Secrets to Saltwater Topwater Success (Tactics, Timing & Lure Selection)

redfish caught on topwater

Want to catch more fish on topwater lures? Check out these saltwater fishing tips from a top coastal guide.

Few things in fishing create more excitement than a big saltwater predator fish coming from nowhere to devour a topwater lure. Thankfully, beyond maximizing the thrill of every strike, properly used topwater lures produce some of the best saltwater fishing action for inshore species like redfish and spotted seatrout (speckled trout).

Capt. Patric Garmeson of Ugly Fishing Charters in coastal Alabama makes regular use of saltwater topwater lures to deliver exciting fishing action for his clients. We spoke with Garmison, who guides year-round in and around Mobile Bay, about his topwater approach and about the lures he uses to call up the best surface action.

Follow these saltwater fishing tips to tap into fast and exciting fishing action in your area.

Why Topwater?

Morning topwater fishingMorning topwater fishing

Garmeson commonly begins a day with a walking topwater lure on at least one rod for a few different reasons.

First, it’s simply fun. Everyone likes the explosiveness of a surface strike. That only matters if an approach is effective, though. Fortunately, the walking-style topwater lures that Garmeson favors offer outstanding imitations of finger mullet, which are key forage for the redfish and trout that Garmeson is often targeting early in the morning.

When feeding fish break up schools of mullet, the smallest baitfish commonly get separated from the school and pushed to the surface, where they become easy meals for gamefish. A Heddon Spook or Badonk-A-Donk “matches the hatch” in profile and behavior.

Topwater also helps Garmeson locate fish. Walking the dog allows for long casts and rapid presentations, making it practical to cover a lot of water, and the surface action and rattles call fish from farther away.

“Even if a fish won’t quite take the lure, it might slap at it or roll beneath it. That shows me where that fish is, and I can throw a soft plastic or something else and catch that fish,” Garmeson said.

Tactics for Redfish & Speckled Trout

Heddon Spook on waterHeddon Spook on water

It would seem like topwater tactics for redfish and seatrout would be the same, especially when you’re talking only about walking lures. Cast. Walk the bait from side to side. Wait for the blow-up. While the general approach is the same and Garmeson’s clients catch plenty of trout when they are targeting redfish and vice versa, understanding distinction between the species and their preferences makes the approach more productive.

For trout, Garmeson generally throws a Spook, and his preferred Spook model for most conditions is the One Knocker Spook, which makes dull thud.

He most often fishes topwater for trout early in the day and is somewhat unlikely to grab his Spook rod for trout through the middle of the day unless he sees fish chasing bait on the surface. He also favors calm conditions or a light chop for topwater seatrout.

Garmeson’s walking bait of choice for redfish is a Badonk-A-Donk Hp, which has a loud high-pitched rattle and a thicker profile than a Spook. He wants to send a loud rattling sound to call up redfish and hear his bait over the sound of the chop on the water. Chop related, Garmeson definitely favors more of it when redfish are the main attraction.

“I like topwater for redfish best when I can’t really walk the bait smoothly; when the chop makes it extra erratic,” Garmeson said.

Garmeson also will keep a Badonk-A-Donk rigged all day on many days when he his fishing redfish waters and will cast it periodically, even if the fish aren’t showing themselves. Experience has shown that if he walks a bait near a redfish, it’s going to eat.

Walking the Dog

Patric Garmeson - Topwater redfish catchPatric Garmeson - Topwater redfish catch

Garmeson’s basic presentation is a classic side-to-side walking motion, achieved with repeated twitches of the rod tip.

While the cadence is largely rhythmic, Garmeson has found that little variances make a big difference in catch rates some days.

“I might do 10 or 12 twitches and then pause it for a moment. Often a fish will be following it, and when the bait stops and starts again, they’ll eat it,” Garmeson said. “Sometimes I’ll speed it up a little to act like it’s fleeing and that will trigger a strike.”

Garmeson has learned that it is important to mix up the rhythm, the lengths of rod movements and the pace, and to pay attention to variances and the fish’s response.

“When you get that strike, you want to know what triggered it,” he said.

Color Considerations

Angler showing topwater lureAngler showing topwater lure

Because mullet are the primary forage Garmeson seeks to match with his Spooks and Badonk-A-Donks, he generally favors colors that have flashy metallic sides and reflect light like a baitfish does.

If trout are the primary targets, he often like a color that includes plenty of pink. That’s not intended to match something specific. Time has simply shown him that seatrout eat pink lures, so he doesn’t argue with what works.

Similarly, redfish tend to like gold-sided lures and color patterns that feature orange, so his go-to color patten for redfish is Gold/Black Back/Orange Belly.

Garmeson will experiment with a handful of proven colors. Varying light conditions and water color certainly impact how fish see and respond to baits. Often, though, his standby colors (listed below with favored lures) end up getting the nod.

Patric’s Top Topwater Lures

2 topwater walking lures2 topwater walking lures

Mobile Bay Area Fishing

Patric Garmeson with Speckled TroutPatric Garmeson with Speckled Trout

Ugly Fishing Charters provides year-round fishing adventures in the Mobile Bay area, working from well up tributary river systems to the Gulf Coast outside the bay, fishing for redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, flounder, cobia and much more, depending on the season, conditions and anglers’ interests.

Capt. Patric Garmeson has been guiding since 2010 and fishing the Mobile Bay area for more than 30 years. He is the current state record holder for sheepshead and is a regular reporter and podcast/radio guest for multiple media outlets, specializing in Alabama coastal fishing.

Uglyfishing.com provides detailed information about year-round fishing trip offerings and about how to catch more fish.

Additional Saltwater Fishing Tips from Lurenet.com

Top to Bottom for Redfish & Trout

Minnow Baits for Multi-Species Success in Coastal Waters

Topwaters and Popping Corks for Outstanding Inshore Action

Use Poppers to Catch More Summer Bluefish

Alabama Gulf CoastAlabama Gulf Coast