Surface fishing

Leroy Tirant

In Tasmania surface fishing for trout has been a long standing tradition. "Top spinning" with wood and wattle grubs is still a favored past time for many, but in recent times anglers have been starting to become aware of hard bodied lures and soft plastics that can be used for the same purpose at less expense. Nearly all fresh and inshore salt water species available around Tasmania's coastline will take a surface lure fished with a variety of retrieves. Anglers have to remember that fish spend a fair amount of their time in the upper reaches of the water column either because of water temperature, or because that's where they are feeding. When they are high in the water column or near the surface, fish spend a fair amount of time looking up and are always opportunistic when looking for a feed. I guess the most appealing prospect when fishing with surface lures is that its visual fishing. Quite often you will see the fish before it strikes, which can lead to stressful precious seconds before it grabs the lure and of course the amazing strikes that leave a hole in the water where your lure once was. It can at times be a more productive method, often out fishing other techniques.

Trout spend a great deal of their lives feeding off the surface. They are an enigmatic sport fish that respond with great enthusiasm to surface lures, especially through the summer months. Small insects, baitfish and various moths and dragon fly's all live on or near the surface at this time of the year and whilst some are subtle in their actions, most, especially the larger species are very noisy when they land on the water. An erratic stop and start with a twitch of the rod tip will often entice a strike as your lure will mimic the actions of something that has just landed on the water and I suppose it represents a big moth dying or a frog swimming, whichever it is, fish find it irresistible. I look for locations around weedy margins or off rocky points and over weed beds in deep water. I start with slow retrieves, only just turning the handle to pick up slack line as I twitch the lure with the rod tip. I leave the lure sitting dead in the water for quite a few seconds between each twitch as the fish will often strike the motionless lure. A reel with a slow oscillation is ideal for this. I prefer small poppers through the day and late in the evening I may change to a larger surface lure with a spinning blade or prop, which makes a splashy bloop upon retrieve and can draw fish in from a long way off. You can fish these lures well into the dark with great success. I have found color to be almost irrelevant and find I use dull greens and browns through the day and darker almost black lures at night. I think that darker lures have a better silhouette at night when fish are looking up at the night sky. The advantage of using a popper or lures with a prop is that they float and can be used around very shallow margins where fish often are late in the day and especially at night. The types of lures I like to use are Rapala Skitter Pops, Strike Pro Rack Poppers and Squidgy Bugs rigged on a light jig head, and virtually tail walked with a slow wind across the surface.

Saltwater species need a different approach when surface fishing with the exception of bream,whiting and mullet. For these three species I would use the same retrieve as with trout.
Tuna, trevally, tailor, salmon, couta, pike and a host of other fish will take a surface popper but prefer a faster retrieve that has the lure skipping rapidly over the surface. This represents a small baitfish fleeing and staple fish such as salmon cannot resist. Lures I prefer here a pencil shaped poppers, not the big cupped face bloopers that are used in the tropics. Smiling Jacks, Strike Pro Laser lites and Gillies poppers are my favorites. The technique is simple, cast the lure out as far as possible, hold the rod tip high and crank the reel as fast as you can and get that lure moving. You can't wind fast enough when fishing for saltwater species so reels with high speed ratios of approx 6.3:1 are ideal for this. Areas to look for are simple, fish poppers exactly in the same places you have been fishing with bait. The comparison might surprise you. Colors can play a part, but I prefer an all white lure or a white one with a red head. I found this combination to be the most successful from Marrawah to St Helens.
Fishing for saltwater fish with poppers is an adrenalin rush, especially when you see a school of big salmon smashing a popper as it skitters across the surface whilst competing against each other to try and catch the supposed fleeing baitfish. Your heart is in your mouth until one of these fish finally hooks up. Just remember to keep winding as more often than not as soon as you stop the lure the fish stop chasing it.

Rods for normal use on freshwater species are fine for top water fishing as small poppers(approx 5cm) and soft plastics can be cast with little difficulty on a normal spinning rod in the 5'6-7ft range in the 1-4kg bracket. There is a small advantage with a longer rod in casting distance and being able to hold the rod tip higher to dance the surface lure over weedy margins or around snags further off shore. Reels that balance on the rod to compliment the outfit are what your after, and reels with a slow oscillation offer a distinct advantage as they will lay line more evenly on a slow retrieve.

For saltwater surface fishing rod choice will be dependant on if you are fishing from a boat or from shore. In a boat I find a 7ft fast tapered rod rated to about 6-8kg ideal. I like a reel in the 3500-4000 size range with a fast retrieve of up 6.3:1. Off shore a rod in the 8-10ft length are great as the added length will give greater casting distance with the same weight rating and reel you would use from a boat.

Lines for surface fishing are a personal choice, I have used both braid and mono and found both to work fine, but with braid be sure to use a leader of at least a metre to half a rod length to act as a shock absorber when a fish hits a lure being retrieved across the surface flat out. If using mono try a high quality co-polymer as this has no memory and won't spring off a fully loaded reel. I don't use snap swivels in an type of lure fishing as I believe it can dampen the action, so I use a loop knot straight to the lure. This gives the lure plenty of room to move about freely.

This summer give surface fishing a go you'll be surprised at the results and how visual the surface strikes are, and chances are you'll be hooked.

Leroy Tirant

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