“Got any threes?”

“Got any threes?”
Got any threes? Here’s three sets of three plugs to match a wide variety of conditions and fish feeding attitudes. Note that colors are arranged from lighter to natural to higher-contrast. For calm-shallow and when the fish show preference for smaller forage: SS Jr. in bone, Skitter Walk SW08 (known to many as a “Baby” Skitter Walk) in Shad Translucent, SS Jr. in Black Shore Shad. In-between in size and voice: Rapala Skitter Walk SSW11 in bone (white) fitted with single hooks, SS One Knocker in Okie Shad, MirrOlure Top Dog Jr. in 808, black-gold-orange. The big and nasty for choppy and deeper water: MirrOlure She Dog in bone/chrome, SS in Okie shad, SS in black shore shad. The author believes strongly in bright red gill flares and that middle trebles are “desperately not needed.” Single hooks are less dangerous to angler’s hands and do not snag as much floating grass.
My first topwater experiences weren't even with a real topwater, it was a Cotton Cordell Broken Back Redfin. The shock and awe was certainly real enough, though. With almost no clue how to work the thing at first, we soon discovered that by keeping it on the surface our fish tended to be larger, not to mention larger than life. Instead of just feeling a strike, we got to actually see and hear the violence dangerous stuff that can lead to compulsive behavior and even addiction in extreme cases. Some call it Surface Junkie Syndrome, and while there is yet no proven cure, fishing often and for long periods is often prescribed for temporary relief of symptoms.

A lot has changed since those early learning years. Topwater fishing is now much easier and we sometimes even have a bit of a clue what we are doing these days. What hasn't changed is how stiff your neck hairs still get when your plug gets broadsided by a large and angry fish. Now if we could only decide which one to throw and when and how to work it.

Back to that old Redfin, all we really knew in the beginning was to just chunk it as far as we could and then jerk it around until something hit it. Something eventually would and, when it did, the explosion itself was worth all the punishment your shoulders and elbows took from flogging those old seven and a half foot blunderbuss rods all day with stretchy rubber band line. We didn't know whether to keep the lure on top, pull it down hard or slow or do a combination of it all, but whatever we tried commanded a lot of effort and often many hours of nothingness. The learning was as fun as the catching though, and soon enough the fish got consistently bigger and so did those addictive explosions. Things kept getting better.

When the stick-type baits finally made their way into our boxes we thought we had won the big fish lottery but the physical punishment became even worse trying to "walk the dog" all day as all the supposed expertly-written articles of that era demanded we should. Those old popping rods were much better suited for a rod holder, but somehow we still got it done.

Mann's Dancer was a great plug, but it was soon forced aside to make way for the Rebel Jumpin' Minnow, and that's about all we used all year round except during the most brutal winter sessions. At first it was either black or blue on back with silver sides, and then somebody figured out that a plug chewed down to plain bone was the best thing to ever happen at the end of a rod. Who would ever need another lure?

Enter modern times. With shorter and ridiculously lighter rods, plus braided line and a plethora of good surface lures to choose from, topwater fishing has now become near effortless. What used to take rabid arm flailing is now reduced to mere flicks of the wrist. The new problem most beginners face today is deciding which plug to use, when to use it, which color and why, and how to work the darn thing in the first place. In trying to keep things simple I am remorsefully reduced to a little dock joke that has ended up as a sort of go-to phrase around our camp lately.

A while back At El Jefe's Cantina and Marina here in Port Mansfield, one of the more colorful locals swaggered up (quite happy with his physical and mental condition at the time I might add), and asked, "You got any threes?"

Naturally I had to inquire what the Hell he meant; which then prompted his punch line, "Ha-Ha... That's what I figured... Go Fish!"

OK, it was funny at the time, especially with the generously imbibed inflection, but these days "Got any threes?" simply means it's time to go fishing. Now, as for how all of this relates to topwaters, and in trying to keep things simple, we really only need about three classes of them to cover most all situations on the water. Let's go there, but with the agreement that most lure discussions are individually owned and that your results may certainly vary.

To me (and with thousands of additional man hours watching others), what matters most about topwater fishing besides getting on fish is simply the level of presentation. If we have three basic plugs with us we can usually come close to what it takes for the moment. We basically just need something delicate, something strong, and then something in between. We also need about three basic color schemes out of everything available; something light, something dark, and something consistent with the more natural baitfish patterns. There is a huge difference between fishing and fishing well, so let's try, and let's start small.

Depending on available forage and water conditions, a smaller presentation can wreck shop on even bigger fish. If they're on shrimp for example, and in shallow and calm water, large and loud plugs can often run them off instead of calling them up. Please understand there is a very fine line between being enticing and threatening. The junior-sized Super Spook and Skitter Walk (SW08) do very well here. A lighter-colored plug such as bone, plus a more natural-colored bait like Okie Shad or speckled trout, and perhaps a darker or louder-colored version such as black or chartreuse will do just about everything we need to do. As a general rule; lighter-colored and flashier baits do well on sunnier days, darker or louder-colored baits during cloudier periods, and more natural/neutral lures in clean water.

You really can't go wrong with intermediate-sized lures for most applications. These would be the Skitter Walk (SSW11), Top Dog Jr, and our most recent froth-at-the-mouth favorite... the Heddon One Knocker. The One Knocker is right between a Super Spook Jr. and a full-sized Super Spook. Again though, something light, something dark, and something more natural leaves little left but your own twitching skill.

There are times when we need a more grandiose presentation, such as in high chop or in nasty water clarity. Here we need something that draws lots of attention, so bring the big guns out. The full-sized Super Spook is standard here, as are the obnoxious and loud-mouthed She Dog and He Dog from MirrOlure that sound more like angry spray paint cans than fishing lures when worked aggressively.

One of the most common questions I get from new topwater guys is, "How do I work it?" I'm sorry, but that's like asking Leonardo De Vinci how to work a paintbrush. You do what you need to do to make them hit it, and that can vary from hour to hour. Many people subscribe to a monotonous retrieve akin to a chugging single-cylindered Briggs&Stratton. Don't get me wrong, there are times for that, but again, there is a big difference between fishing and fishing well. Let the fish tell you and be prepared for the accidental and unexpected.

Just last week for example, Tricia and I with our clients were on a great topwater bite; lots of blowups at first but few hookups. Somebody stopped their plug to wipe their glasses and seconds later almost had their rod jerked from under their arm. We found out, by accident, they wanted long pauses... almost dead-sticking, and we all had a tremendous day.

Winter is here but never place too much stock in that old adage that says, early and late spring and fall, for fishing up top. There is no one right way to work them, we just need to have about three basic sizes and then be intuitive about how strong (or soft) our presentation needs to be. There will be some extreme fish caught on the surface this month, so I gotta ask"Got any threes?"