08/21/09 — Topwater lure drums up its own business

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Topwater lure drums up its own business

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on August 21, 2009 1:46 PM

There are plenty of fishing guides across the state. While most of them fish high-profile waters, Capt. Jeff Cronk of Fish'n 4 Life Charters fishes the secretive backwaters of Swansboro.

Their solitude is deceptive because these waters are home to the same highly-sought gamefish that attract big crowds of anglers. Notable among them is North Carolina's state fish -- the red drum.

Lots of anglers catch a couple of redfish. But Cronk's Ranger Bay Boat hosts a virtual parade of red drum. One key to his success is special lure which drums up business at the end of his line.

"I know what you want to cast," Cronk said as I boarded. "Nothing will do but a topwater lure."

Of course he was correct.

Most anglers after large numbers of red drum use live or cut baits rigged on float rigs and bottom rigs, or scented or unscented soft plastic trailers hooked on jigs. These are the tried and true tactics for those who seek either multiple releases or want to keep a slot-sized fish. (The red drum creel limit is one fish per angler measuring between 18 and 27 inches in length).

I've caught so many redfish over the years I prefer the excitement and challenge of fooling them with topwater lure or fly. Cronk also likes catching big redfish with a topwater lure.

"So many anglers can't get the hang of a topwater lure, but it's one of the best for a sight-fishing expedition," he said. "Our oyster beds are holding schools of 500 to 750 redfish. We're going to see them pushing up wakes or sticking their tails and backs out of the water chasing bait ... in a few inches of water."

Idling the motor on his Ranger Bay boat, Cronk slipped into range of a school of redfish using his trolling motor. Keeping an eye on their rummaging along an oyster bed, he switched down his Power Pole to stop the boat.

The uneasy redfish slipped away across a sandbar.

The first few casts resulted in no takers of the MirrOlure Top Dog lure Cronk tied to my line, even when I retrieved it in the classic style. The Top Dog is a "walk-the-dog" lure, retrieved with a turn of the reel and a twitch of the rod. The angler imparts life to the otherwise inanimate lure, flip-flopping like a wounded mullet. It can be retrieved either fast or slow, depending on the gait of the angler's wrist and the mood of the fish. Switching to a faster retrieve rhythm elicited a strike.

"You should be O.K. on that oyster bed," Cronk said as I worked the fish.

The explosion of water from the strike of a 10-pound red set my arms to trembling as I held the rod tip high, and tried to keep the fish from scrubbing the lure against razor-edged shell. Despite my best efforts, the line went slack.

Cronk hooked a redfish using a Berkley Gulp Pogy scent-impregnated lure hooked on a jig. The result was the same -- an oyster cut line. Then the reds left the area.

"The tide's too low," he said. "I rarely have cut-offs. But when there's so little water, a fish will occasionally cut the line."

Cronk headed for another area and found one of his personal schools of redfish. But another boat saw the action and moved too near as 500 reds milled right beside Cronk's deployed Power Pole. Although tantalizingly close, the skittish fish melted away into the marsh.

"I found a new school the other day," said Cronk. "Let's try them out."

Along a non-descript bank, Cronk again dropped his Power Pole. I made one cast, then another. The hard steel ball inside the Top Dog drummed up a customer as a redfish strike jarred my arm all the way up to my elbows.

"Keep the rod tip high!" Cronk shouted. "That's a nice redfish."

After several powerful runs, the 7-pound redfish spent his energy enough to be landed for a photo. It was the first of many we would boat from the school of more than 100 fish. Some struck a scented soft lure. Others gave us the ultimate inshore fishing thrill, striking a topwater lure that drummed up its own business by a sound chamber hidden inside.