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Making it at the top

By Curt Strutz
"The "Bassmeister"

How many times has it looked so tempting - the thick mat of vegetation that you know darn well holds a ton of bass underneath? We ponder at it for a while, then decide to move onto clearer waters because of the simple fact we know that we can't afford to spend the time and money snagging and loosing lure after lure in the weeds - not to mention the constant frustration of having to clean a slime coated lure following each cast. Frustrating - yes, but still very tempting!

Fishing this slop should not be something to overlook, in fact some of the biggest bass in a body of water can be holding under such slimy material. Anglers who take the time to battle the scum will typically use a similar style lure - the hollow bodied frog or rat baits.

These lures are typically made of a soft plastic material and have hooks that turn upwards to prevent snagging in the vegetation. The company who is one of the leaders in designing and manufacturing such lures even uses their weedless ability in their company's name - Snag Proof Manufacturing. This company has literally created an entire business on crafting successful plastic (rubber) frogs, mice, worms and others.

All of the lures are designed to stay afloat on the surface of the water, while using simple designs to ensure the hook stays snug against the soft plastic body. These puppies will slide across the surface of the mat - ensuring minimal hang-ups and a strike that you will NEVER forget.

What makes these rubber frogs and rats so tempting to bass? For starters, the softness of the body gives a texture that resembles live food. Unlike a hard bait, when the bass bites onto the hollow rubber body, it "squishes" in a way that will entice the bass holds onto the lure. This will allow you the opportunity to get the hookset in before the bass spits out the lure. To help keep that lure in the mouth of the fish longer, I choose to add some fish attractant (I use Kick'n Bass Attractants) into the body cavity of the lure (where the hooks come out of the body). I would not recommend a spray-type attractant, but rather a style like Kick'n Bass that is in oil form that can be dripped into the hole. As long as the topic of the "holes" in the bottom of the frog is in discussion, let's take a look at a simple trick to add extra flare to a frog or rat. If you have noticed, many of these lures come with a built-in rattling mechanism that will help irritate the fish into striking by making an obnoxious shaking noise while it is dragged across the pads or mats.

In the event your frog or rat did not come factory equipped with the rattle feature, simply slipping some objects into the cavity (where the hooks come out of the lure) will help do the same effect. A simple way to do this is to buy some BB pellets from your local sporting goods store. You can gently squeeze a small handful of BBs into the hole, and the free rolling pellets in the body of the lure will create a similar effect.

If you are already out in the boat, and want to make some adaptations to the lures (and didn't bring along any BBs), here are a few things I have used in the past -- small panfish splitshot weights will work, or the ultimate item of creativity (I still pat myself on the back for this one) was the time I took a few pop-tops off of some used soda cans and cut them up with my fishing pliers. The can toppers were a bit longer that a pellet but they slid in easy enough and never slipped back out the hole.

Fishing these top-water selections requires some heavy-duty tackle. A 7 to 7 1/2 foot heavy rod is almost mandatory, as it will allow for long casts and less line snags. The backbone of the heavy rod will help to ensure solid hooksets, as the frogs and rats need extra muscle to hook the fish (due to the partially hidden hooks alongside the lure). You will also want a minimum of 20 pound test line, as pulling a fish out of the slop can call for some heavy-duty pulling and tugging on the line - by both the fish AND the angler!

If you are still hesitant to venture into the slop, don't worry; there is still some explosive action available to you with the use of another top-water favorite -- the buzzbait! The buzzbait is a "cousin" of the spinnerbait and holds many of the same characteristics. The blade on the buzzbait does a tremendous job of splashing around water to attract bass from the nearby vicinity.

Just like the frogs, you are going to want to use heavy-duty line when running these lures, not so much for the sake of pulling the lure out of heavy cover - but for the fact that buzzbaits catch BIG bass! Heavy line is also a necessity for landing the fish, but few people know that using a heavy pound test line will actually keep the lure on the surface longer. Most people's first reaction is that a heavier line would cause the lure to sink faster, but it works the exact opposite.

Think of it this way - you are in a swimming pool and you slice your hand into the water. Your hand cuts through the water with very little resistance. Now lay your hand flat and try to slice through the water - all you get is a big slap and resistance in submerging your hand. This same principle applies to your fishing line. Using a heavier test line will result in a thicker diameter. Stretch that diameter over the entire length of fishing line you just cast, and you can easily see how much more resistance there is helping to keep your lure afloat.

Buzzbaits are great tools just after spawn and running through fall. Running one along shallow cover (weeds, rock piles, timber, etc.) will often generate an early strike, while searching out summertime schooling bass can be beneficial, as well. Schools of bass will often hunt down baitfish and chase them up to the surface where the bait gets eaten (we have all seen the jumping clusters of baitfish on any given fishing trip). When you see such natural habits of fish, do not hesitate to run a buzzbait past the area where the baitfish were jumping - you just might wind up in landing a large lunker.

One of the biggest problems people have with buzzbaits is the simple fact that the fish never seem to get a solid grip onto the lure - and result in throwing the bait following a weak hookset. Most fishing pros would strongly recommend a trailer (or stinger) hook to be placed on the manufacturer's hook. I do believe that to be a great idea (don't get me wrong), but there are some new and revolutionary tools available on the market that work as well (if not better) than the traditional trailers. The greatest tool in buzzbaits is the new flexible hook system designed by McGuinness Fishing Products - and it is only found in their Leverage Buzzbaits. This new design helps eliminate the need for a trailer hook by taking the lure's hook and connecting it to small piece of airline grade cable. This extends the hook back further - making it more likely to stick the bass, but it also allows the hook to be completely flexible. Why is a flexible hook important? When that bass starts to throw itself and thrash throughout the water, it is constantly tearing the penetration hole open larger and larger with each movement. With the flexible hook, the energy is concentrated on the flexible cable rather than on the contact point in the fish's mouth. This simple feature will help to keep the fish on the hook longer, as well as make these lures nearly indestructible.

So, the next time you are out in the boat and need to find a little bit of true excitement and hard-core action on the water, be sure to pull out some topwater lures. Every person who has had the blessing of landing a huge lunker using this method has one thing in common - a true fishing story to take home with them!

Editor's Note - Curt Strutz is a pro-staff bass tournament angler and seminar speaker from Wisconsin. He has competed as both a professional and an amateur in many of the nations most well known tournament trails. Curt is also a certified angler education instructor with the State of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, and writes for a variety of magazines.


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