Topwater Fishing Tactics – Where & How To Use Poppers and Stickbaits

Topwater Fishing Tactics – Where & How To Use Poppers and Stickbaits2019-08-27T09:17:12+13:00

Project Description

We asked three topwater fishing enthusiasts from three different locations around Australia and New Zealand the same set of questions. We wanted to see the differences and similarities in opinion in order to educate our readers as to what might work for them when it comes to fishing topwater.

The three anglers who have shared their advice are:

  1. Jimmy Harland who has been fishing between Hervey Bay and Townsville for most of his life – keep up with him on Facebook and Instagram @fishing_with_jimmy
  2. Paul Lennon, a pro angler, fishing writer and charter operator running out of Port Stephens in NSW. We strongly advise that if you’re in his area you book a charter trip with Port Stephens Estuary Charters.
  3. Brooke Callaghan, from the Far North of New Zealand. Brooke has a wealth of experience chasing giant game fish in northern Queensland onboard ‘Iceman charters’ with skipper Bobby Jones. Now she runs ‘Reel Rods’ fishing store in Taipa, New Zealand and spends her free time chasing local NZ trophy fish.

Here’s what they had to say…

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

I do the majority of my topwater fishing between Hervey Bay, and Townsville, but my favourite area to fish would be Yepoon.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Mid north coast of NSW.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

Doubtless Bay, Far North NZ.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

The main species that I target for topwater is the GT, though the thing that I love most about this style of fishing is the bycatch. Whilst targeting giant trevally, I have hooked many different species from dogtooth tuna to sailfish. You just never know what will hit the lure! There’s something very addictive about a surface strike.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Yellowtail kingfish and longtail tuna.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

Kingfish and tuna.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

The first thing that I will look for is a pressure edge. Predatory fish use this to ambush bait. Pressure edges are fairly easy to find, look for any bommie or structure in the water, one side will have a glassy appearance, created by the current and this is a great area to target. If fishing reef flats, certain types of coral seem to hold predatory fish more than others so keep this in mind and investigate for yourself. Basically, the most important thing is bait, predators won’t hang around if there’s nothing to eat.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

For kingfish look for shallow reefs, headlands and islands that are holding schools of baitfish such as slimy mackerel, yellowtail or garfish.

For longtail tuna look for the same kinds of baitfish holding on coastal rocky headlands or schools of garfish in bays and coves.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

I like to choose areas where there are a lot of surface rocks and tide rip, as the baitfish tend to stack up on the leeward side and the kingfish sit in the current and dart off and pick up the bait that goes too far astray into the current. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere where there is bait up high or mid water, casting along the edges of the bait school is a good tactic as the kingfish will look for wounded bait or bait that has strayed away from the group and pick them off.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

Weather and tides play a big part in any style of fishing and can mean the difference between having the best session of your life and catching nothing. I always like to plan trips on a building moon, eg: new or full moon. This is when the tides are at their biggest. Predatory fish will use these big tides to their advantage. The weather conditions also play a big part. I look for a high barometer as a high-pressure system will expand a fish’s stomach, therefore making them hungry and a low-pressure system will have the opposite effect. Glassed out conditions seem to spook larger fish, so I like a little bit of breeze. Never go out if you think it’s unsafe.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Like most forms of fishing, tide changes are most certainly a bite trigger especially if you can coincide it with dawn and dusk periods. Middle of the day is always going to be the toughest time for surface feeding kings and tuna

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

Try to avoid harbour entrances if there has been a lot of rain prior or large tides that tend to carry lots of weed or seagrass with them. No good for casting topwater cause they just get covered in the stuff and if there is a fish they will deter very easily when they see a lure with weed hanging off the hook.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

When targeting GT’s, I run PE10 braid and 200lb Black Magic Tough Trace. It’s not worth losing the fish of a lifetime because you aren’t prepared. When fishing reef flats, I will downsize to PE6 braid and 100lb Tough Trace. The only knot I use for heavy tackle fishing is the FG knot. The reason for this is that I have straightened hooks, rings and even pulled wire through lures before this knot gives way. Apart from being strong, it is slim which is very important when it comes to any style of casting.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

For kingfish, it comes down to what class of fish you are targetting. For fish under 10kg you’re in the game with 50lb braid and 80lb leader but anything bigger than that I would recommend upping it to 80lb braid and 80-120lb leader.  I also prefer a mono leader for this type of work rather than fluorocarbon and use a PR or FG knot and about 2m of leader.

Longtail tuna have far different fighting characteristics and although they will pull plenty of string they are a clean fighting fish that won’t try and bury you in the reef like kingfish do. For this reason, you can use a much lighter tackle with 30-50lb braided outfits being ideal and leaders around 50-60lb.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

I’ll use a PR or FG knot and 80lb Black Magic Tough Fluorocarbon, the more invisible the better. Generally, I’ll use 50-80lb Black Magic Rainbow Braid Elite on all my topwater setups. I have 30lb on the lighter but prefer the heavier.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

What to throw?? To me bait is key. Look for the bait, what the fish are eating and choose a lure to suit. Garfish are one of the best signs that there are predators nearby. If I see them, I will put on an Ocean Born Flying Pencil (Sinking or floating) and work it fairly quickly. In better weather, when the water is reasonably calm, I like to use poppers or subsurface lures as the fish have a good visual on them. When the weather is a bit average, I like to use fast sinking stickbaits to get the lure down in front of their noses, so the Super Long Distance (SLD) models from the Ocean Born range are a great option.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Ocean Born Flying Poppers are best suited on those days with a little more swell or wind chop as the aggressive splash can still get the attention of a predator. I prefer to use pencils on those calmer days where fish are a bit more spooky. I also favour the Ocean Born Flying Pencil style when fishing bays and coves full of garfish as they do a great job of mimicking a fleeing gar.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

The Ocean Born Flying Pencill SLD in ‘green mackerel’ is my favourite, based on it’s colour and casting distance. When we fish the wash zones we don’t like to get too close with the boat if there is a fair bit of lift, the SLD model enables us to cast from a fair distance away and still be safe in the boat without having to compromise and still be able to fish the best zones. Generally, I’ll use the green mackerel stickbait/pencil to begin with and if I get no hits I will change colours to another pencil, the bunker is my 2nd choice. These two colours are common to the bait colours we get here in the Far North of New Zealand.

Still, if no luck I will try a popper or move onto another area and try again. I like to use poppers out in the middle of nowhere where a bait school is being pushed to the surface. I find that these generally get hit faster than the pencil because of the slower retrieval and disturbance on the surface, hence looking like a wounded bait.

ocean born lure range poppers and stickbaits different colour lures lineup

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

Floating for decent conditions, Sinking for average conditions, Super Long Distance for throwing at rocky edges to get the most out of each retrieve.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Floating style poppers and pencils are best suited for kingfish as the slower bloops and splashes really turn kingfish on. Longtail tuna on the other hand like a faster retrieve which is where Sinking pencils and poppers really come into their own as they need to be worked far quicker to give a good action.

Often especially with longtails, you are constantly chasing bust-ups and they move very quickly and at the same time can be very wary of the boat. This is where a long casting version of the pencil really shines as you can not only cast at usually out of range fish busting up but, also stay further away and avoid scaring the fish.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

Super Long Distance or Sinking when bait is subsurface and Floating when the bait is up high or on the surface. Try to match lures to the natural/real thing that is currently happening e.g. are the bait being attacked from kingfish underneath and gannets from above? Or have the birds not honed in yet, with the kingfish smashing bait along the surface?

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

Colour selection is important. I like a darker color for topwater lures to create a nice silhouette. Colours also depend on what the fish are feeding on e.g. if there is a school of fusiliers, I will use a brighter coloured lure (yellow or green) however if the bait is something else, I will adjust the lure to suit.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

I’m a big fan of natural colours, especially blues and try to pick a colour as close to the baitfish I’m trying to imitate as possible.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

I match my lures to the current bait selection. Sometimes it is obvious when you can see what sort of bait they are feeding on but other times it can be random. I always try natural colours first.

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

When I arrive at a spot I like to have three casts in the area where I think the fish are holding. On the first cast I will do a nice slow retrieve, whether it be a stickbait or popper. Long slow sweeps of the rod. This is the retrieve that I find most effective. If this doesn’t get their attention I will speed it up to a medium pace, then a fast pace. Sometimes they need a quick retrieve to get excited. When it comes to GT fishing, if there’s no interest in the first 5 casts, move to a new spot.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

For poppers on kingfish, I like a medium constant bloop retrieve that if I have a fish following I will speed up to try to get a commitment from the fish.

Long tail tuna and Pencils I prefer a fast retrieve trying to get the lure to skip across the surface imitating a fleeing gar

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

I tend to mix it up a lot. I try to use a combination of walk the dog, fast and slow retrieve, twitches and big sweeps. There is no right or wrong technique, just base it on the conditions and as you gain more confidence you will notice subtle movements can increase your chance of a bite. I have found the Ocean Born range to be very easy to use though with not too much focus on technique, so they are a great option for those just starting with topwater fishing. 

SEE THE OCEAN BORN LURES IN ACTION:

  

Jimmy Harland (QLD):

Look for bait. No bait = no fish. Pressure edges are where predators ambush. Never drive over your drift – the bigger the fish, the smarter it is. Driving a boat where you are going to fish will spook them. Match the hatch – lure color, size and action is important. Have the right gear – don’t underestimate the strength of these beasts or you will lose the fish of a lifetime. Always be ready – you may have thrown 1000 casts but you never know when one will eat your lure. Finally, set the hook! – although a lot of topwater species hit hard, you still need to set the hooks.

Paul Lennon (NSW):

Keep your eyes on the water constantly panning for the slightest surface boil or shower of bait. Also, keep an eye on bird activity especially terns and gannets as they give a great indicator of what’s below and can be seen from a much further distance than any surface disturbance.

Brooke Callaghan (NZ):

You’re already out there doing it so enjoy it and if you catch a kingfish then that’s a bonus. Keep trying and never give up!

See the Ocean Born Flying Poppers and Pencills in ACTION!

View Ocean Born Lure Range

Remember that there’s a lot of information out there these days but, it’s those who take advantage of it and educate themselves that can quickly improve their fishing success. Of course, putting new knowledge into practice is what will truly set apart the skilled from the unskilled anglers.

ocean born lure range poppers and stickbaits different colour lures lineup
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