for us starts working in March and we don’t have it off our deck until the end of November. That’s why we think so highly of it. We’ve literally had success with it 9 months out of the year.
Berkley Choppo is available at:
The best prop baits on the market include the following baits:
- River2Sea Whopper Plopper
- Black Label Cliff Pace Tease
- Brians Prop Bee
- Rapala X-Rap Prop Bait
- Smithwick Devil’s Horse
Best wake baits
Wake baits are topwater lures made to be worked just barely under the surface that bulge the water and cause a V-shaped commotion for the fish to hone in on or the create a slow lumbering wake on the surface. Again they come in various shapes in sizes with short fat ones that mimic crankbaits with a straight down bill, and long slender minnow profiles that mimic a jerkbait with a straight down bill. And then some are swimbait shaped.
These are effective fished over grass in the summer, over shallow spawning areas on those clear water impoundments and on shallow muddy fisheries in the post spawn. So we recommend use the the minnow bodies around the spawn in clear to mildly stained water. Use the waking crankbaits in dirtier water and a lot in the post spawn. Use the waking swimbait type wake baits around grass, and later in the year like late summer and fall.
Why we voted the PH Custom Lures Wake Up best
Phil Hunt creates some beautiful and effective homemade baits. I’ve never seen a lure designer who spends more time counseling with good anglers to find out what they need a bait to do and not do and what the profile and colors need to be to make sure he is providing a custom tool that is as perfected for a fishing situation as you will find. The Wake Up was built from hours of research and tweaking and consulting with anglers about what they needed a minnow profile wake bait to do in the spring and what the shortcomings were of other baits on the market.
PH Custom Lures Wake Up Topwater Wakebait is available at Tackle Warehouse.
A lot of time was put into these baits and Hunt hand tunes these baits to get them perfect. So you will pay a little more but I have two that have been slaughtered for several seasons and still look like new.
The best wake baits on the market right now would include the following:
- Cotton Cordell Red Fin
- Jenko Wake n’ Bait
- 6th Sense Speed Wake
- Mann’s Baby 1-Minus
- Ima Rattlin Roumba Wakebait
Hollow body frogs
Hollow body frogs offer anglers a way to topwater fish around heavy vegetation. Whether you’re fishing matted grass, lily pads, thick bushes, overhanging trees or just water willow grass along the bank, a frog can be popped, walked and slapped across the surface of cover or water to entice the biggest bass out of the gnarliest cover.
We like a popping frog when we want to walk a frog around sparse cover or we want to get fish to bite in clearer water up really shallow. We like a pointed nose hollow bodied frog for fishing through thick cover, skipping under things like tree branches, bushes, and docks. There are lots of things you can do to make a frog fit the water you are fishing like adding weight, rattles, trimming the legs and bending hooks upward. But generally speaking, they will catch fish right out of the box.
Why we voted the Popping Perch best
The Strike King KVD Popping Perch (review) has been the only frog I’ve used the last several years. I gained a lot of confidence in the frog in the weirdest place honestly. I took it with me several years ago to Table Rock Lake. Table Rock is a highland limestone line impoundment that has not one stitch of grass in it. It’s rocky banks and boat docks. But it does have an underrated amount of willow bushes when the lake is flooded. Which it was that summer.
I ran around fishing for a day and not really catching much one July. On a whim, I got in a pocket with a bunch of boat docks and started running around with a Popping Perch that looked like a bluegill. I would fire it around, over and under will bushes behind the docks. I would skip it under walk ways. I would fire it over the top of a log and get back behind stuff that was flooded. And I caught so many big bass on it that day. It opened my eyes up to the bait.
Strike King KVD Popping Perch is available at:
The Popping Perch has a fanned out tail, great colors, a great water removal system, great durability and a great hook. I have long believed that frogs don’t mimic frogs. They mimic bluegill. So I treat a frog as a bluegill imitator. And the Popping Perch does that as well as I have seen in any frog. And get a white one and try it around the shad spawn too. All of that for under $10.
Best Topwater Setups
So we would probably make three recommendations for topwater rod, reel and line setups. You can get away with one good all-purpose topwater rod for sure but to maximize all the topwater applications, have a few options helps.
For frog fishing you need a little more backbone in your rod, braided line and a powerful reel. Because you will likely be horsing the fish through a lot of cover that requires a lot of hard pulling and drag on your line if a bunch of vegetation comes with the fish. So a wimpy action rod will make it a lot tougher. For frog fishing, we like a MH to H power rod 7 to 7-feet, 4 inches. And I personally like 65-pound braid to keep the line easy to manage and the frog easy to pull out of snagged vegetation which can happen on missed blowups or lose stuff floating on top.
For poppers and prop baits, I like a Medium power rod in that 6-foot, 10-inch length and a lighter line like 15-pound monofilament.
For walking baits and bigger topwaters including Ploppers, I really like a medium heavy rod, braided line but something like a 40-pound braid. It makes heaving a long cast easier and gets you walking the bait easier at distance. If your bait is coming around and grabbing the braid when it walks out wide, add a short monofilament leader. That will keep it from touching the braid and give you a little shock absorber on short-striking blow-ups.
A medium to medium heavy rod in a shorter length like 6-foot, 10-inch to 7-foot could cover all the bases if you wanted it to but it would be a little tougher on long casts with a frog or a big walking topwater.
So now you have the tools to make a good topwater selection and have a big time catching topwater fish from spring until late into fall.