Striped bass are a hot target in the waters of Neuse River, and there’s no better way to experience the thrill than with an explosive topwater strike. Guide D. Ashley King of New Bern chases stripers on top as often as possible, and while it may sound simple to chunk a surface lure and start ripping lips, following these tips will make you a better topwater angler.
· Choose a topwater lure that you are comfortable with. King, who runs Keep Castin’ Charters, believes that walk-the-dog style lures like Zara Spook Jr.’s and Rapala Skitter Walks are the most effective. However, if you’ve never thrown one, it’s best to bring a backup just in case.
“I’ll tie on a Pop-R or Rapala Skitter Pop for a lot of my clients,” said King (910-389-4118), “Learning to walk-the-dog can take a little getting used to.”
King favors topwater plugs in chartreuse and chrome and works popping lures aggressively with a pop-and-pause pattern for stripers.
· Work the wind tide. “It takes a northeast wind to have a really good day in New Bern,” said King.
Without a lunar tide, the water level at New Bern and the surrounding area is governed by wind direction. While northeast winds blow water into the area, southwest winds or a lack of wind will drain the 3- to 4-foot deep stump fields that King relishes. In such cases, he will fish his topwater plugs around ledges, bridges and railroad trestles in deeper water.
· Hold up on the hookset. A common obstacle in topwater fishing is knowing when to set the hook. Many anglers instinctively pull back at the first sign of a blow-up, only to have the lure rocket back to the boat, far out of reach of a follow up strike. King’s advice is to wait until you feel the weight of the fish on the line before you bury the hooks.
· Stop and twitch for follow-up strikes. “If I have a fish that swirls and misses, I’ll stop the plug and then twitch it hard four or five times,” he said. “If it doesn’t hit it, I’ll work it fast for 8 to 10 feet, and stop again. I put a lot of stops in the retrieve if I have an interested fish.”
King also believes in a feathered rear treble hook with a little bit of foil.
“It gives the lure a little flash when it’s dead in the water.”
· Don’t put away topwater baits. While King admits thatthe traditional pattern for fishing topwater in low-light periods such as mornings, evenings, and cloudy conditions is highly effective, his affinity for the lure has caused him to push its boundaries.
“Once I catch the first fish on topwater, I don’t take it off the rest of the day. I catch fish with them on cloudy days and with blue bird skies. Sometimes a fish will strike a topwater lure when they won’t strike anything else,” said King, who believes the bait will aggravate a fish into attacking.