Fall Means Topwater Fishing

By Capt. Cefus McRae

My favorite type of fishing is with topwater plugs. It’s all visual. How you work the plug, watching a fish come up from the depths to check it out, and the explosive strike that follows, is what keeps me coming back for more.

As summer fades away and the cooler days of fall show up, fish begin their seasonal movement to shallower locations as they start filling their bellies in advance of the winter. This is the perfect time to dust off those surface plugs and experience the adrenaline rush associated with topwater action.

Topwater plugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Essentially, the idea is to present them as a struggling or fleeing baitfish. For shapes, there’s the chugging/popper style, walk-the-dog style, swimming shapes, and variations of each. I’ve got an assortment of sizes and colors in my topwater tray, and virtually any of them will catch fish, but I do have a couple favorites that I’ve come to trust.

My go-to topwater bait is the MirroLure Top Dog. It’s a walk-the-dog style plug that has internal rattles, and it’s deadly on both fresh and saltwater game fish. My preferred colors are the blue back/silver, the black back/silver and the black back/orange belly. They do a great job of mimicking a struggling bait, and they’re almost irresistible to everything with fins. The key to any walk-the-dog plug is getting the cadence correct with your retrieve. I like to keep my rod tip down, and use short twitches as I retrieve. This makes the plug ‘walk’ left, then right, with each twitch. I make a cast, let the plug sit for at least five seconds, then start the retrieve. Sometimes the fish will hit on the first twitch. Other times, they will literally follow the plug to the boat. So it’s important to work the plug all the way back. If you get a follower, keep retrieving. Your plug might get hit several times as you retrieve. Big fish like to play cat-and-mouse. They will slap the bait, knocking it out of the water. Ultimately, they will commit, and then it’s game-on.

My other favorite is the chugging/popper style. Chuggers create a lot of commotion on the retrieve. The Chug Bug has been around for decades, and it’s produced a lot of fish. Again, I like the blue/silver and the orange/white color combos. The cast/retrieve formula is similar to the Top Dog, except I tend to slow down the cadence and use more forceful twitches to really displace some water with each pull. It’s hard to fish this plug wrong. Just remember to keep things at a slower pace. The strike will seem as though it comes from nowhere, and the fish will virtually hook itself.

One skill you should learn is how to tie a loop knot. The open loop, versus the knot cinched down on the eye, allows the bait to work more freely and you get a better action from your plugs.

You can get a great idea of how effective these plugs are by watching the Nuts & Bolts of Fishing Topwater episodes in our video library on CarbonTV.com, and we show how to tie the loop knot in our Pro Tips segments on the Nuts & Bolts of Fishing website. Topwater plugs will fool fish from Oregon to Georgia. Spotted bass, smallmouth, stripers, pike and muskies in freshwater, and redfish, speckled trout, dolphin, sharks and mackerel in the salt. So add a few to your tackle box this fall and get ready for some explosive fishing fun.