The long, hot, sunny days we are now experiencing cause algae to bloom at the lake’s surface. These very small plants serve as the main food source for threadfin shad, so these forage fish are also found at or near the surface dining on algae during daylight hours.
When cruising schools of gamefish encounter such near-surface shad, they will often attack from beneath, thus trapping the small baitfish against the surface, causing “boils” or eruptions of water that can both be seen and heard from a distance by observant anglers.
Two types of schooling are typically observed on our area reservoirs. Longer, sustained schooling under low-light conditions experienced around sunrise and sunset is one type, and the other is the much more brief, more sporadic schooling that takes place in mid- to late-morning.
Being prepared to respond to such scenarios can allow for a lot of fish to be landed in a short period of time.
Having at least one rod dedicated to presenting an artificial lure to topwater schooling fish is the most basic of all the preparations an angler can make. Some schooling can take place so briefly that the angler will barely have time to get to the action before it disappears. Taking the time to change out a bait to a more appropriate presentation once fish are spotted will simply waste valuable time.
Using light line on a long rod with a reel filled to capacity will increase casting distance and allow for lighter lures to be presented. My favorite topwater rig is a 7-foot Fenwick spinning rod (EA70ML-MFS) with an Abu Garcia Orra 30SX spinning reel, loaded to capacity (but not beyond) with Sufix 832 braided line in 20-pound test. This rod flexes and loads well, and then flings baits a country mile.
Having trolling motor batteries charged fully and in top condition will allow you to move to the fish as quickly as your boat will allow. Under no circumstances should you use your outboard motor to maneuver into schooling fish as this will spook them a majority of the time. Get only as close as you must and make long casts to keep the fish from sensing your presence.
OBSERVE FORAGE SIZE
One of the most consistent mistakes I see anglers making when fishing for surfacing fish this time of year is using a bait that is way too large. Right now most of the topwater action is fueled by young of the year shad which were spawned between late-March and mid-May.
These fish range from 1 to 1½ inches right now. To throw a Rebel Pop-R or a Zara Spook or some other large topwater bait will automatically diminish your success.
Smaller lures that resemble the shape, color, and size of these small shad will perform much better. I personally use hand-tied flies in grey and white and keep a number of these in lengths from 1 to 3 inches with several lengths in between. I connect these with a fluorocarbon leader to a weighted cork, thus enabling me to fish a small, light bait without sacrificing casting distance.
Remember, just because the fish are feeding at the surface, does not mean your lure must be there, too. Fishing a small slab, for example, just beneath the surface by reeling it in quickly with your rod tip kept up high can be very effective.
MOON PHASE MATTERS
After keeping detailed records on every single fishing trip I’ve taken on our local reservoirs over the past 23 years, it is clear that the daytime topwater bite is predictably diminished over the several days on either side of the full moon.
On the afternoon of June 25, I witnessed the first solid topwater action I’ve encountered since before our most recent full moon. Our next new moon (or dark moon, wherein there is no illumination) will fall on Monday. Topwater fishing during the day is typically best during the five or six days on either side of the new moon.
We put all of these things into practice on the water June 25 as I fished with father-and-son team Jamie and Brennen Kidwell, of Harker Heights. After fishing with live bait for about two hours, and as sunset approached, I heard what almost sounded like distant raindrops hitting the water. It was actually a mix of white bass and hybrid striped bass forcing 1¼-inch long shad to the surface and eating them.
We moved in with the trolling motor, and both fellows made long, lobbing casts beyond the schooling fish and worked their small baits right into the fray. The pair caught 40 fish in about as many minutes before the frenzy ended at dark.