The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 3, 2013

Ken Maurer Outdoors Column: Take it from the top

By Ken Maurer
For The Daily Item

Last week I talked about how the river seems different this year and that has been the topic of several discussions I’ve had with anglers recently.

I think a lot of the difference is that we have had just the right amount of rain to keep the river level above average for this time of year.

I was on the river again this week a couple of times and I am still seeing a good number of smaller fish. They are not everywhere, but if you cover some water with a Big O or a senko, you will catch some bass.

I have been on this river in some July and August time periods over the past few years where it was a struggle to catch a bass. Not so at the moment. I get a little paranoid about talking about how good it is because we could get that summer slow down at any time, I’ve seen it before.

Last summer was more typical. Bass fishing at this time last year was tough, you had to work a lot harder to catch anything. Last fall was excellent. If this summer is any indication, the fall fishing this year could be phenomenal. It all depends on the river of course. A couple of tropical storms could change everything.

I really enjoy topwater bass action and the past few years have not been as good for topwaters as it used to be. I remember going out on the river with only topwater lures, those of different color, make and style, just to have fun and see which lure would dominate the action. This year, we’ve had a lot of fun with topwater lures. There’s nothing quite like the explosion of a big smallmouth annihilating a topwater.

Most of the old-time topwaters are still with us and still work. Among them are the jitterbug, crippled killer, tiny torpedo, pop-r and zara spook.

The crippled killer and tiny torpedo have little propellers that churn the water, attracting strikes. Rapala and others also have "prop" style lures. The zara spook may catch fewer fish, but monster smallies will fall for it. It is a "walk the dog" floater, and with the right wrist cadence, it zig-zags on the surface and a steady cadence will draw ferocious strikes to the patient angler.

The old rebel pop r is one of the most copied topwaters. Just about every lure company makes a popping plug. They have cupped mouths and when the angler twitches the rod tip, the lure makes a popping or gurgling noise. The jitterbug hasn’t changed for years and the steady swimming action and gurgling noise is very effective, especially after dark when bass can zero in on the steady pace.

Wake baits are a more recent addition to the topwater scene. Wakers are simply lures that swim in the surface film or just under the surface, creating a wake on the surface. They can be deadly, especially on larger fish.

Topwater action is the most fun, and there are a few things you can do to improve your luck. First, make sure you have sharp hooks. Hooks are a thing that many anglers overlook. You can tinker by adding lighter or heavier hooks to make the lure run or sit higher or lower in the water. Try different colors, color can sometimes be critical. Add an extra split ring to the tail hook, this sometimes helps in extra hookups and less lost fish.

Most importantly, don’t set the hook until you feel the fish. This is hard to do sometimes, especially when you get excited like I do. One more thing. With a stop-and-go retrieve, which often works well, keep a close eye on the lure when it is stopped. A big smallie will sometimes come up underneath it and suck it down without even making a ripple. When it happens, set the hook and hang on!

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