Surf: Tiny Topwaters - The Fisherman

Surf: Tiny Topwaters

The 3-1/2 inch Jumpin’ Minnow is a plug not often seen a bag packed for stripers, but it slays when the fish are keyed on tiny baits.

There’s a time and place for tiny topwater plugs.

When I am targeting large striped bass I will rarely reach for a small plug or plastic. However, there’s some leeway in the definition of ‘large’, particularly at certain times of the season and the start of the striper season certainly qualifies. In April, a 36-incher would be a great fish in southern New England where I fish; fast-forward to mid-May and that fish would be considered average. Setting your expectations to the season is an important step in finding enjoyment throughout the many months when stripers are in residence.

The first step in ‘getting tiny’ is to tailor your rod and reel to the situation, I often use a 7-foot Lamiglas Black Series rod that’s rated for lures up to an ounce, I pair this with a Van Staal VR50 or a Shimano Stradic 5000 – in either case spooled with 30-pound braided line. If I need a little more distance I’ll up my rod to an O.D.M. NXD-935 which is rated 1/2 to 3-1/2 ounces and I pair this with a Tsunami Salt-X 4000 or Shimano Saragossa 5000. Obviously, these are not the only combos that will get the job done, I only mention the specifics to give you a clear picture of what I’m working with. Using these small to medium rods will accentuate the power of ‘medium-sized’ stripers and fish that exceed the slot limit will really give you a run for your money.

My terminal tackle is a slightly pared down version of what I would use in the open surf. I use 30-inch, 40-pound mono leaders attached to my braid with an Albright knot with a 50-pound TA Clip at the other end. If you’re thinking that a 50-pound clip might be too light, there’s a reason for going as light as possible and that’s lure action. Small lures are greatly affected by small changes in weight, so going as small as possible helps to ensure that your lures will perform at their highest potential. This is also why I skip the barrel swivel and choose mono over fluoro – fluorocarbon leader sinks and even that can throw off the action of some of the smallest topwater plugs. If you feel like your plugs are still bogged down, try cutting your clip off and tying direct with a loop knot, I like the Kreh Loop.

Dog Walkers

One of my favorite tiny topwaters is the TopKnock Pencil from Yo-Zuri, they offer two sizes: 4 inches and 5/8 ounces or 5 inches and 1 ounce. I have had great success with the 4-incher any time there was an abundance of small bait at the fish were keying in on size. I like the TopKnock because it’s easy to work and it comes with quality hooks and splits. Another spook-style plug that has crushed fish when the bass were keyed in on small baits is the 3-1/2-inch Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow. This is the little sister of the famous Jumpin’ Minnow you’re probably already using. This little plug needs hook upgrades I use size 2 VMC trebles and size 3 Spro Power Swivels, once retrofitted, it works just like it’s big brother.


My favorite small popper – the Smack-It Jr.– has been tougher to find these days, but Grumpys Tackle in Seaside Park, NJ has a ready supply and you can get them at Surfland in Newburyport, MA as well and both sell them online. This 3-3/4-inch, 3/4-ounce popper makes a very natural pop, features enticing rattles and a tied feather tail—all of these feature combine to make it a killer when stripers are keyed on small bait. Another favorite is the 3-1/2-inch Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Popper. The internal hologram sheeting creates amazing flash and the exaggerated popping mouth really throws some water.  Also keep an eye out this spring for the new Tsunami Tidal Pro iPOP series; the 4-inch model comes with 55-pound Tsunami Prop split rings and #2 Salt X trebles.  These poppers all float adding an aspect of finesse to going tiny. I try to keep my pops on the quieter side, favoring a slow-to-medium retrieve and pepper in occasional pauses for best success.

Pencil Poppers

I’ve been a longtime fan of the Gibbs 1-ounce Pencil and I think any backwater striper bag would be lacking a key piece without one. I rely mostly on solid white, but I’ve also done well on parrot and yellow/white. I upgrade the hooks to 1/0 VMC’s and then it’s good to go. Another pencil I have grown to really like is the Lil’ P from Guppy Lures. Both of these pencils are easy to work and attract lots of attention. The thing I like about having both is that the Gibbs offers a longer, skinnier profile, while the Guppy offers and shorter, stouter silhouette. With pencils, I tend to start slow and increase the speed if a fish boils behind the plug.

Put together a bag of small topwaters and match them to an appropriate-sized rod and reel, you’ll find a new level of enjoyment right away, I can just about guarantee it.



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