Spence Petros put the hammer on some nice muskies with The TopRaider on our weekly musky segment. This is truly one fantastic way to catch summer muskies. Here are some of “down and dirty” tips that you need to know specifically about fishing The TopRaider that are sure to make your outings more productive.
On bright sunny days, evenings are the ticket for topwater muskies. Evening summer muskies are usually cranked up “chasers”; meaning you can go after ‘em with a fast topwater bait that features a prop style tail rotator like the TopRaider. This is precisely how Spence tagged his musky on this last episode -- at the very end of bright sunny day, just before dark.
Unless the lake, river or flowage you fish is heavily worked with topwater prop baits, you rarely need to fish slow at this time of day. In fact, the only time I slow down for muskies on top is after a particular fish has followed and not struck a speedy surface bait. Otherwise, I’ve got the “pedal to the metal” -- crankin’ pretty fast with a prop style bait like the TopRaider in order to cover water quickly and efficiently.
Tackle matchups for TopRaider muskies is a simple one. I’d suggest fishing a high speed baitcaster like Abu Garcia’s Revo Toro 60HS. A large capacity, big game series baitcaster with its extra large capacity spool size will really buzz a TopRaider thru the water easily. The big advantage of a high speed version for this style of fishing comes after the strike. Topwater muskies get ignited like a runaway missile after the strike occurs. The high speed reel enables you to keep the line taut no matter what the fish does.
For line, you can’t beat Stren’s 80 lb. test Sonic Braid. A heavy gauge, no stretch, floating braid is always the best choice for topwater lures. You always want to keep that line on the surface so the lure works well. This also keeps your hookset response instantaneous since no water drag will slow you down or inhibit hookset power.
My favorite TopRaider rod is a St. Croix Legend Tournament Musky Split Grip LTM80MXF "Top & Tail". It's an 8' long MH power rod with the new split grip design. The advantages of the extra long rod are many, and there are few disadvantages. Most of all, the 8 foot rod is far superior at the boat. Anyone who has done any amount of musky fishing knows that the figure 8 is a huge part of the technique. So many muskies follow to boatside. Getting even a small fraction of them to hit at boatside is a big plus. Long 8 footers simply do superior figure 8 patterns with your lures at boatside. The figure 8 can be made bigger, and deeper if necessary. Plus, after the fish is hooked, the additional rod length and rod bend is more apt to keep the fish hooked and not tear out the hooks.
Extra long rods also sweep the hookset better from long distances. An extra long cast with a topwater lure is usually a plus. It enables you to cover more water, but also provides added distance for a following musky to commit to the strike. Long casts with shorter rods result in poor hookups. The extra length of the 8 footer helps to set the hook solidly from very long distances. Finally, it also affords the angler the ability to steer the lure through lanes in weeds as well as create more pronounced changes of direction throughout the retrieve. Any change of direction is liable to trigger a follower to strike.
As far as the actual retrieve cadence goes, a fairly steady pace for muskies with TopRaiders is best most of the time, but I’ve seen the fish respond better at times to a lure that occasionally rips or spurts forward. Always crank a prop style topwater lure extra fast initially in order to get the prop spinning good and to pick the line off the water. Then back off to a medium fast retrieve once the bait’s prop is churning with a strong plopping sound. With lures like the TopRaider, you’ll often notice a perfect speed that creates a loud deep gurgle. This deep gurgle, for some reason, is highly desirable to muskies.
Finish each retrieve with an underwater figure eight, since many muskies follow to boatside. The strikes are explosive to say the least. Spence took several muskies this way while we were filming these episodes.
Follows are an inevitable part of topwater fishing and they can be almost as exciting as the strike itself. The sight of a wake behind your surface bait is sure to give you "weak knees". If you spot a follow, don’t panic. Just keep crankin’ the TR steady. A very slight burst of the reel will create a little additional spurt in the tail rotator. This might be enough to trigger the strike. If not, watch for that fish to smash the bait at boatside.
Some expert topwater anglers like to keep the surface lure on top during the figure 8 and never submerge it. They make extra large, wide turns on their figure 8’s, but always keep it on top. I can’t argue with this tactic if it works. But, I’ve taken some of my biggest trophies with submerged figure 8’s on a topwater lure.
Be careful not to set the hook until the fish actually grabs the lure solidly. One of the biggest mistakes often made while topwater musky fishing is to set the hook as soon as the fish strikes the lure. This rarely works well with muskies and usually results in a missed fish. This is where nerves of steel win the game. Concentrate on maintaining a steady retrieve until you actually feel the rod bend and the weight of the fish on the end of the line. A delayed reaction on the hookset nearly always results in more hookups. Also, try to make all your topwater hooksets with one single sideways sweep. Once your rod is bent, never drop off the pressure and never set twice. Keep hard solid pressure on the fish. This is usually the key to keeping them hooked. If they are running at you on the strike, sweep hard sideways and simultaneously step back a few steps. This is also where the high speed reel comes in handy.
KEEP HOOKS HARPOON SHARP
Finally, always keep the hooks on all your topwater lures extra sharp. Before you even make that first cast, check those hooks for sharpness. Test each hook point on your thumb nail by lightly dragging it downward. It should catch or bite in slightly. If it simply slides off your thumb nail, it is not sharp enough. A few quick strokes with a good quality file is all it takes.
Also, you'll notice that all TopRaiders come with a preattached shrink tubing on the rear treble hook. Without this little add-on, the large rear treble would foul over the rotating tail piece a lot. The shrink tubing enables you to fish a much larger treble hook on the rear end of the lure without fouling. This is key. By the way, it is very easy to replace a bad treble hook or the shrink wrap on this lure. Simply strip the old tubing away with a pocket knife or razor blade. Detach the bad hook. Slide on a new strip of #205 shrink wrap, available at any hardware store, and reattached the hook. Hit the the shrink wrap briefly with a small flame from a Bic butane lighter to shrink it back onto the hook, split ring, and the front side of the lure's back hook hanger and you are ready to go again.