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Top-water Fishing at Its Best

Try tricks for lure handling

       My memory of that event is as painful as an abscessed tooth. Just this time of year, a bit later in the morning than is best for top-water, my last stop was unusual. It offered no real underwater structure other than a nearby inlet to a tidal pond. But I knew from experience that rockfish would sometimes cruise the length of the shoreline looking for shrimp and minnows pulled out of the pond by the falling tide.
      My first cast was on the money, a soft plop about two feet off the shoreline. I chugged the popper twice, and on the second effort a substantial striper exposed its back, swirled and sucked the plug down. 
      Waiting until I felt the weight of the fish on my line, I cinched it up. The hefty fish started on a violent run right down the beach, pulling drag and throwing wake up on the sand. It was a heavenly moment. Then, without warning, it came unbuttoned. My heart sank.
       Cranking in my popper, I suspected what the problem was. As I lifted the all-black surface lure, my fears were confirmed. My leader had fouled the front hook on the cast. A striper will always hit the front end of a plug, so a fouled front hook will pull backwards when you apply rod pressure. The result is inevitably a disaster. 
      Fouling the front treble is not a frequent problem with thrown surface plugs. But it does happen. Plus it is difficult to discern at the time it occurs. A surface plug with a fouled front hook usually has the same action as a clean plug and will attract strikes just as reliably. The violence of the strike will usually result in a hookup, but it will seldom hold.
       Purchasing a bag of assorted rubber bands the other day, I noted that some were so small they would barely fit around a finger. However, they fit firmly around the neck of a surface plug and over the shank of the front hook, holding the hook flat, facing forward and clear of fouling the leader. Still, it gives way easily when a gamefish hits the bait. Problem solved.
       A few other handy fixes can help with popping plugs. Since rockfish almost never hit the rear hook and it continues to swing free during the fight, it can foul on anything nearby. Big stripers, especially, will try to rub off the offending lure on rocks, pilings or other structure. If they manage to snag that rear hook, they have their ticket to freedom.
      Removing the tail-end hook and replacing it with a swiveled spinner blade can eliminate that danger and make the lure even more attractive. I’ve done that very thing a number of times with excellent success. 
       Another trick that works, especially with fish that have seen quite a few poppers thrown their way, is to remove the rear hook and replace it with 18 inches of 20-pound mono and a trailing fly or light jig in white or other bright colors. You will be amazed at the number of strikes the trailing lure draws.
       A blow-up is the common top-water term for that explosive surface strike that does not result in a hookup. If you’ve had one, do not cast immediately back to the same area. Cast to another area for at least a few minutes.
      Finally, throw back well past the area of the missed take and work the plug through with lots of action and frequent pauses. That should induce fish to re-engage. If not, chalk it up to experience and be thankful you had some action. Blow-ups are one of the perks of top-water fishing. Learn to enjoy them.
 
Fish Finder
      Dirty water and debris released from the Conowingo Dam is frustrating anglers seeking rockfish, which prefer cleaner waters. Trying in the tributaries is one solution. Another is cruising the Eastern Bay, as Choptank currents tend to clean up that area before others. Shorebound anglers, surprisingly, are also scoring good-sized rock, particularly in the evenings. Soft crab seems to be the best bait to bring them on.
      Perch schooling in deeper waters, many of them nicely plump, are feeding on chunks of peeler and soft crab as well as bloodworm.
      Spot are leaving, and with them the live-lining bite.
      The last storm deluge, however, has relocated lots of big crabs, resulting in some awesome catches.