Soft Top
  |  First Published: December 2004

A quick glance at my watch as the boat lifted onto the plane showed I had just two hours before I had to be at work. Luckily there’s a marina at work where I can moor the Green Machine and get straight into it.

Blessed with rock walls, canals and pontoons galore between the boat ramp and work, I draped the ‘leccy over the bow and started flicking plastics. Drifting into the mouth of a canal, I was greeted by some serious surface action around 50m into the system. I hadn’t packed any hard-bodied lures, having expected to just flick plastics for an hour or two, and when I thought of big mangrove jacks and trevally feasting on baitfish I cursed my stupidity.

I continued swearing to myself as I moved towards the action. The surface had gone quiet but the concrete wall of the canal showed the splash marks that pinpointed where the ambush had occurred. I had a quick look through the plastics I had onboard, and my eye lit upon some 4” white glow Bass Minnows. I quickly rigged one on a weightless 4/0 worm hook and I was ready to go. The rod hung lazily by my side with the reel’s bail arm open, ready to fire.

As expected, just minutes later the fish were back on top, rounding up bait against the wall of the canal. I moved the boat closer until I was in range. The boiling surface had died down to just a few ripples by the time I made the cast so I didn’t expect the lure to be taken straight away. A quick, erratic retrieve was called for, causing the lure to twist, twitch and skip across the surface to duplicate the behaviour of a baitfish being chased by a trevally.

As the lure approached the boat, three GTs came into view, weaving under the little plastic that was seeking the haven of my rod tip. Just metres from the bow, the surface erupted as the plastic disappeared down the throat of an estuary trevally. I was on, and forgot all about getting to work on time.


This was by no means the only time I’ve been involved with catching fish on surface plastics. The first surface plastics I read about were big Slug-Go plastics lobbed at rampaging kingfish around Sydney. It was many years after reading about the technique that I started to experiment with big stickbaits on the surface. At the time, I was getting into catching topwater mangrove jacks. I caught them at night but had no luck during the day.

The Seaway kingfish were another matter altogether. If I was up early enough, I managed some hook-ups in the eddies close to the rocks on the south wall, but casting unweighted plastics required a fairly light outfit so I ran out of these huge plastics very quickly.


Rigging big surface plastics for trevally, kingfish, mangrove jacks and even tuna can be done on a worm hook that’s compatible with the size of the plastic. A 4” or 5” plastic can be rigged on a 4/0 worm hook, but the huge Slug-Gos need to be rigged on a huge 8/0 to 10/0 hook.

The way you work your plastic depends on the species you’re targeting and how they’re feeding. Mangrove jacks like a lure that’s worked quite slowly. By kicking the rod tip as you slowly retrieve the plastic, the lure will jump and twitch across or just under the surface.

Topwater plastics at night for jacks need to make a little noise but they don’t have to be cranked in very fast. You need the lure to pop out of the water only three or four times during the retrieve to stir up a crazy mangrove jack. If there is a little wind about with some chop on the water, replace the plastic with a hard-bodied popper that will create the noise and vibration required to drag the jacks out of cover.

Trevally will take the lure at a moderate to fast retrieve that’s erratic enough to create a commotion on the surface. At this time of year there are plenty of willing trevors and the odd jack prepared to take a surface plastic worked along the walls of the canals and river systems of the Nerang, Noosa and Tweed. It’s great when you can see the fish up on the surface working baitfish, but even when there’s no surface action the trevally will still rise to take a surface lure.

Kingfish and tuna are best targeted when they’re feeding on the surface. If the kingfish are schooled up they can sometimes be enticed into taking a surface plastic, but at other times they sit all around the boat and refuse to take anything.

Tailor, mackerel and wahoo will also grab a high-speed plastic, and even though you’re pretty much guaranteed to have nothing left but a jighead at the end of the session, plastics can be very effective. Rig with a short trace of wire to avoid bite-offs. Single strand of 27lb is fine for tailor and small spotties, but you’ll need some heavy wire for wahoo and Spaniards.

Bream spend a lot more time feeding in the surface than most anglers realise. Anyone who has spent time in marinas that are full of bream will be familiar with the kissing sound that these fish make while they feed high on the pontoons, pylons and hulls. Getting a small plastic to work across the surface like a prawn can bring on some great surface action. Most of this fishing is done during the warmer months and while the banana prawns are running.

It’s well known that bass will rise to a surface lure so it’s not surprising that the surface plastics work on them. A great time to target impoundment bass on surface plastics is when the dam is rising. Surface plastics can get into the flooded grassy banks, and when rigged weedless on worm hooks they can be worked out of the grass and into the mouth of a waiting bass.

Selecting a surface plastic

There are the big Slug-Gos and Berkley slugs that are made to be worked across that top of the water for fish like kingies and tuna, but almost any plastic can be fished on the surface. The big slugs and jerkbaits can be worked flat out over the top, and there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a big kingie coming up on a surface lure.

Bass, mangrove jack, trevally and bream are just a few species that can be caught on a slowly worked plastic. A 3” single-tail grub is ideal to start surface fishing with. The bigger 3” lures can be cast out easily enough, and you use a retrieve speed that sees that tail of the grub wriggle as the lure works its way across the top. The Crawfish coloured 3” Atomic Fat Grub is a good lure for bream and bass, and my favourite trevally and mangrove jack surface plastic at the moment is the new Berkley Gulp 4” Shrimp in the new penny colour. The shrimp doesn’t have a tail to get wriggling but it can be twitched and bounced across the top and looks just like a prawn skipping over the water.

Selecting a lure to work across the top of the water is matter of trial and error. Salt-impregnated lures sink a lot faster than other plastics do, but I’ve had a lot of success with some salt-impregnated lures so don’t rule them out just because they sink.

To give you an idea of where to start, my favourite surface plastics are Berkley Shrimps, 5” slugs and 5” minnows, Ecogear Grass Minnows, Squidgy Jelly Prawn grubs and Bass Pro 3” grubs. Cori-Co grubs are popular with some anglers I have met so any of these lures will get you started.

This isn’t the easiest style of fishing, especially when it comes to bream, but there’s nothing better than seeing your plastic skip across the water and get ambushed right in front of your eyes.

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