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Soft Plastic Topwaters

By Vance McCullough

Frogs and toads are old news to some Florida bass.

Weedless-rigged Nervous Rex, similar in size and profile to a magnum Zara Spook.

When bass are tight to cover or buried beneath it, getting a lure in front of them can be difficult. Plugs with treble hooks are suited for nibbling around edges of cover. If fish are active such an approach may work well. However, when bass hunker in places inaccessible to most lures, as they often do, a weedless offering is a must.

Buzz toads work well when bass are playing fast and loose.

Hollow-bodied frogs can be cast into a rose bush with little concern of getting hung up. They can also be paused in place indefinitely to entice reluctant fish.

A buzzing toad and a hollow frog combine to form a solid game plan.

The problem is that this game plan has proven so effective that there has arisen an army of toad slingers and frog fanatics. These folks have educated the bass in many of Florida's most popular lakes. Many will learn to avoid artificial prey after they have seen it a time or two. If you want to keep catching the biggest— and therefore wisest—bass, you must outsmart not only the fish but your fellow anglers as well.

Here are a couple of soft plastic topwaters that most bass have not yet seen.

Z-man offers the Pop ShadZ, a 5-inch cupped-face floater made of hyper buoyant and bulletproof ElaZtech material. Jerked aggressively this bait will spray a wall of water as it gurgles and pops. Even when barely twitched it will walk in similar fashion to the most productive hard stickbaits. Its lithe tail is split to further produce a seductive quiver in the lure's own wake. When the Pop ShadZ is left in place, the undulating tail often seals the deal for indecisive fish.

The Pop ShadZ will work in places where a frog used to. Fish it the same way.

Because ElaZtech is incredibly durable, the Pop ShadZ will outlast a whole pack of regular soft plastics. It can stand up to the abuse dealt by bass, snook, redfish, trout and more. This makes the lure a no-brainer for Florida's tidal creeks where a variety of gamefish swim.

Another great all-round option for tidewater and sweet water alike is the Owner Nervous Rex. It is similar in size to the Pop ShadZ but produces less sound and splash due to its gently rounded nose.

Owner recommends it be rigged on some type of weighted hook or jighead and used as a swimbait, but if rigged correctly an unweighted Rex will do things no other lure will. There is a flat spot beneath the head of the lure where a chin would be, if fish had chins. This is where the hook should be inserted. The effect is that the lure has an upward slanting nose which propels it up and out of the water when snapped suddenly forward. It acts like a mullet, which is one reason for its crossover appeal to inshore species as well as freshwater fish.

The Rex has an ultra-realistic baitfish shape right down to the anatomically correct fanned-out tail which is thin so it quivers at the slightest twitch of your rod—hence the name “Nervous” Rex. The “ayu” color is a great match for Florida's native shiners. A more realistic bait will cost you $15 a dozen and need to be kept in a livewell.

The Rex will cut the surface and then dip below, exposing itself to predation from fish that may only follow a buzz toad without breaching their underwater ceiling to eat it.

Whereas the Pop ShadZ sounds like a feeding bluegill, the Nervous Rex sounds like a fleeing baitfish—be it a mullet or a big gizzard shad.

Both of these meaty baitfish mimics call for a 4/0 or 5/0 hook which adds a touch more weight to these lures that already cast well on baitcasting gear and will find their target even in windy conditions. The increased weight of such a hook will not sink the Pop ShadZ which is designed to float atop the water. The Nervous Rex will slowly descend if left to do so.

Most topwater lures call for monofilament line because it floats and will not dampen the action of the hard plastic or wooden lures. But the Pop ShadZ and Nervous Rex work fine with fluorocarbon line which is more abrasion resistant and nearly invisible. Also, because it lacks the stretch of mono, fluorocarbon helps an angler quickly pull a fighting fish out of dense cover before it can wrap the line around unseen obstacles.

There's no question these two new topwaters, and others like them, will take tons of big Florida bass, along with snook and reds. The only question is: Will you be the first to show them to the fish on your favorite stretch of water? FS

First published Florida Sportsman August 2015

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