Ahhhh, the Redfish. Every inshore saltwater angler adores them for endless reasons. Could it be their strength and stamina during a battle? Perhaps it's their excellent table fare quality for helping build a spicy and delicious cajun crusted dinner. Above all, there's a select group of anglers that know how well these fish are capable of inhaling a topwater plug and that's one of the biggest draws for any seasoned inshore junkie.
Florida Topwater LORE
Incredible to believe that an over slot red drum will chase down a surface lure. It goes against all biological reasoning as redfish are notorious for being scavengers and typically feed along the bottom. Crab, Shrimp, and Mollusks are a few of the top choices favored by redfish for an easy meal. However, baitfish including finger mullet, croakers, pinfish, and pilchards are but a few of the other types of forage these coastal gamefish will happily slurp up.
I first heard about this back in the 90's when I was heavy into the inshore fishing tournament circuit. Traveling from the east coast of Florida to the West Coast to fish several inshore tournaments ranging from Bookelia to Sarasota. The locals kept tight lipped and to themselves for the longest time. By studying fish behavior and patterns daily, the local fishing guides knew that certain times of the tide would draw these fish out to explode on a topwater lure.
As a tide floods or the water pushes up and fills the mangrove shorelines, redfish will also cruise in the tide following the bait. Finger Mullet and greenbacks also known as white bait on the West Coast will hug the coastline riding the tide as well. This is where redfish will strategically stage up and look for an opportunity to ambush whatever forage is coasting on by.
In a scenario like this, a well placed topwater lure will easily entice a fish that is looking to eat. Matching the color and profile of the bait will also play a crucial role into how quickly a lurking fish will commit and strike. Paying close attention to the position of the tide flow and working the lure in that same direction will help make the lure appear more natural. Monitoring simple yet vital nuances provided by nature is a learned skill and one that most inshore anglers won't acquire overnight.
Topwaters, such as the Wicked Walker from MareaGear, Rapala's Skitterwalk, or Heddon's Zara Spook can do a lot of damage when it comes to locating where the fish are holding. Typically you want to throw a topwater under low light conditions like first light in the morning and just was the sun is setting. That's not to say that times a large fish won't explode on a perfectly presented topwater in broad daylight as well. Again it really comes down to "matching the hatch"and profile size of the bait.
When it comes down to lure design and performance, there's a handful of do's and don't to picking the ideal topwater bait.
- Look for additional noise or vibration to call the fish in like rattles or beads
- Scooped head profile to help the lure "spit" and create more surface disturbance
- Slanted Tail design for easy entry into the water when landing and also maxizing jumping action
Lure Confidence & Location
It's no wonder many anglers without time on water get frustrated when targeting redfish and attempting to master a new tactic or technique. Throwing any topwater plug takes observation, patience, precision, and confidence. There's no secret that the more comfortable you are with a particular lure or profile and throwing it, the more likely you are to connect consistently with fish. Numbers don't lie and the more you throw your favorite topwater the better you become at working that particular lure. Redfish pros typically stick to a particular profile size and color pattern best suited for the area they are fishing. Pay close attention to this statement,"the area they are fishing dictates the pattern thrown". For example, when fishing in the New Smyrna Beach area and Mosquito Lagoon, it might be best to match a pinfish or finger mullet pattern measuring no more than 3 "- 4.5". Massive schools of redfish school every fall throughout the estuary and it would be damn near impossible for a schooling fish to pass up a perfectly worked topwater.
The Gulf Coast fish tend to favor a little different menu, as the Charlotte Harbor fishery can vary day by day. White bait, commonly referred to as green backs on the west coast of Florida, are candy for slot reds. Throwing a pilchard pattern topwater along any mangrove shoreline or oyster bar wouldn't be a bad idea to score with a feeding red.
Lure Retrieve & Speed
The speed and style of recovery after casting your topwater bait is perhaps the most important part of mastering how to fish a surface lure. Each bait's action varies from another so just be sure you are very comfortable throwing and working the bait. I grew up fishing the "walk the dog" technique, which is the most common however there are a few other ways to retrieve a topwater. My second favorite would have to be giving a hard pop just after you've casted and the lure hits the water. This technique makes the bait appear to be fleeing quickly, and then I would vary the retrieve with a walk the dog and another few hard pops in between. Working erratic style of retrieve has provided much success over the years, leading me to countless bull reds. The 3rd, but not least would have to be the "waking v", as I commonly refer to it. This technique is the very minimal and simply requires a slow and steady retrieve which moves the bait to push a wake like a finger mullet or pilchard creating a "V" on the surface.
Whether you're in the Appalachicola scouting the shorline for schooling bull reds or coasting along the Banana river to target feeding fish, be sure to have a few topwater lures on board if you're looking to connect. Never underestimate the explosiveness and appetite a hungry redfish can exhibit on a well presented surface offering.