gibbs pencil popper

Topwater Tactics for Massachusetts Striped Bass

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Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like watching a fish blow up on your topwater lure or fly. The same rush that attracts freshwater trout fly anglers presenting dry flies also attracts saltwater anglers targeting stripers. Here are some tactics, lure/fly selections, and presentations that are deadly for topwater action with stripers or bluefish.

Light Tackle:

Light tackle topwater striper fishing is so much fun! You never know if a schoolie or a cow will hit your top water until you feel that first run! We use medium to medium-heavy (rated 14-20lbs) spinning rods with extra fast to fast action for most of our topwater light tackle fishing. The most important part of light tackle topwater fishing is to provide the proper presentation for that lure being used and to start fishing it as soon as it hits the water. The next most important aspect to topwater light tackle fishing is not to set the hook until you feel pressure on the rod. I can’t emphasize this enough, and we watch clients miss topwater fish all the time trying to set as soon as they see the surface explosion! All mono line on your setup can help some with too early sets as it stretches and gives a slight advantage.

Below are some good topwater light tackle striped bass lures.

Cigar shaped topwater lures (like Heddon Spook/Super Spook)

Heddon Super Spook topwater striped bass lure

Heddon super spook is a classic example of a cigar shaped topwater lure that works for almost any species. At home as much in the northeast for striped bass as it is in the tropics for roosterfish or even freshwater for largemouth bass, the spook is just fun to use even when it’s not getting hit!

The presentation for this lure is called “walking the dog” and is pretty unique to these styles of lures. The video below shows the technique and presentation for walking the dog using cigar shaped lures.

Unweighted Soft Plastics


hogy unweighted original soft plastic

Unweighted soft plastics such as the Hogy Originals when rigged with unweighted swimbait hooks (suggest using one with a bait keeper) are deadly on everything from schoolies to cows. Rig one up following the directions of whichever you choose, cast it out, and retrieve it. Vary the retrieve speed, pausing, and jerking motions as you fish these. They all have great action in the water and the most subtle change in the retrieve can be the difference between no fish that day and fish on every cast. My favorite colors are all white, all black, and pink.

Surf Casting:

Surf casting gives you a little more flexibility on sizes and weights of what you’re presenting to the fish. As the old adage goes, big bait = big fish, a lot of surf rods can easily cast 3-4 oz plugs for what seems like a mile. Big plugs are also a good way to tease out a cow from under a bunch of schoolies. One of my largest surf stripers was casting a pencil popper like the one below out past a pile of rocks, then watching it get blown up on time and time again by schoolies that just weren’t able to open their mouths big enough to get around the larger treble hooks. A nice 44″ striped bass was also interested and could!

Pencil Popper

cordell pencil popper


This is the Cordell Pencil Popper, which has been a standard plug in any surfcaster’s arsenal for a long time. These can be loaded with mineral oil, sand, water, or other materials to make them a little heavier to cast and give them a little different action. The presentation here is to hold the line above the reel, so it doesn’t knot up on the reel, then slowly retrieve and shake the rod to impart an erratic action on the popper. Medium action and glass rods are great for this application, but any rod will work if you adjust your technique until you get great action. I’ll leave it up to the surfcasting expert John Skinner to explain the best possible way to fish with pencil poppers.

Little Necks

gibbs polaris popper

These Super Strike Little Necks are a fun plug to work through the surf and can be deadly on topwater striped bass. You want to make sure you get the floating models if you are looking for surface action. The presentation here is a slow popping retrieve taking care to keep contact with the plug at all times. I’ll leave it to the expert John Skinner to show the best possible presentation of these great plugs.

Metal Lip Surface Swimmers

Danny Surface Swimmer

Slow and steady is the name of the game when fishing with Danny style surface swimmers. The above is a Gibbs Danny Surface Swimmer. Cast it out, let it sit for a short bit, then start slowly reeling it back. You will feel the action in the rod and can probably see the nice wake these leave behind them. Again back to the expert video below.

Cigar Shaped Surface Swimmer

gibbs glider

Much like the cigar shaped above, this Gibbs Glider is just a larger version of the Heddon Spook above (which can also be used with a surf rod). The presentation here is the exact same walk the dog as the above.

Fly Fishing:

Time to break out the floating line and mono leaders, top water on the fly is about as much fun as it gets. Here in the Boston and Cape areas, we have relatively colder water so a good colder water floating fly line, such as the Airflo Striper Floating, is a good choice. Stripping baskets aren’t as necessary with floating line, but will still help if there is a lot of current or stuff in the water. Throw on a nice 6′ tapered leader, tie on one of the below flies, cast it, and start doing short aggressive strips to make a commotion on the surface. This works best when it’s calmer water, but can work even in a moderate chop.

Banger Fly

chartreusse banger fly for topwater striper action


Gurgler Fly

chartruesse gurgler fly

Tight Lines,

-Captain Nick