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Top Water Basics

By Marc Wisniewski

I don’t think that anyone would disagree that catching a fish on a topwater lure may be one of the most exciting strikes in all of fishing. That unexpected disruption of a peaceful moment in nature is the adrenaline rush that we fishermen crave. That rush gets taken to a new level when a fish blows an opening in the surface of the water to engulf your topwater lure. Whether it’s a Bass, Pike, Striper, or Musky, there may be nothing better than a top water bite.

Topwater lures are most effective when the waters warm up in late spring and through summer. There is also a sleeper topwater bite in the early fall. This is when water temperatures in the shallows cool to the point where some of the big boys that spent the heat of summer in deep water and now return to feed shallow.

Fishing topwater baits can look like a pandemonium or look as tedious as brain surgery. You need to let the fish tell you what their mood is. If you see fish chasing baitfish and minnows or shad flying out of the water fleeing the gamefish, that’s your cue to get aggressive with your retrieves. Imitate those baitfish escaping their predator. If you don’t see that type of activity, its your cue to slow things down for less aggressive fish. Its easy for an angler to fish too fast and miss some opportunities. If conditions are calm and clear, slow down and test that fish’s patients.

For a topwater lure like a popper, less is more. Its very tempting to really give it a pop and see a huge burp of water come out of the popper face, but that will send them heading for cover. When the popper lands, let all the surface rings disappear before you do anything. Let that fish zero in on it. Now, just nudge it enough to make a few rings in the surface again. This usually triggers a strike. If not, give it a quick snap just enough to make it spit a little water and pull it 12” to 18” and let it sit again. Continue that till you are well away from your cover target.

If you are fishing a popper in a more aggressive situation where fish are busting into bait, then work it faster. A spit, spit, spit, pause, then repeat, that looks like a fleeing baitfish will score in those situations.

Topwater hits are exciting, but you must show some restraint when setting the hook. If you set the hook too quick after seeing a surface commotion and you will probably take the lure away from the fish. On a tight line, wait to feel the fish before you set the hook and you will catch them all. Some anglers will use a slower action rod when throwing topwater lures to help slow their physical reaction to the visual strike.

Topwater lures offer some of the most exciting action in fishing. Toss one around some shallow weeds, fallen trees, docks, or lily pads and be ready for some heart stopping strikes.