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Surface lures - extreme adventure Print E-mail
Written by Piotr Piskorski   

Plop, plop! Your popper is slowly sliding on the surface between the floating leaves, splashing to the sides and leaving a trace of air bubbles which disappear after a moment. Three jumps and a short pause. Two or three jumps more and you let the lure rest among the circles spreading on water. The popper is about to pass the border of floating leaves when the water good two metres away suddenly bulges and ripples. You immediately know what that means.

Some big fish launched itself towards your lure like a torpedo! Swallowing hard, you watch every stem nudged by the bulk of the speeding predator. A second later the wave reaches the place, where the popper churned up the water for the last time. You rack all your senses to notice the attack and perform the strike. You see only the broad, olive, gold-speckled side of the pike in a lightning-quick turn just below the surface. It missed! - crosses your mind. However, the rod bent in a deep parabola denies those fears. After a dramatic struggle, when your fish is lying on the bottom of the boat you can hardly find your lure stuck deep inside the predators throat. Two thoughts linger in your head - how is it possible that I didn't even see the open maw and how lucky I was to have used a metal leader!

If someone has ever experienced such an adventure at least once - he can't stop thinking about fishing with surface lures. This technique is like a drug! The more you try - the more addictive it is. Contrary to traditional spinning techniques the transition between calmness and extreme sensations is very sudden. A strike with a "normal" lure is most often registered only with the rod and felt better or worse depending on whether the construction of the entire set is suitable. In the case of surface attacks all the action begins often long before the fish touches the lure. To this are added the sound effects. Fantastic!

It is also true that fishing with surface lures is not the most effective way of fishing for, actually, any predators. Even the bass - the flag fish of American anglers reacts best to surface lures in specific conditions and places. Nevertheless it is worth knowing, that, as a matter of fact, all know predators can be effectively caught from the surface. It is only necessary to know their habits perfectly, especially their preferences when it comes to feeding - as in each case it is strictly connected with the availability of food. If for any reason the best treats swim in large numbers near or on the surface, there always are some predators lurking around them, hoping for easy prey. A potential surface prey may be small fish swimming in shoals, frogs, rodents swimming across the river or in other cases insects. It is therefore important to fish with awareness - realise what species we are fishing for and what food we are imitating. As in the case of other fishing techniques, it is worth to think for a while about the optimal.

Equipment for fishing with surface lures

Of course theoretically any set, which "fits" our hand should fulfil its role better or worse. However, it does not make sense to make a task more difficult. Especially as surface fishing is a very active technique. Many operations are carried out with the work of the rod only. That is why this element of the set is especially important. The first feature one has to pay attention to is the lure weight stated on the tag by the manufacturer. Fishing with too heavy lures with a delicate set ends at best with the angler being tired and disheartened. It is hard to strike an attacking fish with such a set and in extreme cases the rod may simply break during the cast. Using too long rods does not make any sense either. As a matter of fact, for the surface method, the shorter it is - the better. A classic rod for this technique may not be too soft either. In practice, any rigid 2,1m - 2,3m long rod for fishing with wobblers, with a fast tip action will perform very well. A constant reel with an effective break will also be absolutely sufficient. Of course, it must fit the size of the overall set. There is no sense in adding additional weight to handle. If one is fishing with, for example, small poppers a reel of the 2500 class seems very suitable. Of course if we are hunting for big game with lures weighing over 35 grams I definitely recommend using a "jerkbait" set - a casting rod with a multiplier reel. I use only braided lines for surface fishing. Using the braided line's natural qualities makes one can guide the lure easier and better. Additionally, the strike and towing of the predator are more reliable. Especially as one often fishes in spots which are shallow, therefore densely overgrown with aquatic plant life. A monofilament line is simply not suitable for power-towing a pike through a clump of water lilies! If we're talking about pike, it is necessary to use a steel rig at the end of which to place our lure. Young, "very hungry" pikes often attack imprecisely, hitting the line instead of the lure. In such cases we lose the lure without even feeling resistance. Big ones, on the other hand, have the habit of devouring surface lures, which always exposes the line for contact with their sharp teeth.

In the case of the surface technique the quality of the leader is especially important. This problem becomes especially visible when fishing with small lures armed with delicate, tungsten leaders. After they have been used even for a short time they tend to twist into a "spring" making it practically impossible to effectively present, for example, a popper. Such a twisted rig should be immediately replaced. A solution is to use more rigid rigs made of a single piece of thin wire ( e.g. a thin guitar string ) or fluorocarbon 0,3mm dia. One should remember that the leader may not be too heavy, as it would change the position of the lure on the surface making suitable action impossible. Of course, larger surface models aren't as susceptible to the additional weight of the rig. That is why the most important matter in this case is the durability of the entire set.

Like in no other spinning technique an extraordinarily large role is played by the observation of the fishing spot, especially everything that takes place around the lure. One is then able to prepare for a strike and react to it accordingly. So in order no to tire the eyes too much polarizing glasses and a baseball cap are necessary.

We already know how to assemble a set. What to hang at its end? Contrary to appearances the choice will not be easy. Manufacturers tempt us with a quite plentiful choice of types, sizes and kinds in a boundless range of colours. The first decision we have to make is, of course -

The size of the lure

Size does matter! Still, the size of the lure should not depend directly on the size of the fish we wand to catch. It is more important to match the size of the lure with the size of the predator's prey we are imitating. Of course in case of pike, catfish, muskie, or fish which dwell in warm seas one should not exaggerate in the opposite way. To be brief, the decision should be well thought out in many aspects. Summer fishing for catfish may serve as an example - when it is hot catfish often rise from the bottom and feed just below the surface, hunting even for bleak. A small - 7 - 10 cm stickbait guided with variable speed over a deep pit with changeable currents is perfect in such situations. In order to cast such a bait, weighing 10 - 15g, far enough one must use a braided line 0,12 - 0,14 mm dia. In order to have a chance of winning against a catfish weighing a few dozen kilograms, which is tempted by such a treat at least two hundred metre supply of line is required, as well as strong nerves and plenty of patience. In such a case the best solution is to fight the entire battle from a boat. If we already know how big our lure is going to be, the choice is a bit easier further on. All that remains is "only" a few types in several dozen modifications and a couple hundred colour versions ... One must of course keep a cool head! Usually it turns out that having a few dozen kinds of surface lures in the box is less important than perfect mastery of fishing techniques with two or three of them. Proper use of any artificial lure depends, as we all know, not only on all the elements of the set being properly fitted together. The angler's abilities and his eagerness to learn new techniques are important, of course. Personal preferences, connected with e.g. the temperament turn out to be important as well. If someone loves popper fishing and stickbait fishing does not work for him it is much better to master the first technique perfectly than to force oneself to practice the other.

On the other hand, the best chances under any conditions are those of a universal angler, who can use all kinds of lures perfectly.

In order to help you, dear friends, with making the right decision when it comes to purchasing surface lures I shall briefly describe their basic types and kinds.

The most popular, best known group, and who knows, perhaps the oldest one are


They are very easy to recognize, as they have a depression in the frontal part of the body, where the ring to fasten the line is placed. This depression generates a specific splash when the bait is jerked or pulled, the sound and loudness of which depends on the dynamics and fluidity of the movement of the rod tip. The best poppers can be guided in a variety of ways, which greatly increases their effectiveness. The most classic and most often used technique are series of medium length ( 5 - 7 cm ) jerks of medium dynamism. They are made in series of 2-3 jerks which happen consecutively every second, then a 2-3 second pause and the next series of jerks. The lure performs short jumps on the surface, splashing water to the sides. The sound made by the popper is of varied pitch and can be described as "medium - low".

The second technique is performing longer series of short ( 205 cm ), vigorous jerks quickly one after another. The popper should move in a narrow zigzag, turning to each side in turn. In this case the lure makes relatively the less "noise", using up most of its energy on turning. Another way of guiding the popper are longer ( 7-10 cm ), not very dynamic pulls made more or less every second with longer pauses. In this case the lure should bubble the loudest and the generated sound should be the lowest.

In order to achieve the above mentioned results suitable rod action is required. In case of the first two techniques it is usually the best to begin the series of pulls after casting with the rod pointed up. When the distance shortens the tip should be lowered. The third of the mentioned techniques requires the tip to be lowered from the very start. The pulls are made towards the water.

We have to find out personally on the fishing spot which of the mentioned techniques is the most effective. Any of them may surpass the others depending on the circumstances - the species of the predator, the type of the fishery, season and so on.

When making first attempts on a new spot one should employ all the techniques or perhaps even unite them during a single cast.

Of simple construction, but also very effective are


The name of this group of surface lures comes from their shape. Stickbaits have a straight, cylindrical shape, reminiscent of stick with rounded ends. Their movement is the classic "walk the dog" action. It is comprised of cyclic, symmetrical turns to both sides. This is reminiscent of a sniffing dog, the movements of which are limited by the length of the leash. Such an action is achieved through the synchronic use of the rod and the reel. The tip makes fluid pulls on 10-30 cm sections ( depending on the size of the lure ). At the same time the reel must reduce the slack on the line. Thanks to special balance the stickbait slides on the surface in a zigzag, imitating a wounded or sick fish.

Modifying the strength, length, and speed of the pulls influences the action of the lure - from broad and calm slides to short, energetic and loud jumps almost on one spot. As in the case of poppers the most effective action has to be discovered in the fishery.

Popper and stickbait hybrids are an interesting combination. Practically, they are stickbaits with a small "popper-like" depression in the front of the body. Those baits turn nicely to the sides, at the same time making noises like a popper.

Another very large family of surface lures are


Propbaits are simply turbine lures. As the name suggests a usually metal turbine ( or a few turbines ) are an integral part of each of them. The turbines may be placed on the lure's axis and rotate independently from the body. Smaller propbaits are usually constructed in such a way. Larger propbaits are most often built in a different way. The propeller is fastened to the body permanently. The body is divided into two or more parts, which may rotate around a wire axis. Of course there are a lot of types and kinds of propbaits. The quantity, placement and construction of turbines are limited only by the manufacturer's imagination.

The construction and shape of the propbait usually suggest the most effective fishing technique. It is very simple to fish with lures in which the turbine is a part of the body. It is usually enough to reel the line at a variable speed. However, from time to time it is worth to stop and jerk the rod tip once or twice. So much noise is caused on the surface, that you can be sure that all the predators in the area will notice it.

One can fish in a similar why with long and slim propbaits, with the turbine placed independently on the lure's axis. However, the most effective technique is this case is completely different. It is quite similar to jerkbait fishing. A floating propbait is pulled under the surface with a dynamic jerk of the rod tip. The submerging lure gathers air bubbles on the turbine, which create a shimmering chain behind it when it dives. After every jerk comes a short 1-3 sec pause. At this time the propbait surfaces slowly. As usual the frequency, strength and length of the pulls should be adjusted to the specific lure and the reaction of the fish in a specific spot.

A very interesting, but little known in Europe group of surface lures are


As the name suggests these lures swim the "crawl". This rare action is generated by the crawlers special construction. A profiled metal or plastic plate is placed in the frontal part of the body, causing the lure to "rock" distinctively on the surface. Another solutions are two mobile "fins", placed symmetrically on the sides of the body. The effect is similar. The lure "crawls" making loud noises. This is deceptively similar to the behaviour of a small mammal or bird clumsily trying to find safety on dry shore. It is often an invitation to a meal a predator is unable to resist!

That is what a brief overview of the family of surface lures looks like. Manufacturers certainly do not cease to look and constantly invent new constructions. However, they are mostly hybrids of the mentioned types, made of various materials. As with the other groups of artificial lures soft silicon is playing a more and more important part, as it often results in interesting solutions in conjunction with natural materials ( wood, feathers, fur ). Thanks to such great variety of this family of lures, in favourable conditions one can fish with them for practically

All predators

Of course pike will fall prey to us most often. On strikes by those eternally hungry fishslayers one can count almost all year long, since a significant part of these predators' population remains in the shallows at all times. They lurk for their victims in thin reeds or in dense underwater plants. These are places which often make it actually impossible to fish with other lures. When fishing for pike we rather use the bigger models of surface lures. It makes no sense to use lures smaller than 5-6 cm. Still we will often have problems with retrieving a deeply swallowed popper from the predator's maw bristling with sharp teeth. In spring and in the beginning of summer it is worth to remember that the largest specimens remain in the shallows at that time, regaining fat lost during spawning season. At that time it is worth to aim for a large specimen and fish with the larger lures, 12 cm or longer. One should remember, that such an experienced specimen calculates each attack well and considers catching a small treat uneconomical!

In some bodies of water with a broad coastal zone one can fish for perch wonderfully throughout the season. They often dwell among the plants with pikes, in the clumps of water lily stems. Small and medium poppers are perfect in such places. In large and deep lakes however, perch is usually not tied to the coastal zone. They can more often be encountered on bigger depths, near underwater hills or steep falls on the bottom. They lead a pelagic life, accompanying shoals of small fish on which they feed. Such predators are of course difficult to tempt with a surface lure. However, even in the deepest lakes fat perch attacks on small prey can often be seen. It is a perfect moment and opportunity to exploit the qualities of surface lures. Every one of the aforementioned types should turn out fine in such a situation. One should, however, choose those, which fly far. Such a massed perch attack on the surface usually lasts short and often does not happen again. One must therefore act quickly and carefully. One mustn't sail too close, as contrary to appearances these predators are easily scared. It is better to perform the first casts from far away and gradually approach the centre of action. The furthest-flying surface lures are usually stickbaits and they are the best to start with.

It is known, that if a predator is hunting noisily on the surface in a river it usually is an asp. Few anglers however have tried to use surface lures when fishing for asp. It is worth knowing, that these predators react better to this type of presentation than e.g. pike! It is only a bit more difficult to choose the correct lure and guiding technique than in the case of pike. Long casts are usually necessary here as well. Therefore we should choose lures which make it possible to reach distances of 50 - 60 m. Especially small stickbaits and propbaits work especially well in this case.

In order to cast that far ( and farther ) a suitable reel with a large spool is required, as is a relatively thin line. Here lies a minor problem. Many anglers think, that a braided line is a bad solution for asp. Mainly because fish "fall off" more often. In such a case it is better to use a traditional line, 0,20 - 0,23 mm dia. Of course, one can forget about moving the lure within the mouth of the fish from a range of 50 - 60 m with such a set. Apart from this, too strong a jerk in case of a strike by a really large asp may cause the line to break. Therefore we rather have to count on a self-strike. Very sharp hooks will of course help. After feeling a weight at the end of the rod one should simply lift the tip and start towing.

Similar equipment parameters are required when fishing for trout with surface lures. All species of the Trouts may in some periods be caught from the surface. However, the entire set must be delicate but durable and the angler aware of the energy and dynamism of the opponent. An incredible experience is night fishing on the surface for huchen or hucho taimen! These fish are easily attracted to poppers, stickbaits, propbaits or crawlers. There is only one condition - the lure must be large! Actually the bigger - the better.

In some periods ides and chubs react excellently to surface lures. However, as we all know, they are very careful fish and fishing for them from the surface is the highest degree of angling expertise. Smaller lure sizes, 2-5 cm long will be effective in this case, served on a 0,14 - 0,20 mm thick line. Hook sharpness is once again a key prerequisite for the success of the hunt.

I have already mentioned catfish. Often when using an atypical lure can we catch a fish which has effectively avoided other lures before. However, if we are planning to go especially to fish for catfish from the surface it is better to be well prepared. Long casts usually are not necessary in such a case. That is why it is worth to arm oneself with large calibre equipment - a casting rod, a solid multiplier and at least 0,25 mm thick braided line. If we are trying to use such a set to fish with small ( 7-10 cm ) lures, it is necessary to exchange the hooks and connecting circles with much stronger ones. A braided line which can endure 50 kg will not help in towing a specimen if the hooks and circles have a durability of only 10 -15 kg. Of course one should fish for catfish during the day - night transition or even after dusk. This presents additional challenges for the angler and his equipment. This is without doubt an adventure of the extreme kind!

What about fish dwelling in the world's warmer regions? For example peacock bass or tiger fish? In the ocean jack crewalee, tuna or rooster? That is real surface fishing! But that is an entirely different story!

As you can see the possibilities of fishing with surface lures are plentiful. Many species of predators can be caught with them. Strikes are varied too. Sometimes they are delicate like a touch of a breeze. At other times they look more like an explosion of an underwater bomb. It has been noticed, that the more aggressively the lure is guided, the more violent is the strike. Apart from that, smaller fish usually strike more delicately. Most small pikes, for example, are stuck not very deeply, sometimes even on the outside of the mouth. Large crocodiles, when they decide to attack, swallow the lure like a warm dumpling! It usually also turns out to be impossible to register the details of the entire action, in spite of the fact that one is watching the point of strike carefully. There is nothing strange about that if you consider the fact, that at the moment of attack the pike develops a speed of 25 m/sec. Even a standard camera is unable to register that!

However, there is one rule, no matter were and what you are fishing for. Most anglers, even experienced ones, react in a similar manner. They strike too soon. When all symptoms of attack on the water, such as whirlpools, waves, wild splashes around the lure should be met with calmness! One should work his set until he can feel the weight of the fish at its end. One should only get ready for the strike, lowering the tip a bit towards the water. It is not easy, but earlier attempts to stick the hooks in usually end in a wasted chance. Only after the weight of the predator is clearly felt do we strike wide and energetically.

I wish good luck and unforgettable experiences to all who have decided to try their luck with surface fishing! Do not get disheartened with the initial failures. You will probably strike your first catches too soon anyway. Do not mind that - I can't even remember how many strikes I wasted that way!