Back on July 5, I wrote an article for this column entitled ‘Topwater action begins on area lakes’.
Today’s article is a positive update to that prelude.
As the moon cycled to and through the new (dark) moon on Monday, July 20, topwater action likewise increased and continued throughout the week.
Although the topwater bite will typically ebb and flow with moon phase, once it gets to the point it is at currently, we can expect at least some action on a daily basis, typically into September.
To be clear, there are two distinctive kinds of topwater action, both of which were present and strong last week.
The first kind of topwater action is the most reliable. That is the topwater feeding that takes place just before, during and after sunrise up in shallow water of less than 20 feet in depth. This is fairly short-lived, going longer on days with light cloud cover, and shorter on days without cloud cover. As the ambient light level reaches a certain point, the fish simply quit feeding and move further offshore and down further in the water column.
The second kind of topwater action is more of a target of opportunity, as it is more sporadic in nature.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday last week, beginning around 8 a.m., multiple large schools of fish, numbering several hundred fish each, began to force shad to the surface over deep, open water.
These fish were not relating to any feature of the bottom, rather, they were simple keyed in on their prey, the threadfin shad.
Monday’s feed was intense, going from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday’s feed, although about 25 minutes shorter, was even more intense, with more fish feeding more aggressively, albeit for a shorter period of time versus Monday. Wednesday the sun shone brighter and the winds were lighter, hence the feed was shorter and less intense than during the previous two days.
Under these conditions, my clients boated 182 fish on Monday, 152 on Tuesday, 107 on Wednesday, and then, on Thursday, a 5-year-old boy single-handedly boated 70 fish as his grandfather
and I stood by and simply assisted him. Every last one of these fish was released to fight again.
What follows here are my suggestions for making the most of this exciting brand of sight-fishing.
USE YOUR TROLLING MOTOR TO GET CLOSE
Driving your boat to within casting distance of a surface-feeding school of white bass is a mistake.
Rather, use your outboard to get within about 50-60 yards, then close the final gap using your electric trolling motor.
Even when using your trolling motor, observant anglers will note that the fish leave a buffer zone around the boat as they sense the boat’s presence and steer clear of it.
It is actually not the outboard motor that spooks the fish, but rather the wake put off by the boat and the sudden change of noise created when throttling down from being on plane to idling toward the fish.
As proof of this, I routinely catch fish while downrigging right through the middle of surface feeding fish when I have clients, typically younger kids, who cannot cast effectively enough to take advantage of the topwater action. The fish keep right on feeding as I idle though them, but, were I to speed up, slow down or otherwise alter the RPM’s of the motor, the fish would bolt.
CHOOSE BAITS BASED ON FORAGE SIZE AND MOVE THEM QUICKLY
If you simply observe the white bass feeding on the surface, you will see the baitfish they are feeding on flee from before them. Note the size of these baitfish and do your best to match that size. As I
mentioned in the July 5 article, my go-to bait, in order of increasing size are: 1) the 1.75-inch Luhr Jensen Pet Spoon in size #13, 2) a clear, 2.5-inch paddle-tail grub super-glued to an unpainted 1/8-ounce jighead, 3) a Hot Bite Gang Banger G2 spoon weighing 20 grams with a white teaser and overall length of 3.5 inches, and 4) the clear, 4-inch long, Heddon Super Spook Jr. with plain trebles (no bucktail or feathers).
Once you choose your bait, make up your mind to move it as fast as you can reel. You essentially want the fish to see something that is silver/white in color and which is moving as fast as the threadfin shad that are, literally, swimming for their lives.
Two keys to a successful, quick retrieve are 1) keeping your rod tip near (within 6 inches of) the water’s surface, and 2) watching your bait as you retrieve it. If you see your bait skipping out of the water, it is moving too fast and you will need to slow down just a tad.
MIND THE LIGHT LEVEL AND WINDS
Light and wind drastically impact each day’s topwater feed. Days with no cloud cover will typically see a short, intense low-light feed. Days with light cloud cover (where you still need to squint to protect your eyes without sunglasses on) will typically see the low-light bite start a bit later, but last longer. Also, such days are the most likely to produce the later, open water feed. Days with dense, gloomy cloud cover will often see little or no topwater action.
South and southeasterly winds are best for producing a topwater bite. North and east wind will typically prevent a bite from occurring. Such was the case Friday as Tropical Storm Hannah’s
counterclockwise winds turned our local winds northeasterly. There was a brief 15-minute feed just before sunrise, and then the fishery shut down. Westerly winds are rare in the summer.
DRIFT, DON’T CHASE
Instead of making the mistake of chasing moving schools of white bass, try to get upwind of them and then drift with the wind into the school. This eliminates the need to pulse your trolling motor and it also eliminates much of the sound of wave-slap on your hull. If you try drifting routinely, you will notice that you will often be surrounded by fish within easy casting distance versus have the fish stay barely inside casting range as is often the case when trying to run them down with a trolling motor set on high.
BEWARE YOUR HEAVY HOOKSET
White bass feed by swiping at their prey. They overtake their prey from behind, grab it, and turn 90-plus degrees away from their direction of travel. This is an instinctive maneuver which keeps schoolmates from grabbing onto forage partially hanging from the mouth of the fish which just successfully fed.
Given this swiping behavior, a hard hookset is quite unnecessary. A hard hookset is counter-productive in two ways. First, especially when using braided line, the hook can be ripped out of a successfully
hooked fish if that hook was not circled around the upper or lower jaw. Second, a hard hookset moves the lure quickly back toward the angler if the hook fails to make contact with the fish. This sudden
movement will often prevent other, nearby fish from the school which was chasing the bait to continue giving chase. Instead of getting a bite from one, two or three additional fish, the angler misses the
When fish expose themselves on the surface, it can be a simple matter to amass a limit quickly. Please remember we have a good thing going here in Central Texas with two productive lakes within a short drive of each one of us. Taking more fish than one can realistically prepare and eat, although legal, may not be in the best interest of the future of our fishery.
If we fail to exercise self-control and feed like so many hogs at a public trough, we will eventually reap what we sow and see this wonderful fishery diminish.
Consider your kids and grandkids, and then consider catch-and-release.