The Woodsman Magazine

Hiding In Surface Film

Fish are known to be creatures of edges.

But when most anglers think of edges, they think dropoffs, weed edges, or maybe places where big boulders transition to smaller rocks and gravel.

Too often, the surface—where water meets air—is not exploited to full advantage.

Inventive fishermen spend lifetimes trying to come up with a way to camouflage the fact that their lure has hooks attached to it, and typically other unnatural things like line and perhaps a tooth-defying leader. Especially in clear water environments, big fish do seem to have some sense that contributes to refusing a presentation they can study while following behind it.

Encounter the right fish in the right mood and these things don’t seem to matter. But big fish are rarely in such moods, so making good use of the surface film is often a good idea, and brings strikes from fish that would otherwise study your offering visually if given the chance.

Power of Impressionism

The real value of the surface film is that it obscures the fish’s view of your lure and all the other stuff (hooks, snap, leader, line) you want to hide. If you move your lure along making it look like an injured something that’s trying to get away, that draws the attention of big fish. The vibrations of such a presentation are detected from a good distance by predators, and identified as a possible easy meal.

(You want fish to detect the presence of your bait, but not you. It’s often important to make long casts after making a stealthy approach to the area. Give the fish credit for being able to sense the lure is there, even if you don’t create a huge ruckus with it. Often, even when a lure lands softly and creates just slight ripples, predator fish are turned and facing it before you click the reel shut and start the presentation.)

You often get a dramatically different reaction to a lure swimming below the surface, compared to one that’s squirting along, pushing water ahead of itself, acting injured while obscured by the broken surface.

Essentially, if a fish wants to ‘sample’ the lure that’s offering only an impressionistic picture while partially hidden in the surface film, it has to commit and hit.

Many predator fish learn to use the surface as a hard wall against which to herd potential prey. So when they spot something struggling against the surface film, it presents an image they know as battle almost won before it begins.

“To catch any fish, much less one that’s been around the block a few times,” says Rapala’s Mark Fisher, “you have to fool its senses. The sense of sight is a big one.”

Wide Application

Even though we mentioned clear water, this presentation style is effective in stained and even downright dirty water, too. When the fish’s vision is always iffy, they learn to trust the signature vibrations of prey struggling along in the surface film.

The effectiveness of lures in the surface film crosses the boundaries of freshwater into salt, as well. Predator fish, be they muskies, monster bass, pike, walleyes, stripers, redfish, snook and more, will take lures moving through the film.

Subtle lures such as the original floating Rapala can be deliberately fished in the film. Some anglers save a special tray in their tackle box for lures that lose their diving lips in savage collisions with feisty fish, knowing that they no longer dive below the surface. Others cut off portions of the diving lip on Super Shad Raps to modify them for in-film presentations.

Still other lures, like the Skitter Pop, Skitter Prop and Skitter Walk, can be fished as is in the surface. The new Twitchin’ Rap is also deadly when held shallow so most of its movements are obscured by the surface edge.

Whatever tool you choose, the key to triggering strikes is to experiment with a variety of presentation styles. On some days, they will want it moved fast. Other days, slower. Sometimes, erratic is the ticket. Other times, steadier. Borderline panic can, at times, be magic. Slightly more controlled panic might be more effective at certain times, and you only find out if you try it.

Because fish are generally more accurate when attacking lures that are moving slower and steadier, at least try that at almost every spot you fish. Even on fish with a reputation for wanting the bait moving fast, give them that option. If you always reel as fast as possible, and chug and twist the bait in unpredictable rhythms, you are asking the fish to clamp down on a difficult target.

All fishing rules are meant to be broken. Every fishing day should be treated like a big experiment. Try different things, and see what works. As they say, the fish will ‘tell’ you when you get it right.

This season, use the surface to full advantage. Move your lures along in the film, keeping them partially hidden, obscuring the line and hooks and anything else that might cause fish to refuse the offering. Give the fish only an impressionistic view of what might be an easy meal, and you can force them to strike in order to find out if it’s what they desire or not.

As an angler, that’s all you can ask for.

Note: This article was crafted by the Rapala Pro Staff. For more fishing insights, go to

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