For me, it’s all about bite and battle

For more and more anglers, fishing is more about the strike than the fillet knife.

Sure, many fishermen aren’t happy unless they bring home a limit of walleyes, perch or crappies. And many others are pleased to clean a mixed stringer of the fish of the day from their local fishing hole. Tasty fish fries are a big part of our fishing legacy.

But for an increasing number of anglers, catch-and-release fishing is standard operating procedure. And for them, the strike and the fight are the ultimate rewards.

I’m a catch-and-release guy myself. I do enjoy a dinner of walleye or perch, especially if somebody else does the filleting, but I’ve released far more walleyes than I’ve kept over the past 20 years.

The kick I get from fishing is the bite and the battle. And the best bite of all is when a fish crashes a topwater lure.

Fall is a terrific time for surface action. In the interest of full disclosure here, I confess that as you read this column — assuming you stay current with your Vindicator and read it on its publication date — I am getting my fix of topwater fishing.

In my pre-Saturday planning, I rigged rods with two surface lures, in hopes of tricking a Shenango Reservoir largemouth or smallmouth bass. The cooling water temperature and forecast cloudy weather are a great one-two combination for fall topwater action.

It’s the strike that most impresses me about topwater fishing.

Bass bites are fun regardless of your lure or tactic. Anglers thrill at sensations such as the thud of a fish gulping a crankbait, the twitch of a jig or the wiggle of a plastic worm slurped by a largemouth.

But the explosions under or around a topwater lure are incomparable. Nothing prepares an angler for the sudden, and usually violent, attack — an all-out blitz that we can witness with our own eyes and ears.

I’ve seen lily pads shake as a bass charged after my plastic frog. I’ve seen the water bulge like a surfacing submarine behind my buzzbait as I paralleled a rip-rap bank. And I’ve seen bass fly like missiles out of the lake to land mouth first on my Zara Spook or Pop-R.

From ice-out to freeze-up, I always have a rod or two rigged for surface action in the Bass Cat’s locker, ready for action when the situation says it’s topwater time.

The heart-pounding strikes are exciting, but they actually can be a detriment in achieving the goal of getting a hook into the jaw of the fish that strikes. They are so electrifying that all but the coolest of heads will automatically overreact.

Startled to fight-or-flight mode, the brain screams DO SOMETHING! So the angler jerks before the hooks is near flesh, and such a premature hookset rarely connects.

Successful topwater anglers have learned that getting their lure into the right place is the first step of a three-step process. The second step is imparting the right action — noisy or hushed, fast or slow, darting or lazy — so the lure gets a bass to attack. The third step is to make sure the fish has the hooks in its mouth before we jerk.

That’s easier said than done. Calm must prevail. You must wait until you know the fish has the lure where you want it and then pull the trigger.

The resulting solid hook-up is the reason I go fishing. Here’s hoping by the time your coffee is brewed today, I’m already celebrating topwater success.

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