Surface lures For Trout Fishing
The surface is just about the most fun you can have as an angler. Whether chasing giant trevally in the coral sea, bream in the estuaries, or dry flying trout here in Tassie you can’t help but get excited watching something come up and slurp or smash your top-water offering. Although they have been around for many years, surface hardbodies for trout have never really hit a spotlight but with the new methods and gear being developed at the moment it’s only a matter of time before people begin to look more seriously at top-water options. It takes some time to perfect your technique but it is essentially easy to get started and can be a very effective tool in your trout fishing arsenal.
The Bream Link It is interesting to note that most of the ‘tech’ stuff currently being developed or marketed is aimed at luring bream. This is a reversal from earlier on in the 20th century when people first began using their trout lures to catch bream. I have read recently that Steve Starling predicts this pattern to become a full circle and for trout gear to take off and surpass bream gear again. Bream on lures has certainly boomed over the last 10 years and has brought with it a lot of new techniques and tools of the trade. Most of the new products are fairly specifically aimed at bream. Despite this generalisation a lot of the Japanese made top-water “bream” lures are actually designed for trout and imported by wholesalers who market them to the breaming community. Likewise, bass fishing in the US has seen a great deal of research and development go into surface ‘baits’ and these too can be used to successfully target trout. Most of the hardbodied surface lures you will see in Tasmanian tackle stores today have been developed for catching bream in the coastal systems but they can be adapted for use just as effectively in inland waterways.
One of the added bonuses to this style of luring is that you can do it very successfully at night. While everyone else is in bed sleeping, you can hit the water and avoid the crowds. More often than not I find that fishing at night brings out the bigger trout in almost any system and the surface is no exception. The night air fractionally cools the surface and brings lake and dam fish up to the top. Overall, the darkness makes them significantly less spooky and reserved. It is usually very difficult to fish small rivers and streams at night. To make life easier it is best to locate some of the larger pools and open water areas where casting is less hazardous and accuracy is less paramount. The best nights for fishing the surface are mild nights with little wind and most importantly I find that a clear sky and full moon produce the most results. The clear sky and full moon makes it much easier to keep track of what you’re doing and it means that the lure shows a much stronger silhouette against the night sky. If you’re fishing from the bank then it’s best to fish when the water is dead calm. Glassy conditions are preferred because any water disturbed by your lure shows up distinctly on the surface. Conversely, if you are fishing from a boat then the disturbed water gives away your presence. It is better to try and fish from a boat when there is a very slight ripple on the water, enough to remove the mirror finish but not enough to form tumbling crests. When the water is choppy or rippled the fish are much harder to attract and a lure that makes a lot of noise and vibration is best. You can also use a much larger lure to give a big silhouette; at times I have caught trout on 100mm poppers at night. Lures with a glow-in-the-dark bib or body are also worth trying as they can attract fish from a long distance but sometimes the finicky trout will shy away at the unexpected light. Nights with a lot of wind and very choppy water are very difficult to fish and usually it’s best to sit it out and wait for better conditions. It’s important to point out here that it’s not ONLY at night time that trout will attack a full sized surface lure. I get so much pleasure out of surface fishing that I will often use them in broad daylight over a sub-surface lure and not without success.
Lures and Retrieves
There are a myriad of new lure shapes, styles, colours and sizes on the market and selecting a lure is becoming more and more difficult. The upside of this is that you can nearly always find what you’re after. The styles of surface lure differ greatly in action and hence your retrieve needs to be altered for each one in each circumstance. It sounds complicated but there are a few simple rules that make it all quite easy. All lures can be worked fast or slow, and can be worked consistently or erratically. The best way to discover the perfect technique is to try all methods and incorporate them together until one works for you. That’s about the long and the short of it. There are no hard and fast rules but for each lure style there is usually a generally accepted method of retrieve. Poppers have a distinct ‘blooping’ action. A jerk of the rod tip makes the cup-shaped face spray water forwards, accompanied by a popping noise, hence the name ‘popper’. The line gained is taken up and then the rod tip jerked again. Poppers are best on rippled or slightly choppy water as they can pull fish from great distances. A fairly consistent blooping retrieve works well in these conditions. Make sure you leave the lure still in the water or ‘pause’ it between jerks. Often you will see a bow wave come up and follow your lure for a while before the fish strikes. If you are using a constant retrieve then it is important not to change when the fish swipes at the lure or follows it up, keep the lure moving in the same pattern and wait for another strike as the fish will often lose interest in a popper if it stop dead all of a sudden. For nights where it is dead calm then short sharp bloops and long pauses in between work best. The fish will usually hit the lure on the pause directly after a twitch. The term ‘walking the dog’ is an Americanism that has crept into our Australian angling terms and it refers to the action of a lure that darts left and right as it is retrieved across the top. Walking-thedog style lures are generally a long thin profile with a tapered front end and a low tow point. Mostly these lures are called ‘stickbaits’ although there are always exceptions. To get a stickbait to walk-thedog you have to impart all the action with your rod. You twitch the rod tip sharply but only over a short distance, this brings the lure forward through the water and then as your rod returns to its original position the slack line allows the lure to dart off sideways. Timing is important when keeping a constant retrieve because you have to twitch at the right time to make the lure dart back the other way. It doesn’t take much practise to get the lure walking well so don’t be concerned that it might be too difficult to use these highly effective lures. Small stickbaits work very well in still, shallow water when used with a couple of short sharp twitches and then a longer pause. They also have been very effective for me in running water, where you cast diagonally upstream and just twitch it occasionally as it floats back with the water. This works best with stickbaits that sit vertically in the water with the rear hooks hanging a few centimetres below the surface. Often the trout will just suck in the back hooks without engulfing the whole lure. When the fish are really on the chew, trout can even see the lure coming through the air and attack it the second it hits the surface. Fish can hit them so hard that they will leave the water entirely as they take the stickbait so it pays to be on your toes. Don’t be afraid to go big at night. Even small fish will attack a big stickbait as it darts across the water. Terrestrials are a group of lures that closely replicate a typical food source for the trout. Animals such as frogs, dragonflies, cicadas, spiders and lizards have all been copied and adapted as surface fishing lures and these can be some of the most effective and versatile weapons. They usually have no built in action and need very little imparted on them to catch fish. Long casts onto dead calm water and very small wobbles of the rod tip make the trout go crazy. Getting the lure over the area you want to fish and the making it vibrate is the key to success here. Anything with plenty of arms, legs or wings to wriggle will stir the water up around the lure and drag the fish in from quite a distance. If you intend to fish at night then terrestrials can be the perfect tool but as with all surface lures it pays to test them out during the day first and work out how to make them most appealing. Built-in-action swimmers are by far and away my favourite surface lures for trout. Unfortunately they also seem to be the hardest to locate in tackle stores. I think this is probably due to the limited number of people using hardbodies on the top for trout. Builtin- action lures are often very similar in design to sub-surface hardbodies. They can be short and stubby or long and slender, and everything in between. The main thing they do have in common is a bib protruding from the underside of the lure. The bib is usually very wide and short and nearly dead vertical to the lure profile. Built-in-action lures are the easiest to use as they require very little input from the angler to work. Quite often the best retrieve is a slow rolling wind with the odd pause here and there. Sometimes they will work better twitched and paused similar to a popper but a little less aggressively. Again, it’s all about practise and the more you do it, the better you will get at picking the right retrieves but for the most part the normal swimming action is the best way to start. Two of the top designs available are the megabass anthrax, which can be scary in price but has produced more than half of the trout I have caught on surface lures, the river2sea froggy and river2sea bee-tit. These three lures have an excellent built-in-action and can be dived, walked or popped to give whatever pattern you feel is required and will provide an easy change from sub-surface to top water lures. Definitely try and get your hands on some built-in-action lures if you’re planning on taking up the challenge of surface lures for trout.
When you’re selecting a lure it’s important to consider a few different factors. The main things to think about are relatively simple. The size, style and colour of lure are generally functions of the environment your fishing. If the fish you are trying to catch are feeding on bait fish then you try and represent a bait fish, if they are feeding on frogs then you try and replicate a frog stroking across the top. It’s pretty elementary to that effect but to get the very best out of your time on the water there are many other things to look at. For example, fish that are in shallow water are especially shy and can spook very easily. You should use a lure that is the right size and shape to make minimal splash and it is usually best to use one that can be worked very slowly. In deeper or more open water you may need to draw fish from further away and hence a large noisy lure might prove better. For night fishing applications some lures come with a glow-in-the-dark bib or body. These can be a curse or gift depending on the mood of the fish as some fish will chase it very willingly but be much more tentative to strike. Calm nights are better fished with a more subtle approach. Every aspect of the fish you’re chasing, the food source, the time of year, the weather conditions, the habitat and many more things should be analysed before you can pick the right lure for the job. Having said that, don’t be afraid to chop and change between lures when the fish are being tough. If you feel like you have fished an area effectively and haven’t had a strike then it’s time to try something new. Start with small differences between lures and work your way up to the really outlandish ones. Sometimes you can fish the same area for 30 minutes without a sniff and then first lure change you will get a hit. When nothing normal seems to be working then your only option is usually to try the most obscure or unusual surface lure in the box. Sometimes the most insanely unnatural lure will be the one to work but usually its best to keep with the program. ‘Match the hatch’ as they say. Colours are a relatively simple choice when it comes to surface lures. If you’re fishing streams with crystal clear water in the middle of the day, then it stands to reason that you want the most natural looking colour lures. Natural can mean two things in my mind; dull greens, browns etc or clear. I think clear colours are often underestimated as a surface lure as they can be very inconspicuous but the distorted water around the lure profile still gives the trout a target to hone in on. For hunting those big aggressive Atlantic salmon it’s hard to go past a fluoro green or chartreuse colour but I also think that those super bright bold colours work well on the trout in very low light periods just before and after dark. Generally you can just go with whatever colour you would normally use in a subsurface lure for the given conditions. Brumbys Creek browns seem to have a certain penchant for pink and silver that I’ve noticed, although this hasn’t necessarily been reflected in the other places I usually fish. Once the light is gone all together then there are three options. Black, white or glow-in-the-dark. If you put yourself in the trout’s position, black lures stand out against the small amount of light in the night sky better than any other colour. Anything lurking down deeper will see a strong and defined silhouette hovering over the surface. White stands out of course because it reflects the most of what little light is available at night time. Glow-in-the-dark lures seem to draw the attention of a fish with follows and bow waves but they seem much more tentative on the take. To summarise all the above, main factors for colour choices are the same as with sub-surface lures but once it gets dark, change over to a solid black or solid white. If things aren’t coming together for you then start mixing and matching until something does. For lure style/shape; small stickbaits and terrestrials in the small waters, larger terrestrials, stickbaits, poppers and fish profiles in the open water.
One of the great things about the transition from sub-surface to top water hardbodies is that you don’t need to update your normal lure fishing gear at all. A light spinning rod and reel loaded with GSP (gel spun polyethylene or ‘braid’) line will fit the bill perfectly. Of course there are better and worse rods and reels in any situation but for all intents and purposes you should be able to use your current outfit with very few limitations. Couple this with 1-2 metres of 2-10lb fluorocarbon leader and you’re away. The same as in any other angling discipline, always make sure you tie good knots, check your hook points are sharp and pay attention to detail. I prefer to tie my leader down hard onto the tow point of lures but a strong case can be made for the Leftys loop knot which leaves a small loop between the knot and the lure to give it more freedom and room to move around its natural action. If your hook points are dulled at all then touching them up is a must! The hooks need to be as sharp as possible because most trout will either swipe hard at the lure or slurp at it from below. It’s not often that a surface lure will be engulfed and swallowed so any hook point that touches the fishes mouth needs to be able to grab and hold first time. One other thing that is worth mentioning here is the use of single hooks on surface lures. I personally have found that the hook-up rate with single/treble/ double hooks is entirely a product of the situation you’re fishing in. Small stickbaits in the rivers and streams work infinitely better with a single trailing hook and if there are two tow points for hooks then I will usually change the back to single and leave the front as a double or treble. For larger lures in the more open water I’ve found that the traditional treble is hard to beat although sometimes I will change the front hooks to a double and rear to a single if I think the trout are being tentative. Essentially, trout that are very aggressive and swipe at lures will snag more easily on a treble but fish that are just sucking the lure down from below will connect to a single better. I rig single/double hooks with the point facing up but one of my friends who also fishes quite successfully with surface lures faces the point down (only on the back hook, the front hook should always face down away from the body). I guess it’s a case of more testing required!
More importantly than anything else you need to feel confident in your lure. If you decide on a lure and tie it on, make sure that you tell yourself it will work. Confidence is such a big factor in luring success. Without it, the tough days become almost impossible. If you’re having fun and fishing with confidence then you pay much more attention to casting accuracy, retrieve style, strikes and general surroundings which results in more fish in the boat. There is nothing like watching on as your surface lure gets destroyed in an explosion of water and you don’t want to be day dreaming about whether or not you’re using the right lure when it happens. To catch fish you need to think you’re going to catch one every time you put in a cast. Pay attention to detail; knots and rigging getting tangled or worn, weed on the lure, blunt or bent hooks; all of these things can bring you undone. If your gear is good, your knots are good and you think you are doing the right things with the right lure, then it’s only a matter of time before you latch onto a fish. Simon Little
For anyone who loves sight fishing, but finds scrambling along rocky shores and dodging Tiger Snakes a bit too taxing, boat polaroiding can offer an easy alternative. I really enjoy walking into our remote western lakes, but when you’re a bit foot sore or you find yourself carrying an injury, a day sight fishing from a boat can be magic. For many anglers, sight fishing is as good as it gets. From the moment your eyes first catch a glimpse of that elongated shape, fin or shadow, to the point where the whole fish suddenly materializes into full view as it eases up to your offering and then eats it, is totally engaging and extremely addictive. Blue skies with a light breeze are treasured and if you find yourself working on a day such as this you have my sympathy! Whether you’re into wet or dry fly fishing, lure fishing or bait fishing, spotting fish with the aid of polarized sunglasses from a boat, before you make the cast, is a very rewarding technique. Large lakes cover a huge area and have many different shorelines and islands on offer. You can invest a lot of time driving or walking to a particular shore, only to find it totally void of fish despite the seemingly perfect conditions. Weather permitting; a boat can access different parts of a lake in a very short time. This freedom to travel to almost any corner of the lake opens up a whole range of options to find fish. A boat fitted with an electric outboard is a very efficient way to quickly search many kilometres of shoreline to locate fish. Once you have found an area that holds fish, you can seek out similar locations around the lake. Fluctuating water levels can dramatically change the characteristics of a lake and the need to get up to speed with the current conditions becomes a whole lot faster from a boat. This freedom to quickly explore a different areas of a lake while the sun is still high in the sky is a great way of making the most of your time on the water.
Boats come in all shapes and sizes to suit many different needs. For boat polaroiding, some things to consider would be a boat with a stable platform to stand or sit, as well as the ability to quietly control the position and speed at which the boat moves along the shoreline. An electric motor used in conjunction with a flat broad side drogue such as the Hayes Super Drogue is ideal. The advantage of using this type of drogue is that as soon as the boat is driven forward or back the drogue is deflated as it is towed by one set of ropes. You can now intercept an approaching fish that is just out of reach by engaging the electric motor to close the gap between the caster and the fish, without the need to pull in the drogue. This set up also allows you to reset your drift around an obstruction or water that is too shallow to float your boat. The speed at which you need to drift is driven by the type of watercraft you own and the conditions on the day. I find my light tinny drifts uncontrollably and far to quickly in a strong wind without utilizing a drogue, where as a slightly larger, heavier craft, can drift comfortably in these same conditions. Large lakes demand respect and can quickly turn ugly as the wind increases. For this reason larger boats are better suited to exploring the far corners of these bigger lakes. That said, small boats still have their place, you just need to realize their limitations on a big lake and plan accordingly. I have a small car topper and if the weather forecast is predicting strong winds I will choose my location accordingly and launch the boat adjacent to the area I want to fish. It’s far safer to relocate to another area using your car than it is to risk crossing a large expanse of water in a small craft during unfavourable weather conditions.
Making the wind work for you
It is well known that the wind plays a major role when it comes to the distribution of insects above and beneath the water. The decision to fish a particular shore is often driven by the time of year, wind direction, the type of bottom, be it sand, mud, weed or stone and the available food source that may be present. Drifting or slowly making your way along a shoreline that has the wind blowing along or directly into it, often holds fish feeding on dislodged aquatic insects such as sick caddis or an accumulation of airborne insects that have blown to the far side of the lake. Fish cruise these shorelines or holding stationary in a prominent position to intercept anything that the wind, or waves, may carry their way. When you find fish along these shores the water can be systematically searched by making repeated drifts into the shore. With each new drift another piece of water is covered. There are times, however, when the accumulation of food is so great that the sheer numbers of fish in a small area make it impractical to continue fishing from a boat. It is often much more productive to ditch the boat and wade an area such as this. The alternative is to simply hold position using the anchor and wait for the fish to come to you. During the warmer months, when terrestrials, caddis and mayflies are blown onto the water, fish can be found along the edge of the lake that has the wind blowing off shore. The sheltered areas along these shores are often flat calm, opening up your view of the water even more. In this instance an electric motor is all that is needed to scan these sheltered shores. The down side is, fish also have a better view of the world above and can be easily spooked by movement. Keeping a low profile and standing still is essential during close encounters in these calm conditions. Further out into the lake, fish can be seen along wind lanes and foam lines as they clean up what’s left of the morning midge hatch and any other insect that has found its way onto the water. Wind lanes and foam lines are a good place to start, although a change in wind direction can destroy these wind lanes, dispersing the accumulated insects out across the lake. Finding fish that are still feeding near the surface, beyond these wind lanes, can be done by looking into the waves as the boat travels along them. Teamwork can play an important role here, with one person ready to fish while the other controls the position of the boat, to set up the cast. Northerly winds with the sun at your back are ideal conditions for this type of sight fishing. But as always there has to be a concentration of food present to draw the fish near the surface in the first place.
Polaroiding is often spoken of in association with fly fishing but I learnt many of my sight fishing skills during my early days bait fishing. I have fond memories of actively polaroiding fish and then lobbing out a big black cockroach, which was very rarely refused. There are two types of baits that are well suited to this type of sight fishing. The first is the cockroach and the second is the mudeye. Both these baits can be cast un-weighted on a single hook and are irresistible to trout. All of the situations mentioned previously can be fished with one of these baits. The technique used to cast these baits is simple and easily mastered using the right set up. One way is to use a fly rod and reel spooled with 10 pound line. The heavy line is used to reduce the loops of line tangling in your hand as it is retrieved by hand and not the reel once a manageable length of line has been established. Casting is a single smooth action so as not to tear the bait from the hook. The length of a fly rod also assists in this smooth lobbing action. The other method is to use very light line on a thread line or spin caster on a long rod. The light line allows the bait to be cast from the reel with less friction generated across the spool. During very windy conditions this method sees less tangles as there are no loose loops of line to be managed by hand. Using this method, there is never any time to be bored waiting for a fish to find your bait because you are always on the move, actively searching the water with the additional visibility that polaroid sunglasses provide. From a boat, casting long distances is rarely required; I am constantly amazed how close fish will come to a drifting boat. This is especially true when drifting amongst a stand of dead trees. In this situation I have caught fish within a couple of metres of the boat, so casting a long way isn’t a priority. The wind is never a problem when casting unweighted baits when it is at your back. It’s simply a matter of finding a fish, lobbing the bait out with the assistance of the wind and watching for the white of the mouth as it opens and shuts. Let it take a couple of foot of line and set the hook, it can be as simple as that. For anyone who wants to expand his or her bait fishing experience, then sight fishing from a boat may be just what you are looking for. The hardest part is probably going to be collecting enough bait in the first place.