Top choices for topwater summer smallmouth

by Luigi De Rose | July 14, 2017

topwater - chug, prop, or walk

Nothing is more enjoyable than watching a topwater work its magic — except maybe a smallmouth smashing on the surface.

Smallmouth are restless, particularly the largest ones. Topwater prey pique their curiosity and desire for an easy meal, which makes these lures a fun and effective approach all summer long.

Field tip: Bend the prop blades back slightly to decrease resistance. This allows the bait to skitter in short bursts.

1 Pop or chug it

Calling smallmouth to them with a chug, chug, chug, poppers (often called chuggers), are sentimental favourites.

From 2 1/2 to 4 inches long, the ideal popper is compact, hefty, and sports a sticky-sharp feathered rear treble.

Chuggers have the widest and deepest mouths, creating the loudest, slurping chugs. Their deep concave faces permit the slowest retrieves, while moving the maximum amount of water. Best suited for aiming at targets, poppers will call bass out of cover or a sleepy mood.

A popper is designed to be a quick lure that allows for fan casting and covering water. The finest version have a very shallow lower jaw, allowing it to zip along the surface as the angler works the cadence of the snapping rod tip and the reeling.

Usually worked over shallow water, a popper is equally effective far off the bank up to 15 feet of water and beyond, if smallmouth start schooling. A heavy chop reduces its effectiveness, but stubborn anglers can make it work under poor water conditions.

Poppers in the north

For northern smallies, fisheries biologist and tournament angler, Josh Peacock of Kenora, prefers a popper in mid-summer around cabbage weeds and specific targets such as docks and wood.

He’s a fan of a cedar popper made by Rockpile Lures in his home city of Kenora. Shad patterns are Josh’s go-to colours, but Rockpile owner, Ron Achilles, has had great luck on wildly painted versions.

Southern perspective

Warsaw resident, guide, and tournament angler, Chris Giles (, agrees with fishing boulders, isolated logs, or corners of docks. But, he’ll usually work an SK-Pop Grande or Skitter Pop in natural hues along transitions in four to nine feet of water.

Throughout the summer, smallmouth focus wherever rock, weed, or sand merge. He’ll also cast over shallow shoals, tufts of weeds, and sand flats.

2 Walking the walk

These 3- to 5-inch minnow-shaped walking lures get their identities from the walking actions they produce. Though their blueprints stem from the legendary Zara Spook, these lures are sleek and meticulously painted. Bringing one to life with a “walking the dog” retrieve requires a marriage of short rod jerks, minor reel cranks, and a bit of slack line.

Peacock is a big fan of the Lucky Craft Sammy 100 for summer as shield-lake smallmouth venture into deep water.

“In early July, when the smallmouth leave the spawning areas and focus on eating smelts around islands in 14 to 25 feet of water, I use the Sammy,” says Peacock. “It is good at this time for a few reasons. Fish are lethargic after the spawn and are spread out. A Sammy covers a lot of water and offers fish a big meal.”

Considered a big fish lure, a walking bait is perfect for one member of a two-person tournament team, where one big fish can help grab the trophy. It works well in most water conditions, even when the waves wash out other topwater presentations.

3 Winging it with prop baits

Prop baits sport propellers at nose and tail, or just the tail. This bait can accommodate painstakingly slow splashes to ripping retrieves.

Prop baits are ideal for annoying shallow smallmouth, calling down to them as they lurk well out of sight.

Giles has recently discovered the Jackall Blinksy, which sports a belly blade that creates extra flash and vibration. Giles likes how it aerates the water and finds it superior when the wind has stirred the bottom.


One trick to ensure these baits work effortlessly is to use heavier monofilament. The wiry line rarely fouls the front prop, whereas thinner

lines, especially braid, will frequently snare. Giles uses the thicker 15-pound test mono line.

Monofilament rules when it comes to all topwaters. Have a look at floating mono, which is popular with stream anglers.

Experiment with each lure style and let the fish determine which one is best. Using topwaters will keep you in bass all summer.

Now that you know how to catch smallmouth, click here for seven tips on catching largies.

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