The Top Water Bible

It’s that time again
written by: Capt. Greg Francis (Aqua Pimp)
"CLICK" "CLICK" "CLICK" CLICK" "SWOOOOOOSH" and this is the part where your heart just about goes into cardiac arrest LOL. That sound can only mean one thing, "its topwater time" once again. As most of you know I am a big topwater freak. I live and breath the sounds and sights of a trout crushing a surface plug as its being worked along the surface in the shallow flats. For the next few months you will find me along one of the shorelines in the Galveston Bay complex looking for a few hungry specks willing to give chase to one of my topwater lures.
Topwaters come in all sizes, sounds, and colors. For me each one has its time and place. If you look in my tackle box you will find a mixed variety of surface plugs. Super Spooks & Jrs., Top Dogs & Jrs, He Dogs, She Dogs, & She Pups pretty much make up my arsenal of surface hardware.
Before choosing a bait to start off with I like to read the water before any decision can be made. Is the water muddy? Is it clear? Is the water choppy? Is it flat? What is the weather like? Cloudy or clear? These are all factors I will take in mind before starting off on my wade. In general, in off color water I would probably start off with a black or bone colored bait. Even a bait with a bright orange or chartreuse belly might even get the nod. Low light conditions or at dark would call for these same colored baits. Clear water I would elect to go to something bright colored or a natural color like maybe a mullet pattered bait. If the sun was out maybe something with a bit more flash to it, a chrome colored bait would be a definite good choice here. When the sun is high in the sky I love tying on a Chrome/ Blue or Chrome/Black She dog. This is an awesome producer any time there is active bait moving around a shoreline or reef. During the spring time I may choose a smaller bait like a Super Spook Jr. or She Pup. During the spring the bait will be a lot smaller in size, I like to try and match the hatch. On those windy spring days the conditions will call for a bigger bait with more noise. A She Dog or Super Spook may be the bait I elect to throw. During those windy days, I like to throw a bigger and louder target. Makes the bait easier for a big hungry speck to find. Just remember:
Dirty water or low light= Dark colored baits
Clear water and sunny= Natural or bright colored baits
Windy= Big and noisy
Calm= Medium to small baits.
Keep in mind this is just rule of thumb. There are days when you can throw all this out the window. But this is what I try and use as my guide.
*Conditions for topwaters*
My favorite conditions for working topwaters are those cloudy or overcast days with light winds. I strongly believe if the conditions are to flat with no wind the trout get somewhat skittish of a surface plug. I like a light to moderate ripple on the water. During the warmer months like July, August, and early September. The early morning and late afternoon bite proves to be the best. However, if I find active mullet in the middle of the day I am never afraid to pull out a topwater and give it a go. I have experienced some really good topwater action during the middle of the day with bright skies overhead.
I think the retrieve of a bait is the most crucial part of topwater fishing. More critical than color selection in my opinion. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with many anglers in the past using the same bait in size and color. I have been on both sides of the fence. One angler is just putting a whoopin’ on will the others just stand and watch with frustration. One angler just happens to be working his or her bait the particular way they wanted it. This is where the patience plays its biggest role in topwater fishing. You have got to experiment and play with your retrieve in order to be effective. Play with the speed of you retrieve, add pauses, work it slow, work it slower, speed it up, burn the bait (work it fast). Usually when you find the retrieve that draws a strike it should draw another and so on. Most beginners that I take out tend to start out way to fast. Ripping there baits out of the water instead of a walking the dog motion from side to side. The baits are designed to be worked with not a whole lot of rod tip action. A slight whip of the rod goes along way. I will almost always start out with a slow retrieve adding frequent pauses to the retrieve then start speeding up the retrieve if the slower retrieve does not draw any attention. Don’t be afraid to add pauses into your retrieve. I have seen some monster blowups as the bait sits dead in the water. Sometimes this is all they want.Then again, sometimes they want the plug ripped along the surface of the water. A good gauge to use is the bait around you. Watch what the bait in your area is doing. Mullet moving slow and lazy would call for me to make a slower presentation of my bait. But I would experiment as well. If the bait is nervous and very skittish a more erratic faster retrieve might be what rings the dinner bell. You just half to get out there and experiment to you find what they want. You will find out quickly what they don’t want that’s for sure.
*Setting the hook*
Watching a trout explode on a topwater bait is the most thrilling experience of topwater fishing for me. Topwater fishing you actually get to see the fish come to the surface and strike your bait. These strikes get get down right vicious as the trout slams the bait throwing white water everywhere. I have seen trout knock a bait 2′ in the air before and also witnessed trout launching themselves 2′ in the air while attacking a surface plug.
Setting the hook can be tricky at times, I tell all of my clients not to set the hook until he or she actually feels the weight of the fish pulling the rods from your hands. If a trout wants a bait bad enough they will generally get it on the first blowup. A trout will either try and eat the bait the first time or may just come up and slap at it just to try and stun the bait. When a trout short strikes a bait or just comes up to slap at it you can bet its still down there ready to strike again. By trying to set the hook on a short strike you just pulled the bait about 2 to 3′ out of the strike zone, the fish will generally not follow or lose sight of the bait. On a short strike you want to let the bait sit dead in the water maybe adding a few very light twitches. By doing this a trout will come back a usually strike harder than the first strike. It will take practice and probably several missed fish trying to force yourself not to set the hook on the sight of a blowup. Patience is the key. With that said, there will be times when you will set the hook without feeling the weight of the fish. On occasion a trout will strike the bait and run to you. You will see the blowup but feel nothing. After the white water clears and you do not see your bait sitting out there you will discover the trout still has it but the fish is making its run to you. The only thing to do is to reel up all the slack until you feel tension then set the hook. Most of the time the fish will still be around, but then again the trout has had time and a lot of slack line to try and shake the plug loose. Even the most experienced topwater guys will tend to set the hook upon the sight of a blowup, I myself get to eager at times and will set the hook only to come up empty handed knowing the fish will not come back because I just yanked the bait 4 feet from the original strike.
*Landing a hooked trout*
When topwater fishing use extreme caution handling any fish caught. I prefer the method of not using a landing net. This is just personal preference on my part. For one I don’t want to pick 2 or 3 treble hooks out of a landing net or do I want to lose a good quality fish due to hooks getting caught up in the net causing a trout to pull free. After hooking up with a fish try and keep the fish up close to the surface so you can watch its every move. When the trout or red gets close move your feet close together so the fish does not try and make a run between your legs. They will do this. I have had several trout pinned to my ankles before. Its very difficult to remove a kicking trout pinned to you ankle in 3′ of water. And can be painful if a hook gets embedded in the flesh of your skin. What I like to do is get the fish in front of me and guide it into a figure eight circle until it becomes very tired. Never try and grab a freshly hooked fish. Make sure your fish is tired before you make the grab. A freshly hook trout may or will make a sudden move causing you to miss and possibly causing you to have a hooked fish pinned to your hand or arm. Been there done that and it ain’t fun. Before making your grab look a see where all your hooks are located. Usually the front hook will be located around the mouth and the trailer hook will be in the body of the fish or may be swinging free. Once hooks are located make your grab on the tired fish directly behind the gill plates. Put a firm grip on the fish just incase any sudden kicks are made. If a fish makes a sudden move and it slips out of your hand you may have just be the one who is now hooked. Again use caution on any fish with a topwater, the hooks on these topwaters are extremely sharp and can cause a unexpected trip to the ER. When removing a topwater make sure there is no tension on your line. Back off and give yourself some slack. You do not want to remove the bait only to have a bent rod sling it out of your hands. Once the hooks are free you can then slide the fish on your stringer or release again for another day.
*Picking a spot*
When I’m choosing an area to fish there are a few things I’m am looking for. First thing I will look for is some kind of tidal flow either ebbing or flooding. Tidal movement is very vital in saltwater fishing no matter what kind of fishing you set out for. Tidal flow forces bait movement which in return triggers predator fish to feed. Some areas are better on certain tidal flow directions. For instance, a small bayou or cut may be better on an out going tide as the receding water will force or pull bait fish out of a bayou. You may be able to find predator fish holding at the mouth feeding on smaller bait fish like mullet or shad as they are forced out into the open making them an easy target. Tidal flow is very important. Another key in picking out an area is the abundance of bait fish holding in a spot. When running a shoreline I will always be on the look out for jumping mullet in an area. During the warmer months a shoreline with lots and lots of mullet is worth stopping and investigating. Any time there is an abundance of mullet you can bet there will be game fish not far behind. Any spot with visible bait fish will get my attention. This does not mean I will always catch fish, but at least I found a starting point. A area that is holding bait fish is always a better starting point than an area with no signs of life at all. Anytime I find an area like this I will pull in real slow, most likely up wind and away from the heaviest concentration of bait. Ease out of the boat and slowly work my way into the area holding the most bait. As I slowly walk I am steady fan casting my topwater trying different retrieves. I will generally give an area at least an hour or so to produce. I’m always scanning the water around me looking for bait. I’m always looking for any signs of nervous or erratic bait movement. This is a for sure sign that trout or reds are in the area disturbing the movement of bait fish. Another key sign are birds. Watch for birds flying or diving in an area. Pelicans, Gulls, or Turns can show you where there is bait located that you can not always see or may not have noticed. Another for sure sign that there are feeding fish in an area are slicks. Slicks will form directly over feeding fish. Slicks are formed as trout feed and release fish oils from there mouth as they are feeding. Try and find out where the slicks are coming from. A fresh slick will be very small, usually it will start out about the size of a garbage can lid but grow very rapidly as the currents carry it away. Areas like the San Luis Pass may have 10 or 15 slicks at one time, take a look and try to figure out where these slicks are originating from and slowly work your way in that direction. Move slowly as you do not want to disturb the area you want to fish. These are some of the key signs I look for when choosing an area I want to fish. If you can locate an area that has 3 or 4 of these signs at one time, get ready because you are fishing to catch some fish LOL.
*Covering an area*
Covering an area can be a difficult challenge if wading by yourself. An area like the San Luis Pass has a ton or open water with a lot of wading space. Anglers wading in groups of 2 to 4 have the advantage over wading single. Waders in groups can cover many different baits while covering more water. When wading with clients I tend to spread them out. I will put one shallow (1 to 2′ range), One in middle range (2 to 3′ range), and 1 out to cover the deeper range. This away I can cover the shoreline all at once until we establish the preferred depth and pattern. Wading single requires the angler to work a bit harder to cover water. When I’m wading single I will walk in a zigzag pattern starting up shallow working out to deeper water then back to shallow until I start connecting with fish. Once fish are found I will stop moving and work the area over very good before proceeding. In warmer months fish like trout or reds will be up real shallow at first light the generally start backing off to deeper water as the sun comes out and temperatures start to rise. While walking my zigzag pattern I will move very slowly making fan casts from left to right working my bait at different retrieves until I find something that will work. Once a retrieve and depth is found be patient and keep plugging away. What generally works once should work again for a few more fish.
Everyone has his or her own preference in the type of equipment they use. When wading I try to pack as light as possible. I wade for many hours at a time and do not want to come fatigued by carry to much equipment. A good piece of equipment for me is a good wading belt. A good wading belt should have a small wading box capable of carrying a few extra topwaters, plastics, lead heads, and maybe a Corky or two. A pair of good quality pliers is a must along with a good stringer. Your stringer should at least be a minimum of 15′ with a float on the end. Also, a good pair of wading boots. Light weight flats boots are very good, comfortable, and light weight. I prefer the Stingray boot, they are a little heavy but I like to have the insurance of protection around my ankles just in case I happen to step on a ray. As long as you are shuffling those feet rays will not be a problem. Its when you are walking and step directly down on the rays is where the problem can arise. A few more items that are a must for me are a good pair of quality sun glasses, clippers for cutting line, cap, and extra shock leader line. That’s about all I feel like I need to carry to get the job done. As far as rod and reel selection, I like a good quality light rod n reel. A good topwater rod for me is about 6′ 6" ,light weight and is usually a med light action. There are many good topwater rods on the market that are specially designed for topwaters but they are also versatile enough to throw Corky’s, plastic, and spoons. What I don’t want is a real limber rod that will wear down on my wrists as I try and make the bait work through the water. A real good rod will allow the rod tip action to do the work not your wrist. My reel selection will be a bait cast reel. There are many fine reel out on the market today that are durable as well as light. My choice will always be a Shimano bait cast reel. The reels have been proven over the years to be tough under the harshest of conditions. My reels take a lot of abuse but they are maintained very well and definitely hold up. Curado’s, Calcutta’s, and Chronarchs are all good choices with the Chronarch SF, Chronarch MG, and Chronarch Scorpion being my favorites.
Wade fishing to me is a lot of fun. It offers me the opportunity the leave the boat and get out and make a more stealthier approach in fishing. I feel like I can always catch more fish by wading. I move quietly through the water and can stop immediately when finding a hungry school of fish. However, there are a few dangers when out in the water that you should always be aware of. Always be aware of strong tidal flow areas. Areas like the San Luis Pass can be unforgivable to an angler or swimmer getting caught up in the strong currents that move in and out of the pass. I prefer not to wade in the immediate area of the pass. The currents and deeper water guts created by these stronger currents make the risk to high for me. I like to wade the areas the lay along the outer edges of the pass. To me its just safer and I still catch plenty of fish. Another danger that should always be monitored is the weather. You should always check your local forecast before making your trip but monitor it at all times. Everyone knows how the weather can change instantly around here on the coast. Use good judgment. You do not want to be a hundred yards from the boat with heavy thunder boomers around, you may want to stay close to the boat or your vehicle just in case you need to make a run into safety. Sharks can also be a hazard in the warmer months. Use a long 15 to 20′ stringer and DO NOT EVER TIE YOU STRINGER to your body or equipment. If a shark grabs your stringer you want to be able to release the stringer spike from the sheath and let him have it. Stringers and stringers of fish can be replaced. You do not want to be dragged by a hungry shark which decided to make an easy meal out of your fish. Always keep your stringer of fish away from your body and never let the stringer cord become wrapped around your waist or legs. Keep it stretched out away from your body. Another issue can be Man-o-War jelly. This jelly will cause severe pain if rubbed up against bare skin. Its always a good idea to wear long pants instead of shorts when wading. A good hit of this stuff will cause instant pain right away and last for a while. I keep a bottle of meat tenderizer in the boat to help relieve the pain if I ever come in contact with these painful jelly fish. One of my greatest fears in wade fishing is the stingray. This flat bottom feeder can cause great pain and cut a fishing trip short. Your day of fishing has just ended and now you will be on the way to the ER. When entering the water you never want to walk. Shuffle those feet at all time. By shuffling your feet you will slide your feet along the floor of the bay, if you happen to slide your feet into a ray they will just move out of the way. By walking and taking steps if you were to step down on a ray and pin it to the floor its primary line of defense is the barb on the tail of the ray. This barb can be whipped into the flesh of the skin causing severe pain. The barb may be either pulled back out by the ray or could be broken off into the flesh. Never try and removed a broken barb that has been broken off into he flesh. Seek medical attention immediately. Never apply ice on a ray wound either. If possible apply warm water to the wound to help relieve the pain and get to the doctor very quickly.
Hopefully I have helped a few in sharing a few tips and some of my strategies in topwater fishing. Tight lines and full stringers to everyone and most importantly be safe out there.

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