Long before the arrival of technically honed topwater baits sporting glass rattles and ultra-realistic finishes, bass anglers were triggering surface strikes with baits that went by names like Pop-R, Jitterbug, Hula Popper, Zara Spook and floating Rapala.
In a market constantly looking to create the better mousetrap, it’s easy for these icons of angling tradition to get buried in the bottom of the tackle box. In many situations, though, the classics often outperform the new kids on the block.
Though B.A.S.S. Elite Series veteran Zell Rowland was instrumental in the development of the technically advanced XCalibur Zell Pop, under many conditions he reaches for a bread-n-butter Rebel Pop-R.
“The Zell Pop is designed to spit,” explained the Montgomery, Texas, pro. “The Pop-R produces a chug.”
|Maximum Chug-A-Lug: The Venerable Rebel Pop-R
Rowland said that while the Zell Pop excels in clear water situations, when there is a fair degree of color to the water it’s time to throw the Pop R—or an Arbogast Hula Popper—baits that have the ability to get a bass’s attention in low visibility water.
Considered the original of the cigar-shaped walk-the-dog topwaters, the Heddon Zara Spook is another classic Rowland often reaches for.
“The problem with the Spook has always been one of holding on to fish,” noted Rowland. “I’ve found that far fewer get loose when I use the Super Spook, which features three hooks.”
|Heddon Hook-Up: The Super Spook In Action
Central Florida’s Captain Mike Tipton (www.bullgatorairboattours.com) considers the original floating Rapala his go-to bait. While the floating Rapala is capable of diving a foot or so subsurface, Tipton fishes it as a topwater, a craft that while once popular is largely forgotten.
“I’ve been using the F13 floating Rapala for 45 years,” said Tipton. “There have been so many new developments in lures—like holographic finishes—that many folks gave up on the minnow. It just didn’t look as ‘fishy’ to the human eye, but it does to the fish.”
In addition to not having the same eye appeal as more flashy lures, Tipton said a reason people don’t find the original floater as productive is they simply don’t know how to fish it as a surface bait.
“Many of the folks that I guide start off by jerking/pulling the minnow, rather than snapping it,” explained Tipton. “When they pull the minnow, it simply dives under the surface, wiggles a few times, and then floats back up.”
Tipton said that his technique, which has pulled many Florida largemouths in excess of 10 pounds out of hydrilla beds, is to really snap the lure.
“To do that you need to leave about a foot of slack at the rod tip prior to each snap of the rod tip,” he noted. “That slack allows the bait to snap to each side. I really snap it hard, moving lots of water.”
Following a series of aggressive snaps, Tipton allows the minnow to rest, and then gives it a tiny twitch that barely moves the bait.
|Don't Forget To Twitch It On Top: The Original Floating Rapala F13
Tipton usually uses floating Raps in the classic silver or gold patterns. He fishes them on braid, no-stretch line that maximizes the snapping action imparted by the angler.
For those of us with an angling history measured in multiple decades, growing up night fishing for bass meant throwing an Arbogast Jitterbug, plain and simple. On a calm night the only thing to interfere with the plop-plop of the Jitterbug was the startling intervention of a striking bass.
Longtime tackle tinkerer Andy Vetula has found that the plopping action of the Jitterbug can be enhanced with a bit of tuning.
“The object is to make the lip a bit more dish-shaped so the bait produces a more distinct plopping sound,” said Vetula.
|The Arbogast Jitterbug: A Proven Topwater Performer
With pliers or vice-grips, Vetula bends the bottom of the lip slightly inward, and also gives the tips of the lip a tiny inward kick. He’s had good success on bass with not only “tuned” standard size Jitterbugs, but the muskie version as well.
“I also fish the Jitterbug with monofilament line,” he added. “Fluorocarbon, which sinks, pulls the nose of the bait down and kills it.”
Putting the classic topwaters back to work is more than a nostalgic effort resulting in a few “washed” lures. It can lead to a more productive season on the surface.