The right topwater lure can lead to explosive summer surface action
The sound of a gamefish slurping down a topwater lure is distinct. Just imagining it gets my blood pumping. Catching fish at the surface is exciting. You can usually hear and see them strike, and that’s what makes it so addicting.
Surface strikes can be explosive and some can be subtle. Sometimes, the fish inhale the floating fake from below, and other times they come bursting out of the water with speed to attack the plug. Either way, tricking speckled trout and redfish into pulverizing a floating, hook-clad piece of plastic never gets old.
As we enter the dog days of summer, water temperatures are climbing. Because of this, many anglers believe fish likely will feed along the surface only during the early morning and late evening hours. Most believe fish will retreat to the depths during the heat of the day. There’s some truth to that, but it’s by no means an absolute science.
In fact, I regularly find myself in situations in which I wouldn’t feel confident in achieving success by using any other bait besides a surface-walking topwater lure, no matter the time of day. That’s because topwaters can be cast long distances to cover vast areas, and they’ll draw reaction strikes from fish when other baits won’t. From deep, open water to shallow stretches, or areas with poor water clarity, the floating baits will coax strikes from gamefish this summer in more situations than you might think.
One of the reasons topwater plugs are so effective is because they emit a lot of sound and vibration into the water. Most have loud rattles built in, and when they are worked across the surface, they produce a wake. Sometimes, this is enough to get the attention of a redfish or trout when nothing else will. There also are times when it seems like the racket produced by these lures agitates the gamefish enough that they react by aggressively striking it. It’s almost like they are angry at the noisy bait and are more interested in trying to kill it than eat it.
This is why I commonly use the phrase “Rattle one up,” when referring to chunking topwaters. Dragging a loud surface walker over areas where fish are lurking can be the ticket when the right approach is employed.
A variety of styles of retrieves will render bone-crushing strikes when anglers are casting topwater baits. By far, the most common and effective retrieve is known as the walk-the-dog method. Walking the dog basically means the action you’re employing on the lure with a rod and reel is making it dart or walk back and forth on the surface. Gamefish find the steady side-to-side action hard to resist.
The key to walking-the-dog is to make the bait move to and fro more than it’s moving forward. Not only will this keep the lure in the strike zone longer, but it’s also similar to dangling a tempting meal right in front of a fish’s nose. The zigzagging action almost says, “Here I am, now come and get me.”
The steady side-to-side action of the walk-the-dog method can be achieved by repetitive, rhythmic twitches of the rod tip, while continuing to reel up the slack in the line just enough to stay in contact with the lure. Twitching the bait with a little slack line allows it to move back and forth more than it moves forward.
An erratic, start-and-stop retrieve with a topwater also works well, especially when the fish are acting finicky. This strategy simply involves breaking up the walk-the-dog method by adding pauses to the retrieve in which the lure is allowed to float motionless in the water. Try twitching the bait four or five times and then allow it to rest for a second or two. Then, begin walking it across the surface again. Vary the rhythm, speed and number of twitches that you make in between pauses until you figure out what the fish like best. Be ready, because a lot of times, reds and specks will strike on the pause.
Simply dropping your rod tip toward the surface and reeling a topwater plug straight back also can produce strikes. This method usually works best when the fish are in an aggressive mood. I like to mix it in periodically with both the start-and-stop and steady, walk-the-dog retrieves. Sometimes, after pausing the bait or twitching it back and forth, a short burst in the retrieve that makes the lure move straight across the surface will result in a bite. It’s almost like the fish think their prey is trying to get away, causing them to strike.
The angle at which a floating lure is retrieved across the surface also is something to consider, especially when there’s a ripple on the water. Often, casting at a 45-degree angle to the wind, rather than directly downwind, will result in more hookups. Topwater baits tend to have a more natural action when they’re not working directly against surface-chop motion.
Choosing the right topwater plug comes down to the situation at hand. Plugs with a small profile that produce a subtle rattle and wake, like the Heddon Super Spook Jr., tend to work the best during dead-calm conditions when there’s very little ripple across the water’s surface.
When there’s plenty of surface chop from moderate to strong winds, magnum-sized baits with rattles similar to a maraca, like the She Dog by MirrOlure and the Skitter Walk by Rapala, are better options. These large, noisy lures also will grab the attention of redfish and trout in off-colored waters with poor clarity.
The PT-7 is a bite-sized, soft-bodied topwater that casts like a bullet. It’s completely weedless, and can be skipped into tight places, making it the perfect option when fishing around floating grass and other structures. The PT-7 also works great in the back lakes during high tides when the fish are holding tight to flooded banks in areas where other topwater lures would get hung up.
Another topwater worth checking out is the Bill Lewis StutterStep 4.0. This lure has a unique shape and an erratic dancing action that is unlike any other.
Some of my favorite summertime areas to catch trout and redfish on topwater baits along the upper Texas coast include the San Luis Pass, the open waters of East Matagorda Bay, East Galveston Bay oyster reefs, the Bolivar Pocket, and the marshes and back lakes surrounding Sabine Lake. Regardless of where you’re fishing this summer, make a point to throw more surface floating fakes, even in places and situations in which you normally wouldn’t. You just might get an explosive surprise.