It’s Hot When It’s On Top

Watching fish feed on the surface is one of the really exciting moments in fishing, and that explains why there is such chatter in fishing shops when anglers find fish feeding on the surface. Sometimes fish ball up bait and feed so aggressively that they turn the surface white with foam. Other times they feed quietly and deliberately with an example being a trout sipping a mayfly. Regardless of the species and the situation most every angler finds it fun.

There are a variety of topwater lures and they represent two schools of thought: imitation and attraction. Some lures bear an uncanny resemblance to frogs, mice, insects, and baitfish. They fall into the imitation school of thought.

Other lures are bright and gaudy, and for whatever reason their color and movements attract fish and prompt them to strike. Lures and can be jointed and will entice fish through their wiggling movement. One particular type of lure, called poppers, have concave fronts that make them chug water as you reel them in and suggest a bait that is crippled.

Other versions of lures have tapered fronts that cause them to swim in the surface film. Whether they are soft and supple, like a soft plastic Sluggo that wiggles with a hit of current, or solid like a pencil popper, we anglers have a wide variety of options to choose from that represent a lot of different food found at or near the surface.

Seeing is believing, and sometimes we bear witness to incredible sights. Watching a northern pike eat a duckling or a largemouth bass whack a frog are a few of them. Seeing a trout sip a fly that is the size of an eyelash is an exercise in patience and focus. When baitfish spray out of the water because a False albacore or bonito is just below gets our hearts pumping. Those situations are exclamation points on a day where we catch what we see, and those situations make our day special indeed.

One important tip I would recommend when using topwater lures pertains to the proper hookset. When a fish blows up on your lure resist the urge to set the hook immediately. What usually happens, though, is that you pull the lure out of his mouth. You can increase your hook ups by waiting for a moment. Let the fish close his mouth and purge some of the water through his gills before you reel back to set the hook. It’s hard to be patient, I know, but if you are then your iron will connect and it’s Fish On!

That said, there isn’t much more exciting than watching a fish go through his feeding mechanics, particularly if he winds up on the end of your line.

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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