Surface lures can provide some of the most exciting fishing possible. At Roberts, it is our favorite method, but of course we have a slight bias. This useful hint page will provide you with some of our observations on how to best use surface lures.
For Bluefish in a choppy sea or rips, a moderate retrieve speed is plenty fast. Slowing the lure down combined with slight rod tip action is frequently very effective in enhancing the action of the Ranger series, which includes the Big Shot, Bounder and Whistler. In calm conditions, a very fast retrieve with little or no rod action can be the most effective method. We have proven this to ourselves in several experiments with both colors and retrieves to catch Blues last June on the Vineyard.
We get these same fast retrieve feedback from anglers fishing for Roosterfish and Jack Crevalle at Cabo San Lucas. So we'll rubber-stamp his observations for those species.
We've observed that some species strike better at a slower retrieve. Striped Bass on the East Coast, and the various Groupers and Snapper species of the West Coast are in this category. Our lures do not float, but even a very slow retrieve keeps them on the surface. The Bounder has a flatter profile than the Ranger, which keeps it on the surface at very slow retrieves. We've found it to be especially productive for Stripers. Even through it is lighter, at 1 3/4 oz., it will cast almost as far as the heavier Ranger. When targeting Stripers, we prefer the slowest possible retrieve while keeping the lure on the surface. We combine gentle rod tip action. We don't find that creating a lot of commotion with the lure to be especially helpful. Remember that Stripers like rocks or other obstructions, as do the groupers and snappers.
We have some other observations when using a floating surface lure. Some good floating plugs include the new ATOM cedar foam popper and the several Gibbs wooden poppers. Let the lure sit there with only a gentle, periodic retrieve action can be very effective for Stripers. It may be that this is effective for the bass species in general. I've had very good luck on small mouth bass with freshwater poppers using the technique.
Another hint is that when casting to breaking fish, especially fish that can turn quickly such as bass, cast behind the fish, not in front. Apparently the curiosity factor is what happens here. In front of the bass, the targeted quarry remains the focus point, and usually a lure dropped there doesn't attract the bass. We'd be interested to hear from you of your experiences with other species.
Now the disclaimer. Remember that we're talking generalities here based on either our own experiences or that of fishing buddies. Always experiment with colors, retrieves and techniques!