Topwater Fishing

I bet that more and bigger fish are caught deep in the water column, but to me, none are as exciting as those caught on the surface.  Whether I catch them on a soft plastic, a pencil popper, a slider, or a dry fly, I feel suspense in the air.  I never know when the fly drifting in a current or the popper leaving a wake when it pushes water will suddenly disappear.  When I see a boil I always hope that I’ll go tight to a fish with my lure in his mouth.

Surface lures are made from a wide variety of materials in a number of different shapes.  Some of the common materials are balsa wood, plastic and silicone rubber.  Flies, like a Stimulator or a Goddard Caddis, use hackles and hollow deer body hair to float incredibly high on the water.  Comparaduns sit in the film.

Anglers have lots of options.  Some surface lures have concave heads to push a lot of water with a pop, while others have smooth, tapered cones that cause them to slither and slide like a halfback running the option.  Long soft plastics swim up-and-down and side-to-side.  At times, fish find them all irresistible, and every one has a purpose.

Fish respond very differently to top-water lures.  Smooth water usually calls for a quiet and gentle presentation while choppy water requires anglers to make a statement.  Swim a slider or a soft plastic erratically around rocks, edges, deadfall, or weeds but aggressively chug a popper around the same type of water when a strong wind creates a chop.  If it ain’t working, try experimenting with a different approach.

Your results mostly match your presentation.  A fly that is dead-drifted to match the hatch is oftentimes sipped whereas a popper that is cranked fast and twitched aggressively along a channel edge or mangrove tangle is likely to get whacked.  The pleasant surprise is when an aggressive fish whacks a gently moved lure.

And if a fish misses your lure he’ll do one of two things.  Some times he’ll head for deeper water and sulk.  Other times he’ll get really mad and turn around and hit your lure twice as hard.  When you’re in that latter situation be sure to have a firm grip on your rod.  You’re going to need it.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at