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Top Guns
Scratching the surface with topwater plugs
is as addictive as it is productive.

By Larry Bozka

Remember the first strike you ever got on a topwater plug? I do. And I wasn't even fishing at the time.

It was a black Arbogast Jitterbug, and I'd just thrown it at a floating stock pond widgeon in yet another fruitless attempt to snag and retrieve the downed bird when the bass quite unexpectedly took center stage and forever changed the way I think about lure fishing.

She smashed that plug like a dump truck hitting a brick wall.

All thoughts of waterfowl immediately evaporated. I went from the hunting mode to the fishing mode in about two seconds flat, seriously startled by what had just happened and determined to make it happen again. Time and again, my jellied knees still doing the Elvis wobble, I thrashed the surface with that bait. The Jitterbug's concave metal mouth chugged loudly as I brought it back fast-way too fast, in fact, to interest any nearby largemouth.

A new walk-the-dog topwater member of Berkley's Frenzy hardbait family.
A prototype of the heir apparent to Texas' topwater anthology: A new walk-the-dog topwater member of Berkley's Frenzy hardbait family tenatively dubbed the "Z-Walker." Slated for release this month, this lure boasts two of a mullet-imitating topwater's most critical attributes-it contains a noise-making rattle, and is extremely easy to "walk."

A moment like that is fishing's own version of Buck Fever 101. It teaches you a lesson, but despite your best efforts, you don't always remember what you learned. If angling history indeed repeats itself, that three-decade-old episode is as good an example as any. I remember it, at the time, being one of the most exciting moments I'd ever experienced as a fisherman.

It still is.

I'm reminded of that fact every time I watch an aggravated speckled trout ignite on a topwater plug only to disappear in a foamy, rippling circle of saltwater. This happens so often, by the way, that there's actually a term for the experience.

We call it a "blow-up."

The big ones that get away

Usually, blow-ups tend to outnumber hook-ups. But if I'm going to lose a fish, I'd much rather do it on a topwater lure than anything else.

I also remember the duck-turned-bass incident of fall 1969 because I totally lost it after the unanticipated surface attack and let adrenaline overflow work the lure instead of common sense and experience-not to imply that at the age of 13 I possessed much of either.

Herein lies one of those invaluable angling lessons learned the hard way, but not always remembered and acted upon. To this day, following a crushing topwater strike I still sometimes lose it. The most elemental of fishing basics-maintaining a productive retrieve pattern, say, or avoiding excitement-induced backlashes-somehow turn to mush.

But at least I have a good excuse.

Topwater fishing messes with your head.

Which is exactly why so many Texas saltwater fishermen are nuts about tossing surface plugs. It gets in your blood, and it stays there for good.

A brief history

Surface-scratching didn't gain serious notoriety along the Texas Coast until the late 1980s. About a half-dozen guide buddies of mine claimed to be the first to throw the Rebel Jumpin' Minnow at Galveston Bay trout and reds. *Everyone* was suddenly a topwater lure aficionado. The trend kicked off with a universal Big Bang and continues to expand to this day.

The Super Spook-based on the wooden Zaragossa Spook introduced to the market by James Heddon and Sons in 1922 (the plastic version debuted in 1939)-followed closely in the wake of the Jumpin' Minnow. Then came the Producer Ghost, a less costly knock off of the Spook, along with the Storm Chug Bug and Big Bug.

MirrOlures had been a Texas saltwater standard for years, and still are. But the introduction of the Top Dog in '98-followed by the Top Dog Jr. in '99-put Florida-based L&S Bait. Co. on the Texas topwater map for good.

There have been, and will be, other productive topwater plugs. Many of the aforementioned baits initially came out as freshwater lures but were then modified with saltwater hardware and color patterns when the demand arrived. And it did arrive. Along with coastal fly fishing, topwater lure fishing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the saltwater scene. That isn't likely to change anytime soon, as more and more anglers discover the technique and return to the dock babbling endlessly about monster blow-ups from huge and unseen predators.

Exceptions to the rules

Better than 10 years of topwater-targeted observation, in-depth interviews with leading pros and industry experts and aggressive field research has yielded some surprising information. I learned a lot while putting together "Saltwater Strategies," and the new book title I'm currently woºrking on about saltwater lures is likewise proving to be an exercise in continuing education. To this day, every time I step out of the boat with a wade belt box full of surface plugs I learn something.

That's just one of the many wonderful things about this sport.

Turns out the old stereotypes that formerly applied to "topwater fishing" don't always apply when the topwatered water is of the salty variety. Sure, there are reliable, even proven, generalities. But it pays to keep an open mind regarding most accepted notions.

Foremost, it has generally been assumed that topwaters are shallow-water-specific baits. Surface plugs have always been, and still are, prime for presentation to gamefish in calf-deep flats. But if you're skipping surface baits in deep-water climes, you're missing out.

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