By Jim Saric: One of the most common questions I get asked is “When’s the best time to fish topwater?” If I had to pick, the time would be early fall. Specifically, this period can be narrowed down based upon water temperatures ranging from 65-58 degrees. Over the years I still stick with this temperature range as my favorite, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch them in cooler or warmer water temperatures. In fact, I rarely go on a fall trip without a few topwater lures in the boat, no matter what the water temperature.
When the water temperatures begin to drop in early fall and you start to notice the first color in the trees, make a mental note that the topwater bite is most likely going to start. As the fall progresses the topwater bite will get stronger and even under post frontal or miserable weather conditions the topwater will shine. Just consider the fact that this lure is slow moving and stays within the musky’s strike zone longer than other lures, so it is a perfect fit for fall fishing.
The effectiveness of topwater in fall depends on weather conditions as well as the type of topwater lure. Warming trends for a couple days or a few hours, along with muskies using shallow weed or rock cover are a plus. Warm air temperatures and light winds are cues that a topwater may be the right choice. Prop style topwaters are spectacular at this time; however, muskies tend to prefer different topwater sounds on different waters, so experiment with various prop style topwaters to determine which is most effective. As the water temperatures begin to drop, don’t abandon the topwater, particularly if the muskies continue to follow jerkbaits. I am a firm believer that the side-to-side topwater lures are superior as the temperatures drop below 58 degrees. However, in the 65-58 degree range every lake has idiosyncrasies and the muskies tend to prefer certain topwater styles. Sometimes they want the prop styles and others the side-to-side. You just have to experiment and let the fish tell you what you want. One thing to remember regardless when fishing a topwater is to keep the lure moving slowly, trying varying speeds, but slow is usually the way to go.
Over the years, my views on shallow water muskies, regardless of the season, really focuses on the fact that if they are in shallow cover they can be caught on any shallow running lures. Topwaters are an excellent slow presentation for muskies that may be holding in shallow cover as a result of either local weather conditions or some type of baitfish movement. In either case, don’t leave home in the fall without a few topwaters in your boat. The great part about this option is that if you have a spot that has been holding fish, it usually only takes a couple casts to determine if they are going on topwater. If they are most likely you will have all those fish to yourself! That’s a great advantage to have any time of year.