Top O’ the Water to You?

BY JAY POTTER

Sometimes they suck it underwater. You hear a rattle, see a splash, and it’s gone. Sometimes they strike from the side, a flash of red and again, gone. And still sometimes–because of that downwardly shaped mouth built for bottom feeding–sometimes that riled up redfish will launch his head all the way out of the water to smash that topwater lure.

I have written before about the violence of a redfish or trout strike, and a topwater lure is the key to the full experience.

Lately, some of the KC Kayaks team’s best bites have been on topwater, and that kind of action coupled with the intense LA heat makes an early start or a late finish all but a necessity.

One morning I went with three out-of-state KC Prostaffers and we dominated close to 50 reds from 7-10 am. Joe Waple of North Carolina, Joe Davis of Texas and Rex Del Rey De Guzman of Texas and I waited out a small shower and hit the water. Waple and Davis had never fished in Louisiana prior to the weekend and everyone immediately started slamming fish. Davis, a longtime bass fisherman, threw nothing but a bone colored topwater and kept piling up the fish.

I started with my trust black/chartreuse but the overcast day found fish wanting the lighter colored baits: bone, chrome and pink, etc. Top-Dogs, She-Dogs, Badonkadonks (Bombers) and GunDog Dummies all pulled in fish. All are hard floating baits equipped with rattles and treble hooks.

Prime topwater time is before the wind starts first thing in the morning, sometimes before sunlight, and when it lays down right before or right after dark. To figure out if the topwater bite is on, not only must you find the right color, but you must find the right presentation. As with most types of fishing (bass, trout, reds especially), it’s important to vary your retrieve and pay attention to what does or doesn’t elicit strikes.

The ideal topwater method is to use a combination of rod movement and reeling to “walk the dog” or make the lure zig-zag back and forth on top, simulating a baitfish. It takes significant practice and every trip it may take time to find your groove, but keep working it. Speed it up, slow it down. Stop it briefly, pop it a couple times. Shoot, depending on what you’re doing, cruise forward and troll the lure, leaving a perfect “V” wake behind it. I like to cast toward the bank and work my way out, sometimes working along the bank is productive. With a high tide early, they will often be found in the grass, a nice topwater presentation can coax them out.

One more CRUCIAL thing to remember: DO NOT set the hook until you feel the pull on the end of the line. Depending on how hard they hit it and how fast they run, you may have to reel down quickly to feel the fish, but DO NOT set it until you do. Frequently the fish will hit and miss, and you can stop the bait, twitch it etc, with the possibility of getting another strike. I had had up to three failed strikes on one cast, but damned if that isn’t exciting!

Most mornings haven’t been that strong, but I always bring three rods (jighead with a plastic for sight casting and bottom fishing, popping cork with a plastic and a baitcaster rigged with a topwater early and late) just to make sure I am ready if an opportunity presents itself.

Lately I have caught most of my fish under a cork, but there is usually a reward for putting in a concerted effort with the topwater. It might only be one or two blowups that don’t even yield a fish, but it is so exciting to see a strike that offers a little insight into what makes redfish go.

KC ProStaffer TJ Harris and I had some fun during a recent afternoon trip to Dularge. We left Baton Rouge at lunch and not long after launching, we were finding fish under a cork but had managed only one topwater strike. That changed abruptly as the sun began to sink.

Fish activity picked up on the calm side of the bayou, a thick grass bank sitting in two feet of water. The wind was dying and produced some glassy water until about 10 feet out from the bank. I readied my black/chartreuse lure for a long cast, but stopped as I noticed a giant wake 30 yards out and closing.

It was clearly a good fish that was calmly cruising looking for an easy meal. I paddled a couple times and positioned myself pointing right at him. After flicking the lure to the grassline, I worked it at about a 45 degree angle toward the fish, but was careful to keep it in front of him and not sneak it up behind or beside him and spook him.

At about 4 feet away, the fish sensed the lure and surged forward, eyes out of the water, to slurp up the back half, including the shiny treble hook. After some war whooping and a nice fight, I had a 28″ red in the boat.

I kept casting and every few casts produced a blowup but no fish. Honestly, I wasn’t too worried because they were clearly interested, and I was getting treated to quite the show.

About that time I heard the unmistakable sound of a big red crashing around in the grass on the bank. I made a couple more casts before the grass started shaking and giving way to a fiesty red storming out like a big guy wading through a crowd into a bar fight.

I knew he had heard my topwater and was either pissed, hungry, or both, and that he was coming for it. As he cleared the edge of the grass, an even bigger wake materialized, headed toward where my previous retrieve had begun.

Hurriedly I reeled up and fired again. About three twitches later, the water exploded as a big red head came fully out of the water and slammed into the lure. The fish had come from the side and a perfect view produced a private National Geographic moment for me.

This fish went about 30″ and I was treated to an awesome, drag-pulling fight. Luckily he had chomped right onto the back treble hook and it was neatly in the top of his mouth. By any stretch a great red, particularly in a kayak, but adding a topwater lure to the mix made it that much better.

Stray the course.

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