Topwater Dogsby Capt. Terry Rand
Topwater action is probably the most exciting method of fishing with artificial lures. Sure, you’ve thrown the poppers and the chuggers but have you have taken the dog for a walk? Here is a lure that catches nearly any fish that feeds on the water’s surface. Whether its largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pike, musky, bluefish, striper or schooling tuna, this system works and provides some of the most eye-popping strikes you will ever see.
The topwater strike is one of the most exciting types of lure takes in fishing.
The lure has acquired a number of different names of the years including walkers, stick baits and spook lures. They are nothing more than a floating topwater lure that is essentially shaped like a cigar. It bears no cupped face, diving bill or any other action imparting feature seen on most other types of plugs. The action needs to be initiated by the angler. For the uninitiated, this lure usually is not worked properly for lack of proper instruction. When it is worked properly it is called, “Walking the Dog”.
The lure is most effective on long casts which they are generally built for. After engaging the reel handle the idea is to tighten up the line and give the lure a short twitch as you begin to turn the reel handle. Twitch the bait with your rod tip, not the reel. As you twitch the rod tip you should see the lure dart to one side. Now, repeat the process and you will see the lure dart to the other side. Continue to slowly take up the slack of each twitch and repeat the process. What you should get is a medium speed retrieve that has the lure bouncing from one side to the other as it makes its way back to the rod tip.
The position of the rod tip is important during the retrieve. If the rod tip is held too high the lure may tend to jump out of the water. The tip of the rod should be in the 3 or 4 o’clock position and the twitches should be in a downward motion so that at the end of the twitch the rod tip is in the 5 or 6 o’clock position.
Many first timers do have a hard time getting the lure to do what it is supposed to do. One key to getting that side to side action is your rod tip twitches need to have a rhythm. You can develop that rhythm by closely watching the lure react to your rod tip movements. It is a fast paced cadence. When the lure darts to one side it is time to impart your next rod tip twitch. It’s kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. It may feel weird at first but after a few casts, most folks get the hang of it.
A nice bluefish taken on a topwater plug from shore, surfcasting.
For most species of fish, this method, as with most topwater methods, seems to work best during low light hours, either first thing in the morning or through dusk into the night time. Fish tend to be less reluctant to hit surface offerings when the sun is not directly overhead. There will be times when fish are schooled up and feeding on the surface in great numbers. This lure shines during those times as the slow, injured side to side action stands out against the bait that the fish are feeding on, drawing some voracious strikes.
There are a number of different lures in this category including the original Zara Spook, Sammy and one of my new favorites, the Rapala X-Walk. I keep my color selections down to a minimum of natural baitfish style finishes. Chrome, silver/black, silver/blue and usually a chartreuse pattern of some sort for dingy waters.
The best part of this style of fishing is the anglers’ involvement in keeping the correct rhythm going to impart the right action which is then spontaneously interrupted by a fish exploding on the lure at the surface. The initial reaction is to immediately jerk the rod tip to set the hook. But, as with most surface lures, it is recommended that you wait until you feel the weight of the fish. Because of the explosiveness of the strikes, the fish will often times miss the lure on it initial attack. If you keep the retrieve going, the fish will come back and strike again.
As mentioned before, the retrieve does have a learning curve. But, with just a few casts and the tips you have just learned, you’ll be taking the dog for a walk in no time. Even better, you’ll be enjoying one of the most exciting styles of fishing out there.