Client Catches – Top Water Tactics (Part 1)

Client Catches – Top Water Tactics (Part 1)

If there’s a period in the year that I really look forward to in relation to my fishing and guiding it is the autumn. The sea is warm, there are bait fish everywhere and the bass are intent on fattening up! Which all leads to a particular method being high up on the agenda – the use of top water or surface lures.

So with a number of clients getting in on the top water action during the last few weeks I wanted to describe four recent occasions, covered over two blog posts, when the tactics I have asked them to employ have led to some decent bass being landed and released. In Part 1 I will describe our tactics when the Sun was high in the sky, and how watercraft (exploiting the naturally occurring elements in order to enhance your prospects of catching a fish) played a critical role in their success.

Lure fishing on bright days

Calm and Clear

I am often asked how I approach lure fishing for bass on a bright sunny day. My answer to this depends on whether the sea is calm and clear or has a slight tinge to it through to being murky, the time of year and, of course, the location I intend to fish. However, I would definitely say that the most important factor in my decision making process boils down to whether I am looking to imitate a prey item as closely as possible in regards to movement, shape, size and colour or if I am simply attempting to provoke a ‘reaction’ from the fish.

Weedless, weightless soft plastics fished in a subtle manner very often form my initial attack, but if this proves fruitless, or more importantly, if I have witnessed or suspect there are bait fish hanging around, then a surface lure will be deployed. However, the size of tchosen lure and how I fish it, or ask my clients to fish it will very much depend on the sea state at the time. The first two reports in this mini series depict two occasions when the Sun was blaring down on us, but when the sea conditions where calm and clear in the first instance, and then rougher and murkier during the second.


A returning client (Paul) enjoyed another memorable session with me (having landed bass of 7lb here and 8lb here this season) over that gorgeous period of weather in early to mid-September. During one sunny morning, when there wasn’t a ripple on the very clear water, as soon as we arrived we could see, at range initially, small fish (sprat) scattering frantically across the surface as the gulls circled and the predators from below (that were highly likely to be bass) moved in for the kill.

IMA Salt Skimmer Surface Lure
Quite why a company like IMA have chosen to discontinue such a brilliant lure baffles me! Moan over…

Attaching one of his favourite lures (the IMA Salt Skimmer) in line with my suggestion that he should plump for something small, and that he could effectively ‘skate and dance’ across the surface on a quick retrieve (like a fleeing bait fish) it took all of two casts for the 110mm lure was plucked, with a boil and a splash, off the top.

Paul ended the session with five bass within a few hours fishing (the largest at around 3½lb) with all of the fish chasing the lure frantically whilst fished on a continous recovery and with NO PAUSES. Of note, is that we’d remained in more less one position and waited for the fish to come to us. It could have been double or triple that number of fish landed too to be honest – as his lure was attacked time and again whilst looking and acting like something the bass had become very acclimatised to seeing at this time of the year.

Bass on a sunny day
A very annoyed bass! Paul has enjoyed some spectacular sessions with me this season and has already booked a further six with me next year!

Murky and Rough

Sticking with the bright, sunny day theme, I guided my client (Jack) during what turned out to be the next very warm, cloudless day (the only one for about 3 weeks!) when the sea had a decidedly murky tinge to it, caused by an intermittent swell that was rolling in and around the entire south Devon coastline. But with part of a headland (of sorts) having been, overall, protected over the previous days windy weather I ventured there could be some bass holding (positioning) within the reef surrounding it over the high tide and into the early ebb period.

Stood on rocks, but adjacent to a shingle platform due to the safety aspect, I passed Jack (a very experienced and successful bait angler, but someone new to the lure fishing arena) a lure that has proven itself to be a reliable bass catcher this season – the Seadra Spitta (here) in the 125 guise.

Jack (wearing a life jacket) working his medium-sized surface lure during a calmer interlude between the swells.

In complete contrast to the method Paul was utilising above, I instructed Jack to aim his casts into very specific areas close to any protruding rocks and into known underwater holes where I’d latched into bass in the past. Furthermore, as the Seadra Spitta 125 is slightly larger (at 125mm) than the Salt Skimmer, I asked him to ADD PAUSES to the retrieve so that the lure could remain in what I considered to be the ‘hot zones’ for longer, thus increasing the chances of an attack.

This lure is very ‘stable’ in the water during swell or choppy sea condition and it floats horizontally too which I actually prefer over the tail-down angle present on most modern surface lures – the reason being that I think it provides more of a substantial target, especially in more turbulent and caliginous sea conditions.

Seadra Spitta 125
The Seadra Spitta 125 – note the fact that I’ve removed the top treble entirely as I really don’t think it’s required on this lure.

After landing a tiny bass that had jumped on the ‘Spitta’ (as it was worked over a finger of rock), later in the session, and on Jack’s second cast (into essentially a dead end/inlet type scenario and where bass have previously been positioned at the base of the rock we were now stood on) the slender and battered lure was nailed good and proper after being momentarily left to lay motionless as it gently drifted on the swirling melee.

Bass on lures bright sunshine
Jack with his 3lb+ fish – proof that bass can be caught literally under the rod tip on a bright sunny day, providing the method is matched accordingly to the conditions.

Somewhat surprisingly, as the tide ebbed off of the reef the bass that I thought might be prowling in anticipation of the easy prey items retreating failed to show. Overall however, Jack had got what he wanted out of the session – which was, in one word, confidence.

I hope this post gives you an insight into the tactics I ask my clients to employ, both when deciding when to attach a surface or top water lure, plus how I ask them retrieve it depending on the sea state and clarity. In Part 2 I will describe two further occasions when bass have been caught using this type of lure in conjunction with another two different types of approaches.

Thanks for reading.

Marc Cowling




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