Playing the Top-Water Game
Perhaps the most exciting and demanding of the angler’s art
It was minutes short of sundown. The shadows were getting long, blending into a solid blackness along the nearby shoreline that hinted of the night about to fall. My casts were tempting the fates as they landed just off the edge of the riprap where I hoped a striper was lurking. Another foot or so and I would foul the top-water plug among the rocks. In water this skinny, I would have to break it off.
Rockfish live-lining is in full swing. Limits are often being taken in less time than it takes to catch the spot used as bait. A major school of mid-sized stripers is hovering over the southern end of Gum Thickets in 40 feet of water. Good schools of rock are also reported at Thomas Point, Tolley, Hacketts, Podickery and off the mouth of the Chester.
Commercial Hook-and-Line Rockfishing in Season
The commercial hook-and-line rockfish season reopened Tuesday, August 6, with a daily limit of 400 pounds per license and a weekly total of 800 pounds. Fishing is permitted Tuesday through Thursdays only.
Easing back out to deeper water, I moved toward the far end of a submerged jetty that was causing a distinct rip in the tidal current passing over it. Stopping my skiff about 50 feet away and anchoring quietly in the five foot depths with the Power Pole mounted on the stern, I resumed casting.
Rockfish at this time of the evening often like to hang on the down current side of such structures to ambush disoriented baitfish that are washed across the gaps in the rocks.
Firing my plug up current and as flatly as possible to keep it low and give it a soft landing, I worked the popper back with gentle gurgles as it was swept along. I was using a seven-foot, medium-action, medium-power casting rod that flexed well and did most of the work of throwing the four-inch floating lure.
My small, low-profile casting reel was spooled with 15-pound braid that allowed me to feel every movement of the lure and give it just the action I wanted. Braid line has no stretch, however, and you can snatch the lure out of the mouth of an attacking striper if you strike too quickly. It is always wise to wait until you feel the fish’s take before setting the hook.
As the lure was swept over the top of the submerged jetty, I gave it one more twitch. It vanished. One second I could see the golden glow of the plug’s cheek shining above the water. Then the darn thing was gone.
Lifting my rod tip to give the lure some motion so I could see it, I felt only firm resistance. Either I was fouled on the jetty’s rocks or a fish had sucked it down. Choosing to err on the side of a fish, I hammered my rod back.
A geyser erupted, thrown out by a large striper. My rod surged down as the powerful fish tore away from the jetty. My now-taut line zipped through the water. Even in the low light, I could see the rooster tail thrown up by its passing.
The reel’s drag hummed, and I was smiling as the fish made its way out to deeper water. Patiently, I let it have its head. If the rascal was as firmly hooked as I hoped, it would eventually be in my net. If not, it would be another great memory. I often recall the fish I lose more clearly than those I’ve landed.
The rockfish in question turned out to be a beauty, however, 26 inches long and as fat as a football.
The Time Is Right
I caught that fish last September. Now that top-water action is beginning again. I have heard reports of good fish showing up along shallow-water structure within the last week. I plan on targeting my favorite skinny waters starting tomorrow.
Top-water fishing may be the most exciting and demanding form of the angler’s art. It requires good casting skills and lure manipulation, quiet approaches, patience, fine fish-fighting techniques and most of all nerves of steel. When a big fish crashes your floating bait and misses, or pounds your popper into the air with its tail, you must resist all impulses to strike.
Large fish have blown up on my plug as many as three times in succession without hooking up only to return and inhale it. My fingers were shaking each time it hit and continued to tremble throughout the agonizing wait for the return.
Then sometimes they just don’t come back. But that’s all part of the game of top water, now starting in waters near you.