Top Water Wonders and Woes

Category: press release

 Aug 4th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Aug 4th, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Some of the most exciting strikes in muskie fishing happen on the surface. Whether you’re a novice or advanced in the fine art of muskie fishing, undeniably monitoring control over the speed and action of your top water bait on each retrieve instills confidence on every cast. Aside from the control aspect of the retrieve, anticipation for the next strike is as captivating as it is entertaining.

It seems that many muskie anglers I have fished with over the years have their own versions of what constitutes as “perfect top water conditions.” While there are many scenarios where top water baits can be effective and potentially the top-producing option over other choices in the tackle box, my favorite conditions to throw top water comes down to a combination of rain and a subtle breeze, or when rain dimples the reflection of the sky on an otherwise dead flat calm surface. My second favorite scenario is bright bluebird skies up tight over calm skinny water with emergent vegetation, especially lily pads.

There’s something about the rain and top water baits that turn game fish appetites; not limited solely to muskies. Many theories exist as to why game fish tend to be turned on to a top water bite during the rain or immediately after, most of which contribute to my own thinking on the matter. When it rains, runoff from shorelines, overhanging branches and leaves, and even lily pads and emergent stumps will wash insects off their dry safe havens and onto the surface of the water body you’re fishing. One of my favorite places to target first in these kinds of conditions if they exist are the mouths of inflowing creeks and streams where they enter the lake I’m fishing. These kinds of spots are ideal because it’s where you’ll find the highest congregation of bugs on the surface. Due to the slenderness of small streams and creeks, tall grasses, trees and other over-hanging vegetation typically lines their shores, meaning more bugs washed into less water surface area and eventually all winding up at the inflowing mouth of the creek or stream into the lake.

It’s not just the bugs that fish as large as muskies are eating. Frogs, birds and smaller fish will take advantage of the large buffet of food on the surface, which makes all of the above susceptible to muskie consumption. Feeding frenzies happen fast, and when they do, they typically include the entire underwater world. This is hands down one of my favorite times to have my bait in the water.

Rain dimples the surface and suspends sediment particles from runoff, especially affecting visibility in skinny water and creek mouths entering a lake. Aside from the sudden availability of food on the surface, I believe there is a sense of security for fish who typically sit tight under otherwise brighter conditions. For example, tests have shown walleyes will typically sit tight to the bottom when it’s bright out, but they will quickly suspend higher in the water column after the sun goes down. Another example that deer hunters can relate to is how deer will bed down during the day, but come out and feed in open fields at night. There is a natural sense of security in dim light or under the cover of darkness that fish and most mammals tend to share, the same sense of security that can bring muskies out from their haunts and into hunt mode susceptible to your lure.

Typically when I’m fishing in overcast or dark skies, I’ll pick a dark solid color like black or brown. Thayer’s Law of Counter-Shading comes to mind here. Fish typically have dark backs and white bellies – coincidence? From below, the white belly naturally blends with the light of the sky, while from above the darkness of the back blends with the bottom beneath the water’s surface. If you hold a bright colored lure up to the sky in sunny conditions, the brightness of the lure is radiant and highly visible, whereas when you hold a dark natural color up to sunny skies the dullness of the paint job is just that – dull. Conversely, if you hold a bright colored lure up to an overcast sky, the brightness of the paint job is dull and hardly holds a silhouette, whereas if you hold a bold dark and natural colored lure to an overcast sky, like solid black, the lures profile is naturally silhouetted and easily visible.
Why not pick a color that stands out and gives your lure a visual profile or silhouette and make it a little easier on the fish below the surface to identify their target?

Whether it’s raining or sunny, I love fishing top water in the slop over skinny water. If you have a serious heart condition, this technique may not be the best option for you as your adrenaline will be on overload. With hardly any depth for the fish to nose down and run with your bait, there is little left to the imagination of the ferocity in which a muskie will fight back when it feels hooks in shallow water. Intense thrashing and out-of-water headshakes are inevitable and are indeed a cause of concern for thrown hooks, but the excitement of the overall experience can be some of the finest in muskie fishing.

Over the years my friends and I have found that the lighter and more subtle the topwater lure in skinny water, the better. Loud splashdowns can be dinner bells in many instances to a hungry musky, but sometimes can spook fish in skinny water, like a large flat of consistent 2 to 3-foot depth. In areas like this we like to throw light and subtle lures like a Hawg Wobbler or Cisco Kid Topper. In many cases, shallow water with a silt bottom means vegetation of some sort, like lily pads and matt grasses. If the vegetation is too thick to navigate a Topper through without grabbing on to every week along the way, try a Turbo Top Prop. Turbo Top Props are old school, but they work. The hardest part about using a Turbo Top Prop is finding one to purchase – they aren’t sold everywhere. Turbo Top Props can be worked at a moderate to fast speed through most emergent vegetation, even over lily pads.
Typically when people cast, they will consistently land their lures at the same distance over and over again. While the cast angles might vary by a few degrees, splashdown after splashdown within several yards of each other isn’t natural and can have a negative impact on the mood of a musky hanging out in a couple feet of water. If your boat is moving slow enough to really pick a shallow area apart, try varying your cast lengths and spread them out at greater angles. Use lighter topwater baits to limit the amount of noise you’re creating to keep the presentation more natural and your presence unknown. A mouse that falls off a lily pad and makes a swim for its life doesn’t sound like a king fisher bombing the water, so if you’re trying to imitate a natural pray on the surface then why not do just that – imitate it.  Sometimes super shallow muskies aren’t in tight to feed; sometimes they’re in shallow to digest a meal because the warmer water speeds up their metabolism, as well as other non-aggressive reasons. Since muskies are opportunistic feeders, give them something enticing they simply can’t refuse. Try slowly crawling a Cisco Kid Topper or buzzing a Turbo Top Prop over their head and see if it doesn’t get bit.

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