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Successful Surface Hooksets
by Ronnie Pettit

This article is about getting back to basics with topwater to improve yout hooksetting ratio with topwaters. So, without further ado, here's a good one by Ronnie....

WHAM! There he is! Did you see that?! BLAM! There he is again! Rats! He missed it! What are you going to do? KERSPLASH! Whoa! He's not on yet! The raw excitement of that moment will make even the most seasoned fishermen a nervous wreck if he is not prepared for it.

Unquestionably, the top water strike is the most intense adrenaline surge in fishing. To anglers, that top water surface explosion equals skydiving, drag racing, and crocodile wrestling - all compressed into a split second.

It's an intense moment. The angler who can confidently pop or walk his favorite topwater lure can fully expect to see mad bass suddenly explode on his bait with malice. As the moments go by, the angler's anticipation builds. He watches his lure intensely as it splash through choice cover...anticipating it...and then, KA-BLAM! It still comes as a surprise. The adrenaline pumps through his veins as a thousand thoughts collide in his mind. In an instant, he overreacts the only way his startled mind and body can. He drills a lightning fast hookset followed by a lure sailing through the air back at the angler without a fish attached. This is the way anglers react - and the poor results they get so many times. They simply react so fast that the fish never gets to grab the bait, and if they do it is likely to be ripped out. But that's not what necessarily needs to happen...

I'd like to tell you about successful surface hooksetting techiques that I have discovered through my own passion for top water fishing. Ways in which I consistently hook and land topwater bass. My views on this may not fit with the current school of thought - but it's what my personal experiences with topwaters have taught me. I'd like to teach you about it too. But first, I would like to change your mind. Please read on...

First, change your mental picture. I know some anglers that rarely ever connect on a top water. Their problem is the mental image they have of topwater fishing. Their thinking is "Blast back when a bass blasts you." It's not their fault. It's the way they've been taught. It's the current school of thought.

Therefore, I believe the major barrier to successful top water hooksets is mental. If you can change the mental images and thoughts you currently have about topwater fishing, then you will start to hook and land more fish.

I can change your mental image and improve your topwater success with just one word. CRANKBAIT. That's it. Change your mental image of that top water lure to a crankbait - it will improve your hooksets. I promise.

Stay with me, I’ll explain. Many anglers have come to believe that when fish blow up on a top water lure the only proper thing to do is to respond with a hookset of equal violence. Some of us just can’t help ourselves. That lightning fast jerk is just the natural thing to do. Some are caught by surprise by the explosion, while others feel as though they must set that hook fast before the fish spits out the bait.

I say to resist the impulse of making that reflex hookset. Think about that crankbait. With crankbaits, we now use rods that have softer actions that actually cushions the hookset. Think about that. We use a rod that, among other things, is designed to prevent the angler from tearing the lure away from the fish by pulling too hard. This takes place how many feet under the surface under how many gallons of water? With today’s ultra sharp treble hooks all that is really needed to hook a fish on an exposed treble is steady pressure. Save the superman hookset for worm or jig fishing. In your mind, treat that top water lure much the way you would a crankbait you will improve your hookups.

Second, change your technique. Plan ahead. Know in your mind how you are going to respond to that BA-BAM! Convince yourself that the violent splashing on top of your lure is your starting cue to begin. The fish trying to eat your offering is saying “hello” not “goodbye.”

Wait. Wait. Wait. It has to be the hardest thing in fishing to do but learn it. Get beyond the impulse to jerk that rod. Fishing at night is a good way to help improve your waiting and force yourself to wait to feel that fish before you set the hook. In fact, even at times during daylight hours I will fish several casts with my eyes closed. It teaches me to learn the feel of my bait working through the water. I do not have to see it to know if it is working properly. It also forces me to feel a fish before I can set the hook. A fish could be all over the bait but until he grabs it I keep it working. Learning to work your top waters with your eyes closed will also make you much more comfortable the next time you are night fishing.

Wait until you feel the pull of that fish or at least until you see your line moving to set the hook. Seeing the bait knocked under is not enough. If your bait is bashed under the surface, but you still do not feel that fish, do not set the hook - just pull enough to determine if he is there. In this way, you can continue working the bait and have a good chance of hooking up. But if you made a full-blown hookset, all you've accomplished is to move the bait far away from the fish and your chances of casting back in and catching that fish go way down. Just last week I had a fish pull my bait about two feet under the surface. I was amazed that he was not hooked. Without panic, knowing the fish was there, I began “walking the dog” under water! Not only did I catch a fish but a bigger fish than the one that missed.

When you feel that fish, your response should be methodical and controlled, not wild and crazy. I believe that the best hookset movement is to the side at about waist to chest high. Science tells us that a rod held in a high position is at its weakest point of leverage. Another reason for a low hookset is the ability to control the fish. Many times a largemouth hooked on a top water lure will jump almost instantly. By setting the hook to the side and at a low to medium height it is much easier to keep that fish down. Fishing heavy cover may change that scenario, however always try to maintain constant pressure on the fish. With the amazingly sharp hooks we have available today, constant pressure is all that is needed. In most every case, when a fish grabs your lure he is hooked. All we have to do is get him to the boat. When that fish hits and you feel him simply bring your rod slightly up and to the side almost as you would with a carolina rig or crankbait and meet him half way. If that fish has your lure in his mouth he has turned and headed back for the dinning room. Plan ahead. Know in advance that when you feel him you are methodically going to bring your rod up and to the side and apply hard, steady pressure while reeling. Practice until it becomes instinct. Then the only thing you'll have to worry about is where the net is.


  1. Change your mindset. Treat your top water lures like you do your crankbaits - Set your hooks gentle but firm.
  2. Don't blast back. Resist the natural reflex action to set the hook based on the visual stimuli- BLAM!
  3. It will still be a surprise but stay in control. Wait until you feel the fish - if you don't feel him, just keep working the bait - expect to get blasted again.
  4. Rod to one side - bring it up slightly to meet him halfway while reeling to apply pressure - like you do with your crankbait.
  5. Know in advance how you will react - set the hook in a controlled manner - put yourself in a position to control the fish - expect it to jump immediately

Take some of these techniques that I have discovered, practice them, and combine them with your own experience and develop your own style. There is not just one correct way.

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