Working night shifts has its perks and at this time of year, with my night shifts finishing just before first light, the timing is perfect for me to get down to the water’s edge just as the sun starts to peep over the horizon. As well as witnessing an amazing morning’s sunrise, there’s always the chance of seeing something equally as spectacular: the moment a bass explodes out the water for your surface lure. For me, there’s no better buzz than seeing this spectacle when it comes to lure fishing for bass.
The lure market is huge at the moment and it’s ever-growing. There are hundreds of different types of surface lures that come in all shapes and sizes. The surface lures that grabbed my attention when I first started out lure fishing were the Xorus range. Very rarely, whilst lure fishing for bass, will I venture down to the water without at least one of these in my box. The Xorus Patchinko 140, 125 and 100, Xorus Frosty and Asturie have all made themselves permanent fixtures in my collection over the last few years.
There are arguably hundreds of surface lures out there on the market that are equally as good, however, and some might work better in your fishing. It’s all about finding the lures that work best for you. All surface lures have their own pros and cons, optimum fishing situations and other special attributes that they bring to the party, so knowing which one to clip on during a session could be the difference between a catch and a blank. Sometimes, it might just be that instinctive change to a different style of topwater lure that finally stimulates that big silver submarine to attack. Using surface lures is also a great way to fish over shallow rough ground. Remember, sometimes all it takes is enough water to cover the bass’ backs for them to be in there hunting.
Even before I get down onto the rocks or the beach, I’ll already be thinking about what surface lure I’m going to start off using. If it’s flat calm, I’ll often start off with a subtle approach and give the Asturie, Frosty or Patch 100 a few chucks first. These types of lures work really well in calm water, leaving a small wake behind the lure. The Frosty also throws up a small spit of water as it moves, while the Asturie darts around with twitches as it starts rippling along the surface. In these conditions, I find even the smallest of lure disturbances can be enough to encourage a hit from a bass.
If there’s a much of a side wind or a bit of a chop on the water, I’ll be more inclined to grab the Patchinko 125 out of the box. This lure hasn’t been around that long and was designed as the little brother version of the Patchinko 140. I can’t help looking at the 125 as just a beefed-up Frosty, as it can be retrieved with the rod tip down in a subtle manner (like the Frosty). The Patch 125 has just a bit more grunt to it, however, and if needed, can be really worked hard with the rod tip up to create more of a splash in front of the lure. It’s a good option if you want to create a bit of commotion on the surface whilst still keeping a relatively small bait profile too.
The Patchinko 140 (and other larger surface lures) I tend to use when conditions won’t allow for the lighter and smaller models, say if there’s a choppy sea or perhaps that side wind is too strong. The majority of larger surface lures will punch through a headwind and if the wind’s behind you, they will go some distance. They can be handy to have if you need that extra range to reach a feeding bass you’ve spotted, or if you just want to get your lure to explore a feature or drop off further out.
Poppers are a great bit of kit to have in the box too. Occasionally, when I’ve arrived at a spot just before first light, the fish have been feeding hard and breaking the surface. Getting a popper out there to them while they’re fired up like this is definitely worth doing. Poppers are also useful for getting out past the breakers on a surf beach and they can also be productive in the surf over rough ground. When the lure is retrieved on the surface using long or short sweeping actions of the rod, water is displaced giving that baitfish commotion effect and making a lot of noise.
Although the lure I choose to use will almost always depend on what conditions are like at the mark, it’s also important to have a think about what the bass are likely to be feeding on in the area. Are they chasing down sandeel shoals, ambushing smelt or smashing into white bait? Lure colours are usually a big topic of conversation with online forums etc. and our water here in Jersey can be pretty clear compared to some parts of the UK. For me, natural patterns are dominant in my lure collection but when it comes to surface lures I don’t think it really matters. In the past, I’ve caught bass on transparent surface lures in terrible water clarity. To me, this demonstrates that the attraction has more to do with disturbance, noise and vibration than lure colour.
Focusing on lure movement reinforces how important it is to keep the lure working correctly and consistently, keeping the right level of disturbance in the water and ensuring that the retrieve and rod movement are kept in sync to get the best results. A useful tip for tricky conditions is to keep the rod tip down a bit to have a better connection with the lure and thus work it more effectively.
I usually mix up my retrieves. On some casts, I’ll use a constant retrieve but alternate the speed. On others I’ll add twitches on the lure or perhaps use the twitch-twitch-pause method which, even whilst the lure is static, can agitate a fish into attacking. I’ll also alternate my retrieve style, sometimes retrieving with the rod tip down to keep that lure well positioned in the water, and sometimes raising the rod tip up to really get that lure bouncing and splashing around. Finding a good rhythm is key to ensuring your lure works as well as it can.
It’s important to keep a close eye on your lure at all times during the retrieve. Missing a take from a bass is disappointing but sometimes all is not quite as it seems. Bass have a tendency to stun their prey and more often than not, you’ll see the odd swirl or splash as a bass has a swipe at your lure.
This also happens quite a lot when I free-line live baits and the bass usually take the fish on their second pass. Sometimes all that’s needed is to stop the retrieve of the lure and twitch the rod tip. Other times, slowing down and carrying on will bring the fish back a second time to finish its prey off. I’ve noticed that if there’s more bass in the area you’re fishing, they can become quite competitive and it won’t be long after the first stun attack until one engulfs your lure. Often, during times of competitive feeding, the bass will just hit it hard on the first attempt.
Over here in Jersey, I usually focus on using surface lures from around March until November with the best fishing coming when the food chain is in full swing during the summer months. First and last light sessions I find the most productive, although daylight hours can be good too, especially on overcast days. Night sessions with surface lures can be really productive. If there are bass splashing around picking off bait fish at the surface, a slow retrieve with twitches can really do the trick. Even a simple straight slow retrieve will get the bass following your lure’s wake before it hits.
On one of my most recent sessions, I ventured out after my night shift.
The weather was forecast to be cloudy for the day and, as first light approached, there were two hours left of the flood. The swell, however, was much worse than predicted online so I opted for the shelter of some slack water tucked up inside the bay. It looked really bassy but was it going to yield my first topwater bass of 2020?
I opted for the Patchinko 140 as there was a rock feature I wanted to aim for and the water was fairly choppy. My first cast fell short and didn’t produce any takes so I quickly cast out again. This time, the lure landed right in the sweet spot. It seemed that all the backwash and white water from the swell to my left was making its way towards that rock feature.
In theory, if there was a bass around that’s where it’d be, lying in ambush, waiting to pick off any small weak swimmers washed out in the swell.
Within a few turns of the reel and twitches of the rod tip, I saw a big splash to the side of my lure. I thought the bass had missed it at first but no, it was on – I’d hit the jackpot! The reel singing away during the hook up is the greatest feeling, until your opponent makes a break for another set of rocks and you’ve got to try and stop it. There was no way I was going to let the first bass I’d hooked off the surface this year get away though. Once safely steered away from danger, the fish gave some nice bassy head shakes and was putting up a really fun scrap on my 9ft HTO Nebula. I had my net to hand and just about managed to time my pressure on the fish well enough for it to be pushed straight into the mesh at the first attempt. This was a really nice bass to start the season off with and hopefully a sign of plenty more to come this year!