Just north of Paradise Island in the upper reaches of Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga, the depth gradually eases down to about four feet where, if you can find the outermost edge of the hydrilla, you have a pretty good chance of getting a bass that’s more than 10 pounds.
Veteran tournament pro and Florida resident Terry Scroggins says so, since he’s caught several monsters there, but the secret is using a topwater lure you’ve probably forgotten even exists.
It’s a “prop bait,” one of those pencil-thin, floating plugs equipped with either one or two propellers and as many as three dangling trebles. They’ve got names like Devil’s Horse (Smithwick), Boy Howdy (Cordell), Dying Flutter and Tiny Torpedo (both Heddon), and although the design has been around for more than a century and millions have been sold, far too many now lie unused and gathering tackle box dust.
|Angler Terry Scroggins fishes a Smithwick Devil’s Horse along the edge of a rocky shoreline. Vegetation is also present, making this spot even better for a shallow bass. |
“I have caught more big bass in the 8, 9 and 10-pound range with these lures than anything else I use,” said Scroggins, a multiple winner on the Bassmaster Tour who cut his fishing teeth on Florida’s St. Johns and Kissimmee River lakes.
“I think they’re effective because of all the commotion they make even when you barely twitch them, plus the fact you can stop them right beside a piece of cover.
“In fact, that’s the best way to fish them. Most anglers work these lures far too fast, thinking the noise, which sounds like a group of fleeing baitfish, is all that attracts a bass. The noise is certainly unique, but what also helps trigger a strike is stopping the bait so it becomes an easy, irresistible target.”
Prop baits are most effective in water two to three feet deep when worked over submerged vegetation or tight along the edges of emergent greenery, laydowns and rocks. In clear water these lures can bring largemouths up from 10 to 15-foot depths.
Smallmouth love them, and after coming up from even deeper water, may watch a lure for several long, tantalizing seconds before exploding on it.
|Terry Scroggins gently holds his line as a rowdy bass jumps again. Lip landing a fish hooked with a topwater lure with three trebles can be dangerous. |
Scroggins recommends using single-prop baits in clear, more open water, or when schooling fish may be present. Often, they’re more effective when fished faster with a twitch-pause-twitch retrieve because they don’t create quite as much water movement.
They can, of course, be slowed with longer pauses, depending on what bass prefer; frequently, schooling bass that have submerged can be brought back to the surface with this type of presentation.
“Any type of stop-start presentation imitates something injured,” explains Scroggins, “and prop baits create enough sound to instantly alert a bass of its presence. It’s a different sound, because the propellers, not the body of the lure itself, move water.”
Double-blade lures work best when retrieved much slower around specific targets or in stained water. Scroggins will throw these baits next to the same cover he could flip with a jig or craw. He lets the lure sit motionless, only twitching it slightly every 20 to 30 seconds.
“The biggest mistake truly is fishing these lures too fast,” he repeats. “Just cast them and let them sit. When the ripples subside, just barely move the bait; hold your rod tip down and twitch it once so the lure only moves a few inches. The props will churn water with the slightest movement.
|Terry Scroggins lands a bass he caught along the edge of a weedline, an excellent place to fish a topwater lure because bass will come out of the vegetation to ambush the lure. |
“Then let it sit again, because a lot of strikes come after the bait has been motionless. Day in and day out, this is the best way to use these lures. You have to be patient, which I think is why so many anglers have forgotten about them.”
Prop baits are excellent lure choices between February and June during all phases of the spawn, and they’re especially good choices for unseen spawning bass. They work well again during the autumn months when bass return to the shallows.
Like most topwater fishing, prop baits are more effective in calm water and low-light conditions, but Scroggins has fished them successfully throughout the day and in choppy water, too.
Rod-wise, the Florida pro recommends a 6 ½ to 7-ft. medium action rod with a soft tip for casting accuracy and easy twitching; many rod companies offer topwater rods that will be suitable for prop baits. Scroggins also likes 40-pound braid with a 14 to17-pound monofilament leader. The braid helps cut through vegetation and also keeps the fish under control more easily, while the mono provides just enough stretch to insure better hooksets because of the lure size and multiple trebles.
That’s the combination he’s fine-tuned during his forays out to Paradise Island, and the fish he’s caught there are not only a testimony that it works, but also a reminder that prop baits deserve to be remembered, not forgotten.
|The Smithwick Devil’s Horse is one of the most famous “double prop” topwater lures ever made. Introduced more than half a century ago, the lures are still produced, and anglers like Scroggins use them often. |
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|Sunset is an excellent time to fish noisy topwaters because the water is often calmer and bass, already shallow to begin feeding, can find the lure easily.|| ||Professional angler Terry Scroggins fishes the edge of a grassline with his topwater lure. Edges of weedlines often mark a depth change, which also helps make them attractive to bass.|
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|Dawn is a favorite time to fish topwater lures because bass are often still shallow in the low light conditions and easily accessible with topwater lures.|| ||Terry Scroggins holds up a nice largemouth he caught while fishing a Devil’s Horse around vegetation.|