Pop The Top
Topwater lures have a special charm for many anglers, because not only do you get to see the fish you actually catch, you also get to see many that you almost catch. Often, missed strikes are more exciting than those that connect, with fish slamming at a lure repeatedly as they chase it back to the boat. However, most anglers are convinced that three factors put an end to any topwater bite - heat, bright sunlight and choppy water are thought to hinder surface action. But Eric Bachnik, head of the L & S Bait Company in Largo, is a guy who won't take no for an answer when it comes to chunking plugs. While most anglers switch to bottom-dredging jigs on the warm, windy mornings of summer, Bachnik sticks to the big floating lures manufactured by his company. And as he proved in an outing on Tampa Bay last week with me and Captain Mel Berman of WFLA, 970 AM, the fish do continue to feed on top, even during the steamy weeks of late August.Proving 'Em Wrong Bachnik started off our excursion out of Maximo Park, near the north end of the Sunshine Skyway, by visiting a mangrove island where he had discovered a school of big reds a few days earlier. While we caught nothing along the east shore, jumping mullet and big V wakes along the west side showed us where the fish were. Bachnik tossed a chrome She Dog floater to the fish, danced it across the surface, and after a few heart-stopping missed strikes, set the hooks into a 30-inch redfish. No surprise there; it was still close to dawn, low light, relatively cool with no wind; perfect topwater conditions. But two hours later, when we pulled up on the clear flats off Pinellas Point, things had changed dramatically. The temperature was already approaching 90. The sky was clear and bright, and the wind had kicked up, creating a steady chop. On the first drift, fishing was about what most would expect; Mel and I caught a few lizardfish and pinfish on our subsurface lures, and Eric caught zip on his floater. But on the next trip down the flats, he moved the boat so it drifted through an area where he had spotted gulls diving. Almost as soon as we started casting, Eric threw the She Dog directly into the mouth of a 3-pound trout. From that point, he either caught a fish or had one strike and miss on virtually every cast. Meanwhile, Mel and I whipped the water to a froth with jigs and sinking lures, the offerings that should have been working, and we continued to catch only junk. Only when I swapped out my lure for another She Dog did I start to connect. Big trout came boiling up off the bottom to slam the bait. Despite the rough water they were able to see it, or perhaps they heard the clatter of the metallic bearings inside the hollow body. Whatever the reason, the big lure did the job when fishing the 'right' lures did not. Some Handy Tips Bachnik, grandson of Harold LeMaster, who founded the lure company some 50 years ago, has been scoring on the deep grass for so long that it is almost second nature to him, but here are a few tips he offered for Tribune readers to find action on their own. •Look for clear water and thick grass in depths of 2 to 6 feet. •Drift and cast downwind, as far as possible ahead of the boat. •Choose areas where you see bait flipping or birds diving. •Choose areas with strong current flow. •In choppy water, use the noisiest lure you have. •Learn to 'walk the dog' with repeated twitches of the rod, making the lure zig-zag across the surface. •In calm water, switch to less-obvious lures. •Flatten the barbs on your hooks so you can release unwanted trout without injury. •Use 20-pound-test clear monofilament leader. Avoid heavier leader material. •Use your outboard motor (turned off) as a rudder to steer the boat across the flats. •Avoid running over the fish when you head back upwind to make another drift - motor in a circle to avoid the school. Even when you have the right lure and a mastery of the tactics, it can take a bit of searching to get on the pods of fish at this time of year, but by moving steadily, you'll eventually find action. To learn more about L & S Baits, visit www.mirrolure.com.