Fall Topwater Fishing for Speckled Trout and Redfish in Texas Bays
Although fall on the Texas coast still often sees air temperatures in 80s, water temperatures will begin to drop during autumn. Shorter days means less hours of sunlight warming bay waters, which allows the water temperatures to slowly begin to dip. Add to that the year's first front or two and the water temperature begins a slow, steady decline from bath water warm to something slightly more tolerable for redfish and speckled trout.
So, how much difference can five or so degrees make? Quite a bit, as it turns out. These slightly cooler water temperatures are enough to encourage fish to move shallower. Not only will the fish be found in shallower water, but they will be feeding more aggressively. As a result, coastal anglers will begin seeing the start to a good topwater bite that can last through October and well into November.
The mention of a topwater feed gets the attention of most light-tackle inshore anglers. However, as is often the case, many fishermen are locked into a particular model of topwater plug or style of surface fishing. The truth is, like any other type of fishing, there are several conditions that dictate the most productive topwater lures and methods.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
As mentioned above, most Texas pluggers have a favorite model of topwater bait. And, most are convinced they can catch fish with it under any conditions - or the fish "just aren't biting." By matching their topwater lure choice to the prevailing conditions, these anglers may be surprised to learn the fish actually are biting more often than they realize.
Dog Walkers - Hands down, dog walkers are the most popular topwater lure model in Texas. This is somewhat surprising, considering the previous state record speckled trout was caught on a different type of topwater. Nonetheless, dog walkers have been en vogue along the Texas coast for more than a decade. This genre of bait began with the Heddon Zara Spook. Along the Texas coast, the dog walking craze was ushered in by the Rebel Jumpin' Minnow. Today, models such as the MirrOlure "Dog Family" - Top Dog, She Dog, Top Pup, She Pup, etc - and Heddon's Super Spook and Spook Jr dominate the Texas coastal scene. The Bomber Saltwater Grade Badonk-A-Donk and the Unfair Lures Dawgwalker are also good choices. One of the main advantages of dog walkers is the ability to cast them a mile. One of the main drawbacks is these baits take a bit of "learning" to be able to use effectively. The DOA PT-7, which is a soft-plastic dogwalker with a large, single hook, is ideal for using on Texas bays when floating grass fouls other topwater plugs.
Prop baits - Probably the most underutilized style of surface plug in Texas, prop baits are surprising effective under a myriad of conditions. Models such as the Heddon Torpedo and Smithwick Devil's Horse have been around forever. MirrOlure's MirrO Prop is a more modern and effective version of these traditional prop baits. Regardless of the model chosen, the main drawback of all prop baits is casting distance. The positive is the ability to make fish attracting noise in dirty and/or rough water. Simplicity of use is also a major plus for prop baits.
Chuggers and poppers - Also easy to use, chuggers and poppers are fairly versatile and easy to cast. The Smithwick Chug Bug is probably the best known chugger in Texas, although other effective models include the MirrOlure PopA Dog and Rebel Pop R.
Floater/divers - Once considered THE big trout bait, floater/divers have waned in popularity - but not productivity - along the Texas coast in recent years. The venerable Cordell Redfin accounted for the previous Texas state records seatrout. Bomber Long As and Smithwick Rogues have pulled in their share of fish as well. More recently, the MirrOlure MirrOlip has begun making a splash on the Texas coast. Casting distance is the main drawback to floater/divers. Also, they are not effective under very many conditions. But, they are easy to use and produce very well under the right circumstances.
Soft-plastics - DOA Chug Heads can be fitted on virtually any soft-plastic body to convert it to a topwater popper. Soft-plastic frogs (designed for bass fishing) are excellent "surface churners" that do well for redfish, trout and snook over grassflats during late summer and fall.
A WORD ABOUT COLOR
As is the case with bait model, everyone seems to be in love with one particular color. And, as is the case with bait model, there are times when that favorite color is the absolute right choice for the prevailing conditions. But, there are times when another color may produce better.
Shiny - Highly reflective baits such as chrome or gold metallic work best under bright skies and in clear water. Keep in mind, you need the sun to shine in order for the reflective qualities of the bait to come into play.
Dull - Bone and other dull-finish baits can produce under a variety of conditions but really work best when the water is fairly clear but lighting is low. Early morning, late evening and overcast days are great for dull colors so long as the water is fairly clear.
Dark - Black and other very dark, opaque baits afford the very best silhouettes in low-light, poor visibility conditions. When fishing muddy water, dark is best. Ditto for night fishing.
Bright - Texas Chicken and other bright color combinations work best in off-colored water with brightly lit skies.
SOUND IT OUT
It seems like not long ago, anglers got excited if a lure had a rattle in it - any rattle. Today's rattle chambers are specialized, offering a wide range of sounds - everything from a clunk to a click. However, most noises produced by rattles in topwater plugs fall into two categories: high pitch and low pitch.
HP - High pitch baits come with small beads that make lots of high pitch noise. Think in terms of a maraca or baby rattle. These baits are best for choppy surface, murky water or lowlight conditions.
LP - Low pitch baits come with one or two larger ball bearings that roll back and forth in the bait and exude a low pitch "thud." These baits are great for calm and clear water conditions, where they produce just enough sound to help fish locate the bait.
PUT IT IN ACTION
Picking the right lure and color is one thing - catching fish with it is another. Each type of topwater plug lends itself to a couple of different actions. Knowing which to use when will help put a lot more fish on the stringer.
Walking - The most common way to use "dog walkers," walking-the-dog involves steadily cranking the reel while twitching the rod alternately left and right. The vigor in which the rod is twitched controls how much splash the bait makes as it zig-zags across the surface.
Sashaying - More or less a "light dogwalking" sashaying baits create less noise and usually incorporates a long pause after every few twitches.
Rippin' - An aggressive manner to retrieve prop baits and create a lot of commotion. Essentially the same as working a popping cork - hard, upward twitch of the rod followed by a pause during which the slack line is wound on the reel.
Straight-line retrieve - A nice steady winding and moderately high rod angle will allow prop baits to gurgle steadily across the water's surface. Also effective with floater/divers.
Jerk-n-Pause - Used with floater/divers. A quick jerk of the rod causes the bait to dive below the surface. On the pause, the bait will float back to the top while the angler winds in the slack. The harder the jerk, the deeper the bait will dive.
Chuggin' - A straight-line retrieve used with poppers, chuggers and gurglers that causes the bait to come back churnin' and chuggin' water at a steady pace.
Poppin' - A hard jerk-and-pause with the rod will cause a popper or chugger to violently lurch forward, spraying water. The pause allows the angler to wind up slack - it also allows fish to find and inhale the bait.
Really, any day in fall is a good day to "get 'em on top." All you really have to do is match your lure selection and technique to the prevailing conditions and scorching surface action is sure to follow. And, as the water temperature continues to drop through autumn, the surface action will only get hotter.