Topwater Basics
  |  First Published: March 2013

Topwaters may not always catch the most, but they are surely the best fun of all the lure options available. As a bonus, sometimes they do actually also catch the most fish.

Whiting over weedbeds, walking riverbanks for bass on a winter’s morning, trevally in the tropics, jacks under creekside overhangs, bream across the flats, barra beside a bridge, acrobatic impoundment saratoga, shallow water prime table fare reefies… it is a cliché but truly the list of fishing scenarios is endless.

Even if you don’t hook up on your frog or popper, you’ll often see the swirl of a fish as it strikes at your lure. Things get even more exciting when a couple of fish start competing for your lure and boiling behind it. If it all happens at your feet then you’ll now be acquainted with some of the reasons why I rate topwater lures as my favourite, have-fun fishing technique.

Even if it is your fishing buddy who hooks up on a topwater, you’ll often get to see all the action, anticipation and sometimes anguish of the strike. It doesn’t always go to plan.

Here are some tips to increase your strike rate and improve your success rate on hook-ups.

Hook set

Let the fish take the lure and turn away from you before you tighten the line to set the hook. Letting the fish turn means that most of the time when you strike your efforts are pulling the hooks back into the corner of the fish’s jaw. Generally, the softer the lure then the longer that your hook-setting pause can be. This is most evident with soft hollow surface lures like Bass Rats.


Good glare-reducing sunglasses, especially prescription sunnies, will increase your ability to see when the time is right to set the hook. Even anglers with 20/20 vision can benefit from prescription sunglasses when sight fishing – it’s a secret seldom mentioned. This becomes even more important as you get older and/or sit in front of a computer more often.

Scent it up

Coating your topwater lure (soft or hard) with spray-on scent not only encourages the fish to hold onto the lure for longer. It also increases the likelihood that a fish that has hit and missed will come back for a second or multiple attempts. Often each exposure to scent will increase the attacking fish’s aggression and it will keep on striking until it hooks up.

Sharp hooks

This one goes without saying doesn’t it? But we are not just talking about hooks that aren’t blunt. The truth is that those expensive, razor sharp, premium hooks will ensure that you outfish your buddy who is cutting corners by sticking with those bargain basement, blunt bronze trebles that came with the lure. I remember a lure maker getting chastised by an angler at an expo-type show. The angler had a beef with the lure-maker because of the cheap, easily straightened, blunt trebles that were sold with the lure. The lure-maker agreed but said, “If I could only sell lures with top-shelf hooks then I would. But the problem is that the market figures show that people buy more cheap trebled hardbodies than those lures with the good, but more expensive gear”.

Hooks should not only be sharp but they should also be suited to the size of the fish – the same surface lure can be used with small trebles for bream and, then after re-hanging with bigger stronger hooks, it can be even used for jacks and barramundi.

I wrote about it years ago, and since then it has bubbled along in topwater subculture from time to time. I’m talking about chainlinks (such as three linked split rings) to attach the rear treble to the lure in open, less snaggy, waters. Chainlinks help your hook-up ratio on short striking fish. In some situations single trailer hooks are also a good idea.


I also like to have a variety of colours in the same lure. I especially like to use lure colours that I can see. Seeing the lure helps in that critical two of three seconds of decision time after a fish pulls your lure under the water. I like glo and white for night fishing. Take note, even though black is the most popular after dark colour in Australia – in other countries it is the whites and brights that nocturnal anglers prefer.

In many enjoyable years of bream luring I came to believe (and I still believe) that fluoro finishes work best when the sun is bright and more muted hues work best in low light and/or when the sun is obscured by cloud cover.

Smaller Sizes

I’ve also found that when fish go off the bite that one of the best tactics is to switch to a similar lure of a smaller size. Junior models are a good idea, often being perfectly operational versions of normal sized options. I run my smaller lures on lighter spin outfits to retain castability.

Larger sizes

All other things being equal (and they rarely are) a slightly bigger lure, ‘trophy’ size, will afford you greater casting distance. Greater casting distance will get you to more fish (especially when you are landbased) and more often than not it will get you to unspooked fish that haven’t twigged to your presence yet. So yes, you need normal sized lures, smaller lures and bigger lures – all in the same style.


I don’t think in-built action in topwater lures is as important as retrieve flexibility. Any lure that you can walk-the-dog with will allow you to experiment with fast retrieves, various pause lengths, or popping. Even bibbed lures can be surface lures if you retrieve them so slowly that they don’t dive. And then if you pause them they’ll bob to the surface. Pauses can be the subtle nuance that turns trevally or bream and many other species from followers to converts.


Generally surface lures work best with leaders that float (fluorocarbon sinks).


Old school topwater techniques always targeted active fish on hot days. Slowing down your retrieve and adding more pauses with some subtle considerations taken from this article will make autumn and winter a serious surface luring option.

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