Take a poll among avid anglers and you’ll find that favorite seasons to fish are varied and opinions run strong. Some prefer the immediate pre-spawn period in April while others prefer the advantages of finding concentrations of fish during the summer and winter months. But, one thing that most anglers will agree on is that the late spring topwater bite is the best time of year to be on the water. Both spotted bass and linesides are feeding heavily at this time. Aggressive wolf packs of these predators often chase schools of baitfish right up to the surface making for some very exciting opportunities. Few things in nature rival the adrenaline rush of watching a calm surface erupt with slashes and boils of feeding fish as you’re trying to get your plug into the action. This phenomenon can get pretty dramatic and it’s common to spot activity from long distances in calm water conditions. Look for topwater schooling to begin in early May and go strong through the month. Striper action will typically taper off by early June while spotted bass with continue this activity through the summer months. Although action can occur at any time, early morning and evening periods tend to be the most productive. As always during the spring, weather factors can have a big influence on the fishing. While it’s a great time to exploit topwater action, a strong frontal system can put the bite down for a day or two. It’s important to have a back-up plan in case surface action does not materialize. While searching for this, focus your efforts from the middle sections of creeks out to main lake areas near the creek mouths. Although the predators are keying on roaming schools of baitfish, remember that “points point out the fish”. Activity will very often erupt in the vicinity of a prominent point or submerged hump which is typically the extension of a point.
V-Wake a Redfin
If you’re parked off the best looking point in your favorite creek and looking for surface activity, blind casting is always a good idea. Just remember that you should be covering open water with some significant depth and not targeting the shoreline. Blind casting a plug can put a lot of extra fish on the end of your line. What type of topwater plug should you choose? It’s no secret that fishermen are a highly opinioned bunch. While “swear by” lure choices will vary widely, there are a handful of tried and true favorites that you’ll not go wrong with. It’s now been over a decade since the Sammy by Lucky Craft hit the topwater scene. And, it’s still going strong. It’s a pricey choice at about $15 per copy but the results are hard to argue with. The trademark American shad is a great color if you’re shelling out a few dollars for one of these. If you’re looking for a more modest investment, you’ll not go wrong with the old fashioned Zara Spook. This plug has been around for quite a few decades with good reason and still evokes lots of strikes from surface feeders. The classic color for this classic lure is blue shore minnow. It’s a north Georgia favorite. While the original Zara Spook is very good, I eventually became a big fan of its newer big brother, the Super Spook. As the name implies, this is a beefed up version and weighs in at nearly an ounce. Long casts can be important when pursuing schoolers and this lure can be fired to impressive distances with the right tackle. It also sports rotating treble hooks that really make a difference in improving the strike to fish on ratio. Bleeding Shad is the only color I need for the Super Spook. Another plug to consider is the Redfin by Cotton Cordell. Technically, this lure is a jerkbait and will run subsurface on a medium to fast retrieve. Savvy anglers use a different approach. They use a slower retrieve and keep it on the surface producing what is known as a “V-wake”. This has a great effect on stripers and will elicit strikes from real bruisers of the spotted bass world. Die hard Redfin fans pick the chrome and blue color and swear that it’s even better when the finish is chipping off exposing the bone colored plastic beneath. There is also a sub-cult following of the Smokey Joe color.
Two Rods Are Better Than One
Lures such as the Sammy, Zara Spook, and Super Spook mentioned in the previous paragraph are often called stick baits because of their basic shape. There’s only one way to present this style of topwater plug. The proper retrieve is referred to as “walking the dog”. Reeling combined with short twitches of the rod tip will cause a stickbait to zig-zag or dart from side to side resembling a fleeing baitfish. It only takes a little practice to master this and some plugs are engineered to walk with a minimum of effort imparted by the angler. When it comes to topwater tackle in May and early June, opt for medium heavy gear. Both casting and spinning set ups are appropriate. Six and a half to seven foot rods get the nod. Pair these with reels that will handle at least eighty to one hundred yards of twelve pound test line as a minimum. If you pick up your favorite shallow spool model that’s in vogue with bass fishermen, you’re playing with fire because stripers are out there waiting. When it comes to line, avoid fluorocarbon products. While they do a superior job in many applications, they are heavy and will suppress the action of topwater plugs. This is especially true with maximum distance between you and the lure. Spool up with your favorite traditional monofilament product and you’ll be in good shape. On the subject of tackle, it pays to have two rods rigged and ready on deck. Backlashes and tangles do happen. This is good insurance for those times when you’re on top of a school of predators kicking up water as they churn the surface. Simply drop one rod and pick up another. If you’re downed bait is floating motionless in the attack zone you may want to put one foot on the rod butt or put it in a holder…..just in case. I’ve actually had fish become hooked up when striking a free floating lure attached to a tangled rod on a couple of occasions. It can be quite the circus, especially if you’re fighting another fish as well. On another note, it pays to be cautious when landing fish hooked with large topwater plugs. I highly recommend investing in a good lip gripper type device. These have become very affordable for the average angler and are much cheaper than a trip to the emergency room at the local hospital.
Stay Mobile to Find Fish
If you’re out for striper action, live bait fishing will often pay off while searching for the topwater bite. When searching an area and making blind casts with your favorite plug, bait up and trail a couple of flat lines about a hundred feet behind the boat. Tie a small balloon inflated to golf ball size about ten feet above one bait and weight the other line with a medium size split shot about six feet up the line for a slightly deeper presentation. Frisky blue back herring or shad are great choices when it comes to live bait. If one rod hooks up on two consecutive fish, switch the other one to the same style of presentation. If fish are erupting on the surface all around, the live bait flat lines can quickly become more trouble than they are worth. This is especially true if you’re doing a lot of maneuvering with the electric motor. This time of year, it really pays off to stay mobile. If conditions are favorable and you’re not seeing signs of life in seven minutes or so, move on to the next spot. For greater efficiency, have a route planned in advance. Although topwater action is the name of the game, choppy water can inhibit the surface bite. However, in these conditions, a good jerkbait can produce well when cast towards the points. As late spring turns into summer, striper action fades but good news is that the spotted bass continue to chase bait at the surface. Windows of opportunity during the summer months are mostly early and late in the day for schooling action. Smaller surface plugs tend to become more effective as the season progresses. Poppers such as the Pop-R by Rebel are good choices along with smaller versions of the earlier mentioned lures. Sometimes bass will key on small baitfish and ignore even these smaller topwater plugs. One classic trick is to use a saltwater popping cork with a trailing leader. On the end of this leader, tie on a very small shad imitator such as a Pop-N-Stripe or the highly realistic Gummy Minnow. You’ll find the latter stocked in the fly fishing shop. In closing, there’s plenty of room for opinion about the best time of the year to go fishing but most will agree that May is hard to beat. If you’re up for the excitement and adrenaline of some serious surface action, this could become your favorite too. Until next month, take care and enjoy the lake!
Thank you for reading!
Tommy H. Wilkinson