Gear Tips from Justin Lucas
Gear Tips from Justin Lucas
Gearing up for the most exciting sport in freshwater fishing
The feeling’s unanimous! Topwater fishing provides the most exciting action in our sport for popular gamefish like bass, musky, northern pike, and striped and hybrid bass.
From the pop, chug, glide, walk, waltz, spray, spit or gurgle of the lure to the boil, sip, dive, push, whirlpool or explosion of the strike, topwater fishing thrills like no other on-the-water angling experience.
Accentuate the highs; diminish the lows
But this engaging form of fishing can deliver frustration in equal proportion to excitement to the unsuspecting or poorly prepared.
Topwater fishing calls for patience, experience and controlling your impulses…and the right tackle!
The froth and suddenness of an explosive strike too often triggers a premature hookset, the angler yanking the lure away from the fish before it’s had a chance to inhale or chomp down on its target. Long casts can put slack line between angler and fish, preventing successful hooksets and upping the percentage of lost fish.
Even the lures themselves can factor into the frustration, their bulky bodies giving fish the leverage they need to gain freedom with a head-shaking leap.
A good sense of timing, awareness and experience will make you a better topwater fisherman over time. But assembling the tackle combination best suited to your presentation is an absolute must for consistent success no matter what your level of angling skill. The proper match of rod, reel and line to topwater lure will increase your catch rate – often dramatically!
You can fish topwater lures on both baitcasting and spinning tackle.
Most experienced anglers rely on baitcasting tackle for the lion’s share of their topwater fishing. But spinning tackle will work fine as well. In fact, it may offer distinct advantages in windy conditions or when casting light lures.
As presentation of a wake bait or plopper-style lure will differ significantly from that of a popping- or walking-style lure, consider the type of topwater fishing you plan to do when selecting your tackle. Basic set-ups may serve well for a range of topwater lure types. Fine-tuning tackle to fish another size lure or a different type of topwater lure might be as simple as switching to a different line or a faster reel or opting for a longer or shorter rod.
Once you’ve chosen between baitcasting and spinning tackle, rod selection boils down to three variables: power, action and length. The combinations of these variables relate directly to the line-test and lure weight recommendations designated for the rods. But other elements will factor into your decision making as well.
Topwater fishing generally calls for rods with a relatively soft rapidly tapering tip section, referred to as "fast," to load the rod for efficient casting and, at times, to assist with lure action. That softer play provided by a fast rod tip also gives the fish an added instant to grab hold of the lure and cushions your tackle against the surges of the fish during the fight.
Pay equal attention to the types of topwater lures you intend to use as well as your personal comfort while executing the technique. For example, you’ll want a long rod to cover water quickly when fishing broad flats with a wake bait. On the other hand, shorter rods will improve your aim when extremely accurate casts next to a dock or log laydown are in order.
Handle grip, style and length can make a difference as well. A longer handle can add distance to your cast so that you can cover water quickly with a lure like the Berkley Choppo or Surge Shad. On the other hand, you can work walking lures and popping/chugging lures better with a short handle rod that does not crack your elbow with each downward rod thrust.
As for personal customization, factor your physical attributes and style of fishing into your tackle selection. When walking a lure like the Berkley HighJacker with a downward stroke, you’ll want a rod best suited to your height. A 5-10 angler fishing in this manner will prefer a shorter rod than an angler who stands 6-6.
The rods and reels produced under the venerable Abu Garcia brand offer the tools you need to assemble almost any tackle combination you will need.
Tailoring topwater tackle to the task
Build your topwater tackle – rod, reel, line -- from the rod down. With 27 baitcasting and 13 spinning models, the Abu Garcia Veritas line offers a range of rods ideally suited to topwater presentations. Let these general guidelines help you tailor your selection to your specific needs and preferences.
Popping, chugging lures
The angler’s rod motion imparts action to lures that pop, chug and spit at the surface. The Berkley Bullet Pop lure assortment, ranging from 1/5 to ½ ounce and 2-1/4 to 3-1/4 inches in length, is typical of lures in this category. For most bass fishing applications, you will want a medium power rod with a fast tip. It should be light enough to cast relatively light poppers and chuggers but have sufficient backbone to enable a good hookset and give you sufficient command over the fish during the fight. Rod length may vary with need and personal preference. Longer rods lead to longer casts. Shorter rods are easier to handle when the situation calls for pinpoint accuracy at close range. For lighter topwater lures of 1/8 to ¼ ounce, a shift to a medium light casting rod or spinning tackle may prove more effective.
Justin Lucas tip: "I spool my Abu Garcia Rocket reel with 30 pound test Berkley X-9 braided line and add a one- to two-foot leader of 15-pound Berkley Big Game monofilament."
"Walking the dog" is a technique that requires practice to master. Walking lures like the Berkley J-Walker, Drifter, Cane Walker and HighJacker seem to mesmerize fish – and sometimes the angler, too – with the waltzing side-to-side movement orchestrated by the angler’s rod action. Walking baits range from four to five inches or larger in length and ½ to one ounce or more in weight. A downward rhythmic rod thrust produces the walking action, so you may prefer to choose a rod length that doesn’t slap the water during the retrieve. Walking the dog with a long-handled rod can punish the forearms, so many anglers prefer a rod with a shorter handle. (Note: For additional guidelines, refer to rod recommendations for popping/chugging lures.)
Justin Lucas tip: "I love to topwater with braided line. If there’s a bow in my line, braid still gives me direct contact with my lure for a good hookset."
Wake baits, wobblers and plopper-style lures
Some topwater lures are simple cast and wind baits. The categories include wake baits like the Berkley Wake Bull (60 and 70), Surge Shad 130 and Surge Shad Jointed 130; plopper-style lures like the Berkley Choppo (90 and 120); and a variety of lipped surface wobblers. Ranging from 2/5 to one ounce or more in weight and up to 5-1/5 inches or more in length, these lures cast long and cover water quickly. Though moderate retrieve speeds tend to rule with these baits, high speed reels like the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket and Revo STX 8.0:1 are welcome tools that enable the angler to maintain a steady retrieve speed even with the trolling motor humming. Medium power rods with fast action have sufficient power to handle light to medium weight lures in these categories, but you will want to power up to a medium heavy rod when throwing heavier lures like the one-ounce Berkley Choppo 120. Chart3
Justin Lucas tip: "I go from a Revo Rocket to a Revo STX 8:1 gear ratio reel for much of my fishing with winding baits, but I prefer to scale back to a slower reel like the Abu Garcia Revo SX (7:1 gear ratio) to maintain a slower or more moderate wake bait retrieve."
Propeller "prop" baits
Lures with revolving propellers positioned fore and aft comprise another exciting category of topwater hardbaits. The Berkley Spin Rocket 110 and Berkley Spin Bomb 60 represent two types of prop baits. Though a steady prop bait retrieve will produce some fish, you’ll get more action employing a quick snapping action, more akin to a popping bait retrieve. Ripping prop baits often leaves the angler with slack line when a fish strikes. A high-speed reel like the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket (10.1:1) or Abu Garcia Revo MGX 8.0:1 will pick up slack in a hurry.
Justin Lucas tip: "The (Abu Garcia) MGX 8:1 reel allows me to be really accurate casting into tight shallow pockets."