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Surface Luring for Bass - by Garry Fitzgerald

Talk to any devoted bass angler and you will probably find that one of their favourite forms of fishing is topwater action.
Nights spent on silent streams with only the sounds of your own movements, combined with any local wildlife is great in itself, but when the sound gets shattered by a boofing bass it can turn even the most skeptical angler into an addict.

Just about any riverine water that holds bass is a potential hotspot yet very few lakes have a reputation for being surface producers. Lets look at why…

If we go back to the essence of why fish will take lures, flies, plastics etc we are usually achieving one of two things.
Firstly we may be imitating a fish, insect, lizard, crayfish, shrimp or even a bird that is part of the food chain in that particular piece of water. Some anglers refer to this as a feeding bite.

Secondly we may be tapping into the fishes instinct and / or aggression, AKA a "reaction strike".
A reaction strike can be triggered by annoying a fish enough for it to strike a lure via repeated casts at the same location.

Alternatively a fish may also "react" for territorial reasons; species like Murray Cod and Saratoga have reputations for being highly territorial, bass however are usually a more social species. Reaction strikes are usually violent affairs with the fish running on all cylinders.

To get the best from surface fishing for bass, thinking anglers try to use a combined approach to getting a fish to take a lure from the surface. Here's a great way to approach it…

Randall Gilbert caught this solid Bass under the tree he is resting on.
Randall Gilbert caught this solid Bass under the tree he is resting on.

Get to know the water you plan to fish.
Become intimate with your stretch of river, creek or lake.
Get to know where all of the fallen trees, weed-beds, rock bars and overhanging trees are so that you can easily recognize them in low light conditions.

Identify the food web
Find out what baitfish are present in the water you plan to fish.
Look for gudgeons, rainbowfish, shrimps, crays etc.
Using a bait trap is a great way to learn more about the food web in any water. (Check with State Authorities about the legalities of traps)
Are there larger bait species that bass may be feeding on? Eg Spangled Perch, Bony Bream, Snub Nosed Gar, Carp etc
What is the insect population like? Listen carefully at night or turn a lantern on, I'm sure you will get some ideas in short order.

Once you know the answers to the above questions, ask yourself a few questions.
- What is the likely to be the main food source for the bass?
- If there are no large baitfish present, it is highly likely that the only protein source will be from small baitfish or insects.

Situations, usually deeper lakes where there are bigger baitfish present are not usually renown for being good surface luring locations.
Lakes Wivenhoe and Somerset are definitely a couple of the best producers of big bass in Australia, yet trying to get a bass on a surface lure in Wivenhoe or Somerset is a very hard prospect.
The bass in these situations follow the main food source, and when the main food source (in this case Bony Bream) is normally found in 30 feet of water it is little wonder they are a tough prospect on the top.

Other lakes like Maroon, Advancetown (Hinze Dam), Clarrie Hall, Borumba, Toonumbar, Ewen Maddock and Lenthalls are either fairly shallow or don't have big baitfish present and are therefore prime edge or top water bass fisheries.

Fitzy with a lake bass caught while raining
Fitzy with rainy night lake bass

Bass Activity
In almost every case, the bass will become active when their main food source is active.
In deep lakes with Bony Bream the bass can feed most of the day in their relative comfort zone with peak periods of activity scattered about in what commonly seems quite random.
However in riverine locations and those lakes where the bass need to hunt in the margins for smaller bait and insects, peak feeding usually occurs in low light situations.
Three reasons behind this are:
1- Australian Bass do not like the sun. The higher the sun, the deeper the bass.
2- Small Baitfish are attuned to staying well hidden from predators during daylight hours & can be more active early morning & late afternoon.
3- Most insect activity is at night; and the bass know it!

So putting all of this together should see us:
Picking the best locations for getting a bass on surface lures
Fishing where the best locations are within the target creek, river or lake
Using lures that imitate local food sources
Fishing in the peak times of activity

Moon Phases
With the exception of bass in tidal waters, I'm not convinced either way that the moon plays a major role in bass feeding activity.
Some folks swear by fishing the full moon. The advantage of fishing at this time is the added light from the moon can help us see where we are casting.
I much prefer the lower light of the new moon. It is more difficult to see and therefore fish, however all too many times I've seen a hot surface bite go quiet as soon as the moon breaks the horizon at night.
New moon is Fitzy's preferred time

There are a wide variety in the styles of lures on the market that bass will take. Most fall into the following categories:

Bloopers / Poppers
Poppers usually have a flat or slightly cupped face. Usually used for a constant or faster retrieve across the water using the rod to give added animation.
Bloopers have a deeper cup than poppers. When twitched will commonly give a "bloop" sound. Best used in small twitches with many pauses. Popular brands are Skitterpops, Bubble Pop 45mm & 65mm, Pop Rs
Bubble Pop 45 & 65 Skitter Pops are one of the best Bass poppers Sure Catch poppers are cheep & effective

Using a variety of propeller style attachments to the front, rear or both ends of a lure that spin as the lure is retrieved. Fizzers make a racket on the surface. Can be slowly retrieved or used in short, sharp rips with pauses in between. Depending upon the style of propeller blade used, some fizzers may need a faster speed than other to get the blades spinning. Good brands are: Tiny Torpedo, Teeny Torpedo, Bills
Bills is a quality Oz made lure A generic style fizzer Teeny Torpedo

Most on the market have a large cup faced bib across the width of the lure body extending out either side. When retrieved at a suitable speed, they will, as their name suggests, paddle or waddle from side to side across the water. Some paddlers don't work at their best if twitched or jerked, however are best suited to slower, more constant retrieves. Good brands include Jitterbugs, Bills Bugs, Night Crawler, Ploppy, Gremilin & Crazy Crawler.
Bills is a quality Oz made lure Crazy Crawlers have been around forever Jitter Bugs & Bass go hand in hand
Halco Night Crawlers work well on many native species Ploppy's are a rubber version Jitter Bugs come in several sizes

Sticks /Pencils / Dogs (as in walking the dog)
Call them what you will, these are normally just a straight piece of dowel or plastic with no bibs, blades etc to give action. All off the action is given by the angler with the rod and reel. Brands include Zara Spook, Zara Puppy, Sammy 65, Slash Walker.
Skywalkers are an effective sticks Zara Spook & Zara Puppy are renown bass catchers Daiwa TD Pencil are a combination Stick / Blooper

It is well documented that bass like erratic retrieves. This cannot be over emphasized.
A high majority of surface strikes can be on the splash down or on the first movement after that, or soon after if the lure is in the right place and isn't taken away immediately.
Cast your surface lure and let it sit until the rings around it have dissipated. Then give it a single twitch no matter what your lure type. If no action at this point then work the lure back.

Fishing with surface lures can be one of the most exciting ways of catching bass. There's little to compare with the sound of a strike with the feel of your line going tight a moment later. Its definitely my favourite form of bass fishing.

Garry Fitzgerald

Related Topics
Brisbane River Bass Fishing - Garry Fitzgerald
Heavy Metal bass Fishing - Garry Fitzgerald
Top Water Fishing - Roger Lee Brown
Lake Maroon Information Page
Lake Lenthall ( Lenthalls Dam ) Information page

Copyright© 2007 Garry Fitzgerald. Sweetwater Fishing Australia