N othing can be as frustrating as getting a good cadence going on your Top Dog, Jr. or One-Knocker and seeing trout short strike or roll on it repeatedly.
Nothing can leave you contemplating taking up needlework faster than seeing a big trout repeatedly depth charge your topwater and miss out just short. The logical decision would be to change lures, so you do. Maybe you pick up your favorite soft plastic, or a jerkbait such as a Bass Assassin, and you start working the same area where only moments ago fish were blowing up on your plugs left and right.
Aaaand you don’t get a single strike.
There are days like that. The only thing trout and redfish will even sniff are baitfish-mimicking plugs, but they are still not enthusiastic enough to commit to eating the offering. One of the issues that often arises is “lure fatigue.” Gamefish have seen so many topwaters from so many fishermen that they become wary of what they see. They have become conditioned to be cautious about struggling baitfish that are on the surface. Even so, topwater is sometimes the way to go, even if fish are sitting over grass or hiding in potholes.
Most anglers seem pigeonholed into one type of topwater, the classic Spook-type of dog-walking topwaters. Those plugs have taken a lot of trout, redfish, and snook over the years. It takes some practice to develop the “Walk the Dog” rhythm, but once the mechanics are mastered, plugs such as the Super Spook, Jr., MIrrolure’s Dawg family, or Rapala’s Skitterwalk are very effective.
Until they aren’t.
The trick is to change things up on the fish, while still working the upper level of the water column (for our discussion, I’m referring to the surface down to about three inches). There is still a wide variety of plugs that can be fished in these depths. There are twitch baits, wakebaits, all of which are extremely effective, and will offer a novel presentation to predators.
Of the subgroups, twitchbaits are the most established. Floating twitchbaits such as the venerable Mirrolure 7M, 17M, and 5M have been effective producers for Texas Coastal anglers literally for decades.
The natural profile, relatively short length (3 5/8 inches), and simple “twitch” action have proved irresistible to trout and redfish, and even flounders, from Padre to Sabine. The addition of the rattle in later models (signified by the “R” following the M in the model number) made them even more lethal.
Though many anglers have lent a mystique to the Mirrolure, they are very easy to work. Cast them to your intended target and let it settle until the landing rings disappear. The lure gets its action from your retrieve. There is the classic “twitch-twitch-pause,” which is very effective and makes the lure dart tightly and dive just under the surface. When you pause, the plug pops back up to the surface.
Usually, the fish strike when the lure is settling back at the surface. I’ve also experimented with longer “slashes” with my rod tip without the pause. This imparts a frenetic, darting, subsurface action to the bait which looks like a desperate, fleeing baitfish. It’s a tough illusion for speckled trout to ignore, and I once had a jetty redfish hit the bait so hard it broke my rod.
A second, very underutilized option for the topwater aficionado is the wake bait. This subgroup of topwaters gets its appellation from the fact that their action creates a wake on the surface of the water. They’re also the easiest to use because it doesn’t take much more than casting and winding to get them to do its thing. These lures run just underneath the surface, down to two inches and come both as classic bass-style crankbaits and longer minnow-type plugs.
The crankbait style wake baits such as the Storm Arashi, Livingstone Lures Pro Wake or the Yo-Zuri 3DB can be especially effective over floating grass because the plug’s bill pushes blades away from the lure’s hooks. The shorter, squatter body type can also mimic a small pinfish, which is the primary forage for big trout in late summer and fall.
The mullet-imitators, which are well-represented by the LIveTarget Mullet, Egret Lures Kick-a-Mullet and Kick-a-Mullet, Jr., and the Unfair Lures Unfair Mullet are also tremendously effective. With a start-stop retrieve, these plugs look very much like their wounded namesakes. Name a predator that can pass up a wounded or dying mullet—No? Neither can I.
Some anglers aren’t going to want to break out of their comfort zone, however. They are very happy with their dog-walking cigar plugs.
Even the best fastball pitchers don’t just rely on the Ol’ Number 1 on every pitch. They find for permutations such as the Splitter or the Cutter. For the unreconstructed plugger, their second pith can be a glide bait such as the River2Sea 190 WideGlide or the Rapala Gliding Rap.
Gliding lures work with the same Walk-the-Dog retrieve that classic topwaters made famous. The main differences are that they work just below the surface, and their “walk” is actually a wider, gliding swing.
The Wide Glide for example will swing left and right up to three feet from the center axis on the retrieve. The Glding Rap also glides, but not so widely. The action covers a wider swath of water than the typical Spook-style plug. They are also slightly larger than most classic topaters, which more effectively mimics late season mullet, which have been growing bigger and bigger throughout the year.
All these different topwater subgroups are very effective, and I’ve had remarkable success with each version over the years. If I had my feet to the fire, however, I’d probably choose the twitchbaits as my second—sometimes first—topwater choice. Their ease of use recommends them, and there is also the fact that you don’t need to change tackle to use them (the same tackle used for soft plastics are just as effective with twitchbaits).
All of them should have space in our tacklebox, though. You don’t need to stick just with one pitch.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]