Locals call this island the "Sand Island", and it offers a small but protected inlet that is extremely welcome on windy days or when an unexpected squall comes up. It was late August, and I was out with one of my longtime fishing friends, Greg Reese. Greg is also a "skinny water" enthusiast and we have walked many flats in search of specks, reds, flounder or an occasional jack.
The wind was blowing at around 15 to 20 knots out of the northeast which made for a rough boat ride, but it was a beautiful sunny day and we were determined to find an area protected from the wind where we could fish comfortably. After anchoring the boat securely in the cove we selected some lures and headed for the leeward side of the island, where calm and clear waters awaited.
Surface lures are becoming a bigger part of my fishing arsenal as I become more familiar with the different types of lures and different techniques used to fish them. The challenge of bringing a fish just a bit out of his element, enticing him to strike at the lure and being able to watch it all as it happens right in front of you....... this type of angling has produced some of the most memorable fishing trips for me, and some of the best fish, too!
Generally speaking, there are about six or seven different types of surface lures. The most common of these are the "lipped floating minnows" such as some Mirrolures, Long-A, Bang-O-Lure, etc.; the "crippled minnows" which usually have spinners in the front, back or both such as the Devil's Horse; the "dancing or walking lures" which are weighted at the tail such as the Jumpin' Minnow or the Spit'n Image; and, of course, the "popping plugs" which have "cupped" heads, for example, the Super Pop R and the Hula Popper.
My personal inshore favorites to fish are the "dancing lures" and the "popping plugs". Both have produced speckled trout, redfish, spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and even flounder in very shallow water.
There are as many different techniques to fish these lures as there are fishermen. For the "dancing lures", slight and quick twitches of the rod tip produce the "walking" effect, which means that the lure will swim erratically from side to side. Quick, stronger pulls of the rod tip will producing the jumping effect. With "popping plugs", a short quick pull of the rod tip produces a "plopping" noise similar to that of a popping cork. With either, it is best to do some experimentation, but a key for both is to let the lure sit still for several seconds at intervals during the retrieve.
My usual favorite fishing areas are the inshore flats that are abundant around the barrier islands from Dauphin Island to Ship Island. And as this story began, I was knee deep in the flats of the spoil island.
On one particular cast, I started walking my lure in from the visible drop-off, and three large bronze backed bull reds broke through the surface of the water about ten feet behind my lure and were following the lure as it twitched towards me. At least two or three inches of each fish was literally out of the water and they resembled a small fleet of submarines racing towards the hapless lure. I continued the steady twitch.... twitch.... as the redfish gained ground and then.... an audible "slurrrp!" and "splash!" as my line tightened! "Fish on!" I yelled to Greg, who was standing only a few feet away. But he was watching the whole event unfold. "What is it?", he yelled back, "Big redfish?" But I couldn't answer at the moment, I was watching line disappear from my reel and I lightly applied more pressure on the baitcaster with my thumb as the red tried to shake the hook.
After an initial long run, and a few shorter, but steady bursts, the redfish was at hand. It measured thirty-five inches and was the fattest redfish I've ever seen. But what made this fish even more special was being able to watch the fish advance on and then attack the lure.
Fishing topwater, you may not catch as many fish as might be caught with grubs or live bait or trolling. But these topwater lures are extremely fun, and at times, even more productive than other fishing methods. Most people prefer to fish these lures only when the water is very calm, but they can be effective with a slight surface chop, too. Give them a good try under different circumstances with different variations of retrieve and when you start catching fish with them, you're hooked.
(originally published in Gulf Coast Outdoors)