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10 Topwater Fishing Tips

Whether you fish for bass in a reservoir or bluefish in a bay, few things are more exciting than watching fish explode on a topwater lure. These tips will up your game.

Largemouth bass exploses out of the water

A largemouth bass explodes out of the water while chasing a minnow plug. (Photo: Getty Images/Stamm Photo)

Poll any group of anglers on the single most adrenaline-inducing sight to behold while fishing, and you'll hear the same answer again and again: a topwater explosion. Watching your lure skitter across the water's surface can be calming, even entrancing, right up until the moment the water erupts as a predator attacks it from below. Fishing topwater is not, however, for the faint of heart. There are often more effective ways to get a fish on the end of your line and when the bites don't come, calming and mesmerizing can evolve into just plain boring.

But if you're willing to put in the time and effort to see this epic sight and feel that rush of adrenaline, here are 10 tips and tricks that will help you become a more effective topwater angler, regardless of where you cast or what you're trying to catch.

1. Master the "walk the dog" technique, which most topwater lures that come to a cone or point (as opposed to being concave in the front) are designed for. Cast out and hold your tip low, then rhythmically pump it a foot or so at a time as you crank on the reel. Watch your lure, and it should zigzag from left to right as it "swims" toward you. If it isn't zigging and zagging, pump a bit harder. If it flies out of the water or dives beneath the surface, pump a bit softer or slower.

When it's choppy out chuggers and poppers lures shine

When it’s choppy out, chuggers and poppers shine. (Photo: Lenny Rudow)

2. Try chuggers or poppers when it's rough. Virtually all topwater lures have internal rattles to help call in the fish, and in the quiet of a slick calm, adding in the loud chugs and burps made by lures with a concave head can actually create enough commotion to spook the fish. On rough days when there's lots of background noise created by waves or falling rain, however, the added noise of a chugger or popper can help generate strikes.

3. Vary your retrieve speed and cadence. It's all too easy to fall into a rut making cast after cast and start retrieving your lure by rote. Don't let this happen. The fish can change their preferences from week to week, day to day, and even from hour to hour. So change the speed and cadence of your retrieve constantly until the strikes start coming. When you get hits, you'll know if the fish prefer it fast, slow, erratic, or steady, and you can repeat that style to get more blow-ups.

Using a treble hook

Do a favor to both the fish and yourself, and swap out those treble hooks for singles. (Photo: Lenny Rudow)

4. Swap your lure's treble hooks for singles, especially when catch-and-release fishing. Sure, you may miss a few hook-ups. But those trebles often do serious damage to the fish, so most experienced anglers who are conscientious about the state of our fisheries do away with them. Plus, it's all too easy to get a treble stuck in a human body part — and that can abruptly, and painfully, end a day of fishing.

Replace Treble Hook with Single Hook on Fishing Lure

5. Choose topwater lures with a white belly in bright conditions and a dark belly in dim or dark conditions. In broad sunlight, a lure that's white on the bottom mimics baitfish, which usually have a white underside so they're harder to spot from below when a predator is looking up at the brightly illuminated surface. When it's dark or nearly dark out, however, a lure with a dark underside blocks out the little light that is available and creates a silhouette for gamefish to zero in on.

6. Don't stop retrieving when you miss a strike. Floating motionless, most topwater lures don't appear to be anything more than a stick. If you keep it moving, however, it will look like an injured baitfish attempting to escape and you'll often get a follow-up strike.

Various topwater lures

Savvy anglers will carry a wide variety of topwater lures. (Photo: Lenny Rudow)

7. If you're a novice (or if you have a novice aboard your boat) try using a topwater lure that creates its own fish-attracting action without any added input from the angler. Lures with lips that help them swim, tiny props, or spinning tails will look alive and trigger strikes even when they're reeled in without any walks or pumps generated by working the rod.

8. If possible, focus your efforts during periods of ambient light. Sunrise, sunset, and heavy cloud cover are ideal conditions for topwater action. Usually the worst time to try this tactic is when the sun is directly overhead. There can certainly be exceptions and we can't always choose when we get to go fishing, but as a general rule of thumb, these periods of indirect lighting will be your best bet.

9. Don't set the hook on a hair trigger. When the explosion comes, force yourself to wait just a second or so as you swing your rod tip toward the fish and take up any slack in the line, before rearing back. Note: If your plug regularly flies through the air back at you following hook-sets, a fairly common phenomenon, you're on a hair trigger. It's very, very difficult to do, but you need to use more self-control and give that fish a second to take the lure all the way into its mouth.

Casting right into heavy cover and onto the shoreline

Don't be afraid to cast right into heavy cover and onto the shoreline, just as long as you have a lure with protected weedless hooks. (Photo: Lenny Rudow)

10. When fish are hanging über-tight to the shore, cast right onto land and retrieve from there. Dropping the lure right on top of the fish's head can spook it, and if the lure lands too far out from the bank the fish likely won't chase it. In this scenario, as long as there aren't a lot of snags preventing you from doing so, retrieving from land into the water is a very effective tactic. And if there are a lot of snags in the way, consider changing over to a weedless lure with protected hooks that can be drawn through heavy cover, like a topwater mouse.

Are there other, more effective ways of catching fish than tossing topwater? You bet. In many cases using bait, trolling, or jigging is a better way to put meat in the cooler. But if you're fishing for an adrenaline jolt, absolutely, positively nothing beats a blow-up.

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Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Top tech writer and accomplished sports fisherman, BoatUS Magazine Contributing Editor Lenny Rudow has written seven practical boating books, won 30 awards from Boating Writers International — many for his marine electronics articles – and two for excellence from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He judges the NMMA Innovation Awards, and is Angler in Chief at FishTalk, his own Chesapeake-based publication. A great teacher and inspirational writer, Lenny hosts many of BoatUS Magazine’s very-popular how-to videos, which can be found on the BoatUS YouTube channel, or at