Topwater Proficiency

Most musky anglers would be lying if they said they enjoy anything more than seeing a fish explode on a topwater lure. We all love catching fish on topwaters and I am no different. However for a long time topwaters were my least favorite baits to fish and I struggled to get consistent action on them. Like every presentation, take bucktails for example every bucktail is different. Double blades, single blades, small blades, big blades and endless varieties of profile and skirt material. Each variety has its time and place and topwaters have just as many varieties as any other style of lure. The big difference I see with topwaters is that anglers fail to see the importance of matching the style of topwaters they use to the conditions they are fishing. And that is where I struggled to really capitalize on the opportunity that topwaters offer. I believe the best way to go about explaining topwater selection is by explaining the situations in which we fish them. So that is what I will attempt to do and it should make you much more proficient in selecting your topwater presentation which will aid in putting more fish in your hands!
For all of these scenarios let’s assume we are fishing traditional topwater depths of 10 feet and in with many of these scenarios taking place in water as shallow as a foot or two. There are many baits designed to fish shallow water but when is the right time to snap a topwater on? Well only the fish can answer that question but the most important factor to consider is the willingness of the fish to hunt down a lure on the water’s surface. By nature musky are not a fish that lingers on the water’s surface but only attacks the surface in order to capitalize on a meal under the right conditions. Under each condition; weather, temperature and water clarity fish have a different willingness to hunt down a lure on the surface but your topwater selection can mean everything when it comes to tempting a musky to make a move.
Let’s start with active fish in a variety of scenarios. When fish are active we often fish fast and topwaters are no different. With this in mind my favorite lures to fish when fish are active are prop style lures such as the Sennett Tackle Pacemaker. I always start with the larger pacemaker, at 7.5 inches it is an easy target making a lot of noise and offering a bigger profile. In conditions with any kind of wind or chop this is almost always the best offering. Just like bucktails in wind speed and size are often the most efficient way to attract more fish. To get the necessary speed and noise out of a pacemaker I like to take off the middle clacker hook and replace it with thick bucktail wire which give the lure a louder clack. I also attach a half ounce bell weight to the front split ring to make the bait ride lower thus bouncing around less and giving the lure a deeper pop. A close second in big wind would be the Sennett Tackle Roughrunner.
In calmer conditions where fish are still active I simply slow down my retrieve with the larger pacemaker ever so slightly. Another great choice in calm water would be the smaller pacemaker.
When fish are neutrally minded many of us move away from topwaters opting for a seemingly more tempting subsurface option. However topwaters can still be the best option. When fish are consistently following or nipping at topwaters odds are good that they are more neutrally minded and need a little more convincing then fish with a positive aggressive attitude. However topwaters can still be the best option. In calm conditions often times simply slowing down the pacemaker to a crawl will offer the best results. If they continue to follow and short hit switch to the smaller pacemaker.
Another great lure for fishing calmer water when fish are neutrally minded is the Sennett Tackle Stillwater. This is a very subtle bait and must be fished at a slower speed in order to maintain the correct action. Although subtle this bait makes a very loud tinging sound and can still be used to cover lots of water with a straight retrieve.
In windier conditions the Roughrunner is great lure and should be fished slow enough where it is just rolling over the waves. The Roughrunner requires very little speed to make a lot of noise with a bulky tin prop.
Now think about those days where seemingly no lure is getting a reaction. The few fish you have seen have shown no interest in hitting. Or early in the day you caught a fish and had good action on aggressive style topwaters but in the last few hours nothing has happened. The fish probably went through a feeding window and now the bite has gone flat and fish have a negative attitude. The good news is you know where the fish are. Now is the time to change your presentation to tempt these negative fish into eating.
My favorite bait for getting these fish to eat are dog walk baits such as the Musky Mania Doc. This bait must be fished at a slower speed in order to allow a very slight pause each time the bait swings out. Another great bait under these conditions is a creeper style lure such as the Sennett Tackle Creeptonite. Also a slow moving bait with excellent noise. I opt for the creeper in a slight chop because it makes more noise than a dog walk style topwater. When conditions are flat the Doc is my topwater of choice for negative fish. Many times when fish are shallow these slow moving topwaters get more attention than any subsurface lure.
One of the most common scenarios where these topwater prevail over negative fish is post frontal clear cold days when fish are buried in slop. You were on fish yesterday fishing thick vegetation but today you can’t get a look on a bucktail or some other more aggressive lure. The fish are still there they just need to be worked slower and there aren’t many lures that can be fished slow enough and stay out of the weeds. This is the time to put on a dog walk or a creeper.
Just like any category of lures there are endless varieties of topwaters and each has a situation in which it excels. All topwaters seem to get thrown into the same category and looked at as equals under any condition. The key to success is matching the correct topwater to the conditions at hand and that will give you more topwater confidence and like me will make topwaters your best friend.

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