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Scratching the surface with the right bait

They're not an "anytime" bait, but when the time is right for topwater lures, these floating fish finders can prove highly productive.

Designed to imitate wounded baitfish flopping at the surface, these baits tend to elicit ferocious strikes as predators unload on what they think is an easy meal.

Snook, redfish, jacks, bluefish and especially speckled trout readily attack topwater baits when presented in the right scenarios.

Topwaters produce across the Nature Coast calendar, but their applicability becomes concentrated during summer months. Hot days and scattered afternoon thunderstorm activity make early-morning and late afternoon/evening hours preferable.

These times are coolest because the sun is lower in, or gone from, the horizon. That means low or no natural light — prime time for topwater baits.

For clarity, topwaters can also work midday, given favorable conditions like cloudy skies. However, fish will have already moved through various stages of their daily positioning, so the opportunity is more scattered than during the day's beginning and conclusion.

Early mornings find predators patrolling skinny shoreline shallows that will be too hot during the daytime heat. Big trout are particularly given to lying in barely enough water to cover their backs.

At night, shadow lines around docks and seawalls present similar opportunities.

Either way, the objective is ambush — picking off minnows, finger mullet and other baitfish when low visibility enables predators to sneak up on prey.

For optimal topwater success, consider these tips.


Keep a selection of sizes, colors and designs handy and experiment to see what the fish prefer. Sometimes a full-size noisy bait with internal rattles will stimulate the fish, while other scenarios may require smaller profile topwaters with minimal sound.

Another noise option is the chugger style of topwaters. Unlike smooth-faced topwaters, which "walk" across the surface with low, short rod twitches, chuggers have concave faces that slurp, gurgle and push a mini-wall of water.

Strike response

With any style of topwater bait, it's important to control your responses. Surface strikes are sudden and exciting, but overzealous reaction will blow the whole deal.

Bottom line, let the fish come tight — don't yank the rod tip at first glimpse. When you see the splash, hold the rod steady until you see the fish take your bait under.

Normally, the fish will take off as soon as it feels the hooks, but remember the phrase "reel till you feel." That means gathering the slack until the fish's weight bends the rod with smooth, even pressure.

Sometimes fish blast a surface lure with such force that the hooks swing away from their mouth. Give the fish time to close its mouth around your bait or make another strike.

The followup

The good thing about topwater baits is fish have to be pretty fired up to make a surface attack. Therefore, if a fish hits and misses, you can often tease the attacker into a followup strike.

Keep the lure moving for a few seconds, pause it for a few more and repeat until the fish hits again. When a predator misses its first shot, it will often sit behind the lure and watch for movement. Twitching and pausing the lure erratically mimics a wounded baitfish and that really flips the aggression switch.

In the case of redfish, hookups are harder because the fish's mouth faces downward for bottom foraging. It's surprising reds ever connect with a top­water, but they certainly do. Often, you just have to fish patiently and be prepared to take the presentation to the next level.

If a red, or any fish strikes and misses, or boils under your lure but breaks off the attack, you can often salvage a bite by quickly tossing a subsurface bait like a jig or soft plastic jerk bait near your topwater.

The sudden appearance of a deeper target may resemble a sinking prey or simply an easier option.

Rig right

For topwater action, use a 6- to 6½-foot medium-action rod with less tip action than you'd want in a live bait rod. Baitcasting reels work best, but spinning reels will suffice. For either, use braided line in the 20- to 30-pound range.

This type of outfit helps you maintain contact with your bait, offers better control over its action and ensures quicker response to strikes. You don't need to sling your topwater a mile, but a braid's thinner diameter reduces wind drag and improves your range — a plus when fish are spooky.

Scratching the surface with the right bait 08/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 1:34pm]
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