Developing Confidence in Topwater Lures

Developing Confidence in Topwater Lures

The advice that surrounds gaining confidence in a specific lure or presentation type is straightforward enough:

Use it.

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But sometimes… it’s just not that simple. Sometimes it takes a certain event or limitation to force us away from the baits that we already have confidence in. (“You can have my shaky head worm when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!“) Not to mention, if we try to force a certain presentation into a situation where the conditions are not correct, frustration is just a few casts away.

Less Than Ideal Fishing Conditions...
Less Than Ideal Fishing Conditions…

… that seems like a great tagline for my new resort:

Welcome to Banana Lake Resort

Still, developing confidence in a new presentation is an important way to make progress and improve as an angler, which is something we should all be striving for.

Nice Tubby Smallmouth Caught on a Deep Water Hump
Nice Tubby Smallmouth Caught on a Deep Water Hump

So I’m going to echo what the others have already said:

If you want to gain confidence in a new presentation, you have to devote genuine time, energy and focus to it. Learn what it is meant to do, how it is meant to act, and the conditions under which it is most likely to work as expected.

That’s been said time and time again, and it’s good advice as a baseline. But…

Does every presentation work “when it’s supposed to?”

No.

Does every presentation work out of the package without modifications?

Nuh-uh.

Does every presentation work on the species it’s meant to target?

Of course not.

(Ever caught a big ‘ol channel cat on on a bass jig or a spinnerbait?)

Bonus Crappie on a Large Spoon for Pike
Bonus Crappie on a Large Spoon for Pike

If your goal is to gain confidence, strive to obtain the basic knowledge surrounding the presentation. Find the nuances that are considered best practice. Then when it comes time for you to tie-on and get on the water, try to make sure you are fishing in ideal practice conditions so you give yourself the absolute best chance of contacting fish. This will help you stay the course and avoid getting discouraged… which can lead to reaching into the ‘ol tacklebox for Mr. Shaky Head – or in my case Mr. Fluke – too soon…

Fluke with a Slightly Larger Hook
‘Ol Faithful

2019 was the year that solidified my personal confidence in topwater baits. Specifically, soft-bodied poppers and toads, or buzzbaits. I can’t take full credit for this success though, because it was born out of necessity. When I started to fish the pond, my go-to confidence baits wouldn’t work! I had to change. I was forced to change. I could either grow, catch nothing, or worse… give up…

Minimalist Pond Fishing Tips

We weren’t ready to give up… and man… looking back… I am so grateful for the challenge!

Let’s Get Better

If you’ve been with us for a while, you know that each and every time we take a trip, post an article or share a video, we try to get better. We try to minimize by discarding the gear and presentations that are simply being collected, and find ways we can improve and become better anglers.

Progress – in either area – will lead to happiness.

Making Progress = Happiness
Making Progress = Happiness

This specific trip on October 21st was the one that helped me solidify my personal confidence in soft-body popper topwater lures, and there were several important takeaways that we can all benefit from:

  • Practice new presentations in the best possible conditions.
  • Talk with locals and share information.
  • Know your gear.
  • Minimize your gear.
  • Keep your chin up and persevere!

Practice New Presentations in the Best Possible Conditions

Watch the Weather & Plan for Success
Watch the Weather & Plan for Success

If you want to get better with a topwater – start by practicing in traditional topwater conditions. Early morning, late evening, or overcast days can all be a great time to start chunkin’ topwaters.

On this particular trip I decided to sneak out in the afternoon because the wind had whipped up something fierce after a morning storm, and I had a feeling this would push the forage around and activate the bass. My initial casts targeted the wind-blown bank which quickly proved to be the right choice, but I also made a mistake:

I took a popper style topwater on a choppy, windy day when I should have probably selected a toad or a buzzbait – something that would make a more consistent disturbance for the fish to track. It also happened to be the modified Pop Shad that we discussed previously with the cup removed so it could slide over muck better. As a result, I had to shake my rod a ton to create a disturbance that could actually get some attention – unorthodox yes, but it worked.

Fishing a Wind Blown Shoreline
Fishing a Wind Blown Shoreline

(You can really see this before the second fish strikes in the video.)

Take a little extra time to think ahead and make sure you do whatever you can to give your practice run the best possible chance of success. This can give you that extra push to stick it out instead of throwing in the towel.

Talk With Locals and Share Information

One of the things that I really miss now that we’re all under Coronavirus lock-down, is talking with other people on and around the water. Having brief, friendly discussions with other people is not only good for the soul – it’s also a really good way to gather information about a body of water (provided you take it all with a grain of salt).

For example, on this trip I had a gentleman walk over to me to check out the first bass that I landed. He asked what I was using, and when I told him, he shared that he had seen guys catching fish in two particular areas using “some sort of brown crustacean looking thing with all these appendages“. This immediately gave me two spots to try some sort of plastic crayfish or hawg – which were baits that I had not had any success with on this body of water. Then he told me a story about how he “dulled up the finish” on some of his personal childhood baits using sandpaper per advice from his father, and that the reduce in flash increased his hookups. Worth considering!

I also asked him if he wanted to give the fish a kiss before we let her go and he said no… then we laughed – good times!

Want to give 'em a kiss?
Want to give ‘er a kiss?

Later on, when I was leaving I spoke to a few guys about places where their family had some success earlier in the summer, and one guy mentioned how he taught a kid to fish that still thanks him to this day.

I miss the stories and the camaraderie. Not everyone is friendly, but the good sure outweighs the bad in my experience. The tips and tricks are a nice bonus.

Know Your Gear

As we work to become minimalist fishermen, we’ll find that we start to carry less and less gear with us on trips. This is good, it makes things less confusing and more comfortable – however, it does add a new problem… when things break, we don’t have multiple backups. Actually in some cases, we won’t have any backups. This means that we need to learn more about the gear that we choose to use, and be able to fix it on the fly.

If you’re not comfortable taking your gear apart and fishing it in the field – get comfortable doing this, especially if you are carrying your gear and fishing from shore.

Fluorocarbon line is notorious for twisting up and jumping off the spool, causing nasty snarls even on spinning gear. This happened to me during this trip, and I needed to do a quick field strip on the fly. This reminded me how important even simple repairs can be. Without this knowledge I would have been done using that setup for the remainder of the day.

Take Care of Your Gear and it will Take Care of You
Be Ready to Repair Gear in the Field

Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you.

Minimize Your Gear

One of the benefits that comes with working towards becoming a minimalist fisherman is the fact that you need to carry less gear. You will feel this before you head out, as over time you find it takes less and less to “load up and go”. You’ll also find you are less impulsive in the tackle shop, and less anxious when working a presentation. You won’t be thinking about “what’s next”, you’ll be focused in hard, working the current presentation the best as you possibly can.

This change has made a huge impact in my life and on my behaviors. In the past I would delay, need to rig up 23 presentations and have a plan broken out into 15 minute fishing windows before I would hit the water.

This caused me to skip many trips because I felt unprepared, like I didn’t have enough time. “You can’t catch a fish in 45 minutes, you need 6 hours to really work a body of water!

That was wrong.

That was so wrong.

I lost so much time because of this… which is sad to think about.

These days, I have a minimized fishing bag, and I can grab a rod or two and hit the water in under 5 minutes. (We’ll talk more about what this looks like later on.) This topwater fishing trip was a prime example of that. My wife walked into my office and shook me and said “you need to get out of here and fish!”

In the past, this would not have been possible… but not anymore!

Boom. Fish.

Make the change yourself & enjoy more trips!

(Also yes, my lovely wife is awesome and I am so grateful she is supportive of my hobbies. I try to return the favor as much as I can.)

Keep Your Chin Up and Persevere!

Let's get better.
Let’s get better.

Fishing isn’t inherently easy.

Sometimes everything goes right.

More often… it doesn’t.

Before this topwater fishing trip I had been out 4 other times. Once with my son when we got rained out (and also had the cops called on us), once with a buddy at some strip pits, and twice to the pond. I caught zero fish on any of these trips.

One of the cool things about doing articles and videos is that I can cherry pick the days that were great, and quietly disregard the trips that were unsuccessful… but that won’t really help us get better, and it sets unrealistic expectations.

Think about that. 4 trips in a row. Zero fish.

It would be easy to get negative, or to say things like “well the fish just weren’t biting!“, instead of taking ownership of my inexperience or poor decisions or lack of technique.

If you can relate… don’t get discouraged – just make sure you are learning or practicing something on the water each and every trip! Work presentations, practice casting, look for signs presented by nature. Keep notes in your journal on the conditions and things you saw, because even though getting skunked stings, if we focus on improving at every opportunity, none will be a waste of time.

Eventually, your luck will turn.

Topwater Largemouth #1 on a Z-Man Pop Shad
Topwater Largemouth #1 on a Z-Man Pop Shad

Keep this in mind as well. Are you fishing pressured water?

GOOD.

I can think of no better way to force yourself to focus and improve your presentation selections and technique faster than pursuing fish that are on high alert. I used to want to avoid fishing pressure, but now see it as a positive. It’s like fishing on “Hard Mode”!

No matter what waters you fish, stick with it and you will be rewarded.

AJ with a Topwater Largemouth Bass
AJ with a Topwater Largemouth Bass

Notes From The Field

The following journal entry is the summary of the windy day and the two fish that attacked my topwater. Remember, keeping a journal is very important for many reasons, and I share these with you to give you an example of the different items that I personally log:

October 21st – Pond Fishing in Illinois
Weather: just pushing 68 when I left this afternoon at about 2:00 p.m., but very windy! I mean really blowing hard. It rained all morning up until about noon too. When I left it was bluebird skies and bright, very comfortable – again, aside from the wind. When I got to the pond I noticed that the fountains had been turned off, and the bathrooms were locked as well. I threw around my modified Z-man Pop Shad (black and silver with some glitter) and started just to the left of the spot where I’ve caught a few fish, well down from the bridge, but pretty far to the right of the main deck. The wind was blowing straight into the shore I was on, so I was throwing the topwater way out, twitching it hard, then letting the wind carry it back in over the weeds and the submerged mats. I got my first fish on my 4th cast. I believe that this is because the fish was active and looking for the wind to carry in some food. I fished this same way for 30 minutes then went to the other side of the lake. I was able to slow down a bit and get a few casts in with the weightless Zoom Trick Worm, but only where it was really shallow – otherwise the wind was too bad. I had a local tell me that some guy “caught a lot of bass over by the bridge using a brown bait that looked like a crustacean with a lot of little appendages”. Maybe a hawg? Maybe a jig? Noted. I kept fishing topwater and caught my second fish by the first bench, about 40 feet off shore doing the same thing – but this time the wind was at my back (so I could cast really far). I could see a lot of underwater mats that I was casting to. Both fish were either right at or slightly over 2 lbs. Really a fun day. I think the wind got them worked up, and I’ve noticed that the muck on the top of the water changes and moves so much. I like to look for the real seedy looking light green stuff. In the summer that was what I caught my first nice fish through. Not the super thick snot. That said, I have missed a ton of fish in the super thick snot. I prefer a single hook over the dual-tipped kind that come on most frogs. This makes 3 fish I’ve caught on the Pop Shad, 2 on a fluke weightless, and 1 on a Strike King hollow belly frog with a little rattle in it. I have also missed a lot on that last bait, and several on the Sebile Pivot Frog in bright orange (I don’t like that color – ordered a black one because I think the bait could work, but we’ll see… also ordered more Pop Shads so that I can modify and use them more too). Overall I fished for about 2 hours and it was a lot of work but a ton of fun. Today was a day when I actually wish that I had the popping cup on the front of my bait – I had recently removed it to make it come over the muck and snot better. Today was all about ruckus and playing the wind – cool day!

Now Take This and Put In The Work

Keep Fishing my Dudes & Dudettes
Keep Fishing my Dudes & Dudettes
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Take these notes and digest them, then apply them to your next fishing trip. If you’re working a new presentation, use it under the best possible conditions. Talk with the locals the next time you’re out and see if you can share and gather new interesting information. Make sure you know your gear so you can fix it on the fly, and minimize in between trips so you can get up and go on a whim.

Finally – persevere.

Stick with it, and let me know if you have any success with a new presentation. I’d love to hear from you.

@aj.hauser

Let’s get better.

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