An unrippled surface is one which is loaded with exciting potential. Whether it’s the calm glassy surface of a panfish pond, or the wide expanse of a favorite lake in the dawn’s early light, being the one to plop a popper, a plastic or a topwater lure onto it and break the glasslike sheen with a splash is always quite an experience. But when your splash is answered by one that comes from below, that’s when the real excitement in fishing begins.
Topwater angling for any number of species – from bluegills, to bass and even pike and muskies – while not being the method that produces the most strikes, certainly entices the most memorable ones. What follows are some tips to enhance your topwater efforts and convert more of those fish that make a splash around your surface offerings.
Cast & Pause
Sometimes, all that’s required for a successful topwater experience is a cast and then a long pause, especially with retrieved floating lures like Heddon’s Torpedo or Zara Spook. Once your bait lands, allow the ripples it creates on the surface to dissipate over ten or fifteen seconds. Waiting for things to settle will allow fish that might have spooked from your bait’s entry to calm down and come back to investigate just what woke up their world. The same goes for any buoyant plastics; and you may not even need to reel as fish will creep up and inhale those motionless surface baits that look like they just became and unfortunate snack.
The pause sets the stage for that first movement as any twitch or jump signals life and an easy meal. Watch for bass, panfish and bigger predators to make their move as a lure – and the illusion of lunch – begins to move away from them on the first couple turns of the reel. Make sure the line is tight so you can feel the fish and get ready for a good solid hookset, especially around vegetation or structure and keep the fish clear of those obstacles with a powerful, upward sweep.
While a topwater strike can look like a sure thing with the dynamite-like explosion coming from under the bait, more often than not the fish barely have the lure when all that splashing occurs. An adrenaline-filled hookset often results in a missed fish and a return to calm on the surface. Counter to our nature to react excitedly to the situation and haul back on the rod immediately, it is imperative to give the fish a count of two and feel for its weight on the end of the line before setting the hook after a surface strike.
Keep the hooks on topwater baits extremely sharp and in good condition as fish will often only connect with one of the two trebles on any hard baits. Consider adding a trailer hook with a bit of tubing for any buzzbaits in your arsenal as well to double your chances of connecting and deter short-striking fish. A final modification of tying on a small pinch of bucktail or tinsel to the back treble of any floating lure, even those tiny panfish lures like Rebel’s Crickhopper, can help draw more solid strikes on the surface by giving fish a better target at the moment they make their explosive take.
Topwater fishing may not hook more fish than other methods, but it has hooked more than its share of anglers. A number of people have related to me the stories of catching their first bass on a topwater lure or of a muskie exploding violently on a surface stickbait as the reason they got so into angling. At midsummer, topwater angling is an exciting endeavor that’s always worth few casts before switching over to more conventional lures, whether to relive the past rush or experience the explosion of adrenaline for the very first time…in our outdoors.