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 Topwater Tactics
by Jon Parks


lunar phases


From the New England states to the Amazon River Basin to Bill Dance's backyard, American anglers are throwing top-water lures. If you've ever had a 21 -inch speckled trout slam a top water lure three feet from your rod tip, you know it will startle you.
A speckled trout may not sound like a large-mouth bass but no matter how you describe the sound made when a speckled trout busts a top-water lure it will give you a rush of adrenalin every time.
On a nasty gray day in December of 1994, my friend and experienced fisherman Rick Conner introduced me to top-water trout fishing and "walking-the-dog". On that day we caught 20 specks between 21 and 24-inches long and left the spot with the fish still biting. I don't think Conner has thrown anything but a top-water lure since.
When fishing with top-water lures, it is a good idea to have good equipment and it should be kept in good working order as fishertnen like Conner, who has fished Galveston Bay for more than 25 years, will tell you many trophy-sized speckled trout are caught on topwater lures throughout the year. I saw Conner catch a 30-inch trout in Galveston Bay on a topwater lure. So you never know when that 8 to 10 pounder (or should I say 10 to 15 pounder for those fishing the Laguna Madre) is going to bust your top-water lure. When she does, you don't want to have last year's line spooled on your reel. Or, have a rod and reel you haven't picked up in six months. The better the gear you are using, the longer you will be able to fish before fatigue sets in.

Many rod manufacturers make rods designed to fish top-water lures exclusively. Falcon Rods makes a rod called Cara Top Water, a rod designed for poppers and walk-the-dog type baits. Falcon also makes a Peacock Special I designed for big propeller baits and the Peacock Special II rod with added length for casting distance and fighting power. Castaway Rods makes a surface bait rod and several different action-popping rods. All-Star Rods has a Tops-n -Tails Special in the classic model and a more expensive model equipped with titanium-coated guides and an even more expensive model equipped with extra coffosion resistant titanium-carbide guides. American Rodsmith also has a good popping rod.
G-Loomis makes a quality coastal popping rod and several quality light to heavy bass rods with a fast taper that would make a fine top-water rod. These rods are a little stiffer than the average fishing rod.
A stiffer rod delivers the energy from your muscles to the lure more efficiently than a flimsier rod. With a flimsy rod, some energy is lost in the bending of the rod. It depends on who you ask as to what type of reel is best for top-water fishing. I prefer a bait caster, because I am more comfortable walking-the-dog with a bait caster. Many people in Florida like to walk the dog with a spin caster, the reel depends on the individual.
After a couple of hundred casts, it is a good idea to sharpen the hooks on your lure; especially the front hooks, because while walking-the-dog, the hooks hit the side of the lure causing them to dull over time. walking-the-dog is one of the retrieving actions used by top-water fishermen. To walk the dog, the angler pumps the wrist back and forth while retrieving the lure. This wrist-pumping action causes the lure to snap back and forth. As the lure moves back and forth it makes a wake across the top of the water as if a small school of finger mullet was passing over. In four feet of water or less, it is like the lure is calling out for a speckled trout to eat it.
The position of the eyes and mouth of a speckled trout make it a natural surface predator. A speckled trout's eyes are on top of his head so the fish doesn't miss anything passing over the top of it. I knew someone who had an aquarium with a speckled trout, a gaftop and a black drum in it. I asked what do you feed them. He said, "dead shrimp mostly, If I drop anything live in the tank, the speck eats it before anything else sees it."
Many speckled trout are caught at night on topwater lures. When fishing in the dark, I concentrate more on hearing because I can't see anything. So anything that hits my topwater lure at night sounds like a 10 pounder. When fishing at night, I try to maintain contact with the lure the best I can so I can feel anything pull back and listen closely. Everything seems quiet at night so I can hear my lure rattling and splashing from a long way. Hearing a five pounder bust your lure in the middle of the pitch black darkness will get your heart pounding.
At times, larger trout will quietly slurp the lure under. And still, other times a speckled trout will smack it out of the water a few inches. After the lure lands back in the water, wait a second or two and on the first hint of movement he'll nail it. There are still other times when the trout will smack it once and then leave it alone.
Conner says when the trout are hitting the lure, but not taking it, he likes to have another rod rigged and ready.
"I like a rod with some type of suspending lure such as a MirrOlure Catch 2000 or even some type of soft plastic tied on to cast to the same spot where a previous strike took place," he says.
There is probably a different retrieving style for each individual angler. The judge is the fish. If you catch a fish, you must be doing something right. There are several retrieving styles used by top-water fishennen.
Conner sometimes employs a type of sliding action in his retrieve, pulling the lure a foot or so with a quick stop and repeating this throughout the retrieve. Anglers who fish the big propeller baits for peacock bass use this retrieve. Conner says he is always experimenting with his retrieving speed and cadence but his favorite retrieve is walking-the-dog.
There are several types of swimming and jointed swimming surface lures that have a lip on the bottom giving them a built in swimming action. With these lures the wrist doesn't get tired as fast. The swimming action is similar to walking-the-dog; but, they swim just under the surface instead of on top.
Most anglers have a favorite condition to fish top-waters, such as spring, fall, cool water, at dawn, dusk or overcast skies. I know an angler who caught an 8-pound speckled trout in the middle of the day on a top-water lure in July with partly cloudy skies. So, the best time to fish top waters is a personal preference. My preference is spring because in the winter the water is so cold that the speckled trouts metabolism is at it's lowest. So, they don't have to eat as often as they as they do during warmer months. As the water warms in the spring, the fish's metabolic rate increases; and, at this same time, the females'eggs are forming. These two factors make the speckled trout feed with less caution in the spring than in the warmer months.
One advantage a top-water lure has over other lures is an angler can cast a top-water lure farther than any other lure or any kind of bait, except for the surf casting long rodders. This enables the fishennan to cover large areas of water in a small amount of time.
Most top-water lures have a large ball bearing in them that not only rattles upon retrieving the lure, but keeps the weight of the lure in the rear of the lure. With the weight in the rear, the lure is more aerodynamic than with the weight in the mid-section. As the lure settles in the water, the ball bearing makes for easy walking-the-dog action. In addition, the top-water lure is easy to fish over bottom structure like oyster and grass beds; two of the speckled trout's favorite types of structure.
If you are looking to catch a true trophy speckled trout, I believe a top-water lure will weed out a lot of small fish and give you more time to fish for an honest eight-plus pound spotted-seatrout. If you want to join the crowd, try fishing Galveston Bay. If you like a more serene fishing trip, go south to the Laguna Madre where the crowds are smaller and the fish are bigger.

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