By Vic Attardo
Topwater Tony was the most persistent and best topwater bass fisherman I’d ever run across. We use to say of him that he could catch largemouths on the surface during the peak of the ice season.
Of course he couldn’t, but in every other season, spring, summer and fall, bass came to his floating baits like kids to an ice cream truck.
Tony would say that if he couldn’t catch bass on a topwater bait – which was rare – there was no sense catching them at all.
He connected under low hanging brush, beside lily pads, beside bridge abutments, along riprap and fallen trees, at the mouth of creeks and in open water.
Of course, you don’t get this good at anything without a lot of practice. Some 25 years ago, I wrote down some things he told me about fishing topwater baits for bass. I want to share them with you.
You could ask, “Hey Vic, why are you telling us such old stuff?”
Well, the reason is simple. I was out topwater bass fishing very recently and I remembered and used the things Topwater Tony told me. And I had an extraordinary day.
So Topwater Tony – wherever you are or aren’t – here’s to you.
Tony carved many of his topwater plugs, “Splashers” he called them. Picture baits like a Pop-R, or X-Rap Pop – an indented curved face with a turtle’s back, so that’s what I’m talking about to start.
After the cast, he said, wait for the rings to spread and dissipate a bit. If a bass wants to grab a topwater before the ringlet waves subside, it’s the bass’s choice and there’s nothing you could do about it.
But after that, it’s up to the angler to entice a strike.
Tony said the popping action of a bait should be varied and inconsistent, but in keeping with standard guideline.
“The first pop should be gentle, the second pop harsh, the third pop delayed and the fourth pop like a roller coaster gliding into the last stop with all the riders exhausted from shouting and yelling.”
That might sound like strange advice – but you have to understand that Tony’s father ran a pier in Atlantic City.
“After two series,” he said, “if the bass hasn’t hit, you might as well reel in and take another ride” – meaning cast to another spot.
I knew Tony before there was such a thing as braid and fluorocarbon, but I’m sure he’d approve of their use because he often talked about mono lines with the lowest stretch.
These days this translates to a light 30-pound braid with 5 feet of fluorocarbon. That’s what I use successfully.
Tony would fish topwaters in all conditions: sunny or cloudy days, windy and windless, light or heavy rain, noon or night. He said the best times were overcast with intermittent light rain and when hatches (he didn’t know the insect names) were flitting about the surface.
“If the bass are already looking up, that makes it almost easy,” he said.
So, my fine recent outing consisted of an occasional shower, which barely wet my shirt, followed by a cloud of caddis hatching and skirting the surface.
Ironically the bass didn’t swirl at the tent-wing aquatic insects but they were all over my Pop R thrown into the midst of the swirling bugs just a few feet from the bank.
Tony was also a fan of propellor baits, which he modified to his liking. He used both the short stogies with a single prop in the back and the long cigars with dual blades.
He would loosen “the screws” on store-bought baits so the blades turned more freely, and the loosened hardware made more chatter.
Tony bent the blades to modify the splash: bend the front blades out a tad for more gurgle, bend the rear blades back for a cacophony of sound.
On his shorter, stubbier baits he would use a loop knot, rather than a tight clinch knot but the clinch knot on the longer baits he wanted to track straight and true.
Now here’s something I never saw anyone else perform. Around lily pads or surface weeds, he would cast the popper bait like a high arcing ball so it landed with a little crater and bobbed up again.
The cratered bait would sit there for five or 10 seconds like it was stunned.
A lot of bass hit during this pause, others would gulp at the first light twitch.