Pelican State Topwater Time
September 28, 2010
May is the month for topwater action for big speckled trout in Louisiana. Here's a look at how to get into the midst of this fishing melee! (May 2010)
Tossing topwater lures this month can lead to some explosive strikes from trout often measuring in excess of 2 feet.
Photo by Pete Cooper, Jr.
If you knew of a tactic that would consistently catch speckled trout, would you employ it? Would the fact that it's fun to the absolute max have any bearing on your decision? Finally, could you ignore it if you knew that it was also one of the best bets around for tallying a real trophy?
All that makes it mind-boggling to me to know how few anglers use surface lures in their quests for specks. Maybe they've never seen a 2-foot or larger explode the surface on one being walked across the placid surface of Calcasieu Lake at sunrise. For sure they haven't seen a similar fish part the waves of gentle surf at the Chandeleurs Islands in its attempt to engulf the lure.
However, in order to have that experience you must be aware of some particulars that weigh heavily on success with these lures. The first consideration is a little fine-tuning of the lure itself. While all sorts of speck-slaying surface lures are readily available, let's focus on the big rattling "walking-types." Those such as the Zara Spooks, Top Dogs, and Jumping Minnows are far and away the most fun to use.
If the lure does not come with a split ring attached to the line-eye, add a stainless size 5 one. Otherwise, in order to achieve the lure's best side-to-side "walk", you have to tie it to the line with some sort of loop-knot. Since I can't tie those very well, I use split rings.
As for color, green over white -- or "mullet" -- is my go-to hue.
In May, periods of low light have proven to be best for enticing a trophy trout. Early morning and late afternoon also tend to be the calmest times of the day.
Slick calm water might appear to be really good for topwater action, but a light wrinkle on the surface seems to be better. You can assuredly catch trout on surface lures during most of the day at this time, but most will typically be smaller. For the big sows, concentrate your efforts early and late.
Also, focus on fairly shallow water. While I have caught some 2-footers on topwaters in 6-foot depths, most of the action usually occurs in water less than 4 feet deep. That's especially true if the water is a tad on the dingy side!
Although big specks can be found in featureless open water, they are more likely to be near something that is inconsistent within the surrounding area. That might be scattered oyster reefs or beds, flats alongside channel, cuts through flats, or troughs and pockets in and near the surf. Also look for accumulations of man-made material. Typically the older and trashier that debris, the better it is for holding fish.
Another example is the sandbar way out in the middle of nowhere at the mouth of Blind Bay, on the eastern edge of the Pass-A-Loutre. It is a spot for big specks!
Upon locating a promising spot, first look around for any nearby competition. If another boat is nearby -- within 150 yards or so -- find another spot. If you are along, then position your boat to drift to area from the upwind side. Don't run the outboard within a hundred yards of your target! If you must use the trolling motor, set it on the lowest speed that makes headway.
These lures are generally heavy enough to cast into the next parish. That allows you to prospect a spot from a distance that is not alarming to the fish. Big specks did not get that size by ignoring subtle warning signs, like waves splashing against a boat's hull or a trolling motor's hum.
In water that is slick clam, try a fairly rapid retrieve; in a bit of a chop slow it down a little. I've found it best to keep the rod pointed at the water at a slight angle away from the lure. Then reel only fast enough to recover the slack line that is created by short, steady twitches of the rod's tip. The lure should then dart back and forth from side to side, emitting those tantalizing rattles with each twitch.
A continuous retrieve in that manner is usually best, but occasional intermittent brief pauses can convince a hesitant fish to eat -- especially when the chop is almost enough to preclude the use of these lures.
If the water around that run-down piece of derelict oil-field equipment produces no strikes -- or only small fish -- don't waste a lot of time. Remember, the prime low-light period is short-lived and you can always return to harvest some fish for the frying pan later.
When you finally do find that big trout and provoke a strike, don't yank! Instead you must exercise self-control, and keep up the retrieve until you feel the weight of the fish. Then tighten the line with a few fast cranks on the reel, raise the rod, and commence the contest. You don't ever have to yank.
The reason for that method of hook setting is that the speck may have been trying to stun the lure rather than eat it.
On that note, however I must dispute a fairly popular theory about such events. You often hear anglers say the fish "missed" the lure. I don't believe a big speck ever misses what it's after -- well, perhaps once every now and then, but no more than that. Otherwise, it isn't making a very good living and would not have reached the proportions of a big speck.
Apparently a speck will try to stun its prey prior to eating it. If the trout is successful, it expects the prey to react accordingly by either slowing down or stopping. That's when the big trout comes back to eat it.
In fact, the trout may try this several times if the prey keeps going, but still is not actually trying to eat it. Those watery explosions can easily convince you that the fish is missing your lure, tempting you to keep up the retrieve. But, if you continue retrieving it creates more "misses."
I have always found it better to stop the retrieve at that point, pause for 3 to 4 seconds, and then give the lure the slightest twitch.
I guarantee you will remember what happens next!