For the last 20 years or so, Labor Day weekend has always been the litmus test for me to gauge fall and the topwater bite. I know, last year we had topwater all summer and into the fall, but this year is more of a normal year as far as fishing goes. Labor Day has always been the gateway to topwater and it’s always about 2-3 weeks after the holiday when we receive our first stronger cold front, and the fish celebrate by hammering bait on the surface.
Technically speaking, the days are getting shorter, and the lake is usually cooling down slowly by Labor Day. If we have a strong thermocline it takes a strong cold front with wind and rain on the lake to start the saturation process and the mixing of cooler water and oxygen at the surface. When this happens, it’s generally the start of topwater. There is no restrictions and the fish feed from bottom to top at that point. Bait will be more oriented to the surface and seeking the warmth of the sun on the sunny afternoons and the fish are more than happy to feed on the surface without the necessity to quickly dart back down to the thermocline after chasing a bait. Fish will stay nearer the surface, and you’ll notice on your graph that the fish are going to be suspended in the top half of the water column vice the bottom half like we’ve been seeing for the past few months. This week was the transition week and it’s only going to get better from here.
This week I made a lot of observations and I had to cycle through a lot of baits to find out just what the fish wanted. One observation I’ve been making for the past few weeks is the presence of dead bluebacks on the surface. It’s usually in the areas of active fish and the bluebacks were generally fresh. The biggest and most important observation I made was the fact that those dead bluebacks were flashing on the surface in the sun. A few almost fooled me into thinking the dead blueback was some kind of shiny topwater floating on the surface the way thy would gleam in the sun. For that reason and the process of elimination, I used the chrome again this week with success. Just to be clear, I have been trying the ghost pattern topwater baits, but the chrome has worked much much better.
Monday seems like a distant memory to me now, but it was a slow start to the week and my frustration level was building rapidly. I’ve been trying to force the topwater bite this week and the only other baits I’ve picked up besides topwater was the spybait, fluke and underspin. If there was wind, I was using the topwater and if it was slack, I was trying different suspended baits to create a reaction below the surface. Spot lock was used heavily this week and just about everywhere I went in the wind, I was utilizing spot lock up wind to fan cast around the target area. By Tuesday afternoon I was starting to put a pattern together and figure it out. The topwater was very very slow in the morning but I could generally get one or two to come to the surface if I worked hard enough. By mid-morning it was the same all week. The fish would start chasing the topwater a little and they would show a mild interest in the bait on the surface. Generally speaking, if it was before 11am the fish were just coming up and slowly slurping the bait in or they would just follow it and nip at it. They would rarely commit before 11am. Why? These fish know the bluebacks habits and they know that the bluebacks shouldn’t be there until the sun gets up high in the sky. It was like clockwork every day this week but by 1pm it was on and the fish though my chrome Sexy Dawg was the real deal. By 1pm the fish were coming up and some were just exploding on the chrome offering. That pattern tells me we are very close to a good all day topwater bite, but we just need a strong front to flush out the warmer stagnate water on the surface and mix in some cooler, more oxygenated water. When this happens in mid to late September, the topwater bite starts to hit its stride. On Wednesday this week I had it figured out and I had built the pattern I wanted to put a good sack in the boat.
The key to the topwater pattern this week was the flashing and splashing of that shiny chrome Sexy Dawg. If I walked the Sexy Dawn on a normal retrieve the fish didn’t like it and would rarely commit, but if I worked the bait erratically, splashing and skipping the bait back to the boat, the bigger fish would run it down and attack it. Some would choke it, and some would nip at the back and just get one hook in them. Generally, the ones with a one barb hooking would pull off before getting to the boat and that was very frustration as I probably had 4 or 5 times the misses than I did connections to the net. As a matter of fact, this week I’ve lost at least 10 very nice bass that pulled off close to the boat and finally, after losing a very nice bass boatside on Wednesday, I threw my rod down on the deck in frustration and seriously contemplated taking up pickle ball for a new hobby before heading back to the house.
Yesterday, I put it all together to try and boat a nice sack on the sexy dawg and it worked. On Tuesday afternoon, after I came off the water, I made a quick trip to Hammonds to see if they had another Sexy dawg because my old one was losing its luster quickly. They had one and I used the new Sexy Dawg for 2 days and caught a few nice ones in the afternoon on it, but I broke it off on a big one yesterday due to my neglect of checking my line frequently. I still had my old junkie chrome Sexy Dawg and tied it back on to finish my day yesterday. It accounted for some nice fish including the one pictured above, a very feisty 4.7 to end my week and complete a nice sack of spots on nothing but the chrome Sexy Dawg yesterday.
My guess is that by this time next week the topwater pattern will be even better than yesterday and we’ll be seeing some dryer and cooler weather. Water temps are in the low to mid-eighties right now and the corps is generating off and on in the afternoons. The lake came up a bit this week before going back down and we are 2.3 feet below full pool. We should see a different lake very soon so get those topwater baits on the deck! Here’s a few memories from my week. Good luck and try and stay dry if you’re out this weekend, the wet stuff is coming up from the gulf as we speak.
Great article Jim! Are you out on main lake areas .