Proven ways to get more out of your topwater plugs
Fishermen who use topwater plugs exclusively are a funny breed. They’ll spend hours working a flat or shoreline, hoping for that one smashing hit. In fact, most die-hard topwater anglers I know would rather catch one fish on the surface where they can see the take than ten fish on bait or a sub-surface lure. I’m one of them. Regardless of your personal inclination, it’s undeniable that topwater plugs can be deadly on shallow-water gamefish. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll improve your results “on top.”
1. Keep your lures moving.
There is a popular notion that topwater baits should always be fished slowly. While it’s a pretty good rule of thumb for lakes and ponds, it doesn’t always hold true in saltwater. Saltwater bait-fish tend to be much faster than their freshwater counterparts, so lures that mimic them can be fished at a faster pace with good – if not better – results. In freshwater, lures are often cast out and left to sit for up to a minute before they’re moved. Try that in saltwater, and you could be in for a long day. As a rule of thumb, keep your plugs moving, and you’ll produce more strikes.
2. Try an erratic retrieve.
Avoid slow, rhythmic patterns when fishing saltwater. Frogs, tadpoles, small snakes and the like may move in a predictable fashion, but a mullet or shad certainly does not. An erratic, skipping retrieve is more likely to initiate a response in most saltwater species – including snook and redfish. For best results, imagine your lure is a wounded bait-fish, and a big hungry predator is giving chase. This will lend an urgency and realism to your retrieve that will result in more strikes.
3. Take care of your lures.
Ever notice how topwater lures work best right out of the box? That’s because their paint isn’t chipped, their hooks aren’t rusty, and no predator has dented their sides with a row of sharp chompers. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: take care of your equipment, and it will take care of you. Use fingernail polish to repair chips in your lures’ finish. This helps them retain their slick, buoyant quality, and protects them against water-logging. Wash your lures in fresh water each time you use them, then spray their hooks with a quality lubricant. Replace all old, rusty hooks with new ones, making sure to match the size of the originals to retain the lure’s intended balance. And regularly sharpen your hook points – snook and redfish often slash at topwater lures rather than swallow them, so sharp tips can be the difference between missed strikes and solid hookups.
4. Stay aggressive.
That is, cast fearlessly, and try to get your lure into “fishy” looking spots. When fishing around structure, try to get your lures as close to your target as possible. Lost lures and broken lines are the price you pay for becoming an accomplished caster. The best topwater anglers I know are very aggressive when casting shorelines and other structure, and they aren’t discouraged by a hung up lure. They simply retrieve it and start firing again.
Casting along structure such as shorelines, submerged trees and the like is a proven topwater tactic for gamefish, but there are certainly exceptions. Fish in shallow water will readily move toward a topwater lure if they’re in the mood, with grass flats being especially productive. Break the habit of constantly casting at structure, and you’ll soon learn that fish are located in areas you’d never have expected.
6. Stay alert.
This rule applies to all anglers in all situations, but especially to topwater fans. Keep your eyes open for feeding fish at all times. A shallow water fish needs to be in a rather aggressive mood to rise and strike a lure on the surface, so if you see fish that are actively feeding, your chance of getting one to smack your lure goes up exponentially. The signs which signal aggressively feeding fish can be subtle – such as “nervous” water or diving birds – or obvious, such as showering bait. Always toss your lure towards such a disturbance to capitalize on fish that are in the mood to eat.
7. Fish the cooler hours of the day.
The successful topwater fisherman capitalizes on the aggressive nature of the fish he pursues, and most gamefish are generally more aggressive at the break of day and just before sundown. Why? Because when the shadows are long – that is, for two or three hours after sunrise, and two to three hours before sunset – the water tends to be cooler, which leads to more activity. During the hottest hours of the day, fish will seek out shade and deeper, cooler holes. Once things cool down, they’ll often move into shallower water pursuing a meal. Although fish in deeper water aren’t as affected by the heat, they still tend to hit better in the morning and evening hours. In fact, some species often hit best in the dead of night.
8. Make the most of the wind, or lack thereof.
For the topwater fisherman, “wind” is a nasty four letter word. Lures are hard to throw in a brisk wind, and a chop on the surface make it very difficult for fish to see what you’re offering. On the other hand, very calm days can make fish spooky, so that they shy away from a noisy surface lure. Here are couple of good rules you can follow to make the most of very windy or very calm days: On quiet, windless days when larger plugs lead to spooked fish, try a smaller lure on lighter line, and tone down your presentation. On windy days, try a larger lure and work it loudly. Larger lures can be cast further in the wind, and they’re more likely to get noticed on a choppy surface.
9. Switch lure sizes, as necessary.
While repeatedly changing lures is never a good idea, switching to a different size lure can often entice fish to strike. To choose the most effective size, keep an eye out for the predominant baitfish in the area. Choose a lure which most closely resembles that bait, and the odds of it getting some attention are good.
10. Don’t overreact to a strike.
Many fish that hit topwater lures are lost immediately. The reason? The natural reaction to a strike is to try and set the hook right away, which often results in the lure being pulled out of the fish’s mouth. Your best bet: keep a taut line at all times, and wait until you feel the fish on the line before you set up. If it misses your lure, don’t crank it in and re-cast. Keep working your lure in a slow, jerky pattern -as if it was hit and wounded by the strike. If you keep your cool, you can often coax a fish into another strike.