We reached out to 15 of the country’s top guides and pros—you know, the guys who get paid to reel in largemouths, smallmouths, trout, crappie, cats, walleyes, striped bass, and more—and asked them about what they rely on most to catch big fish come summer. Here are their answers. You’d better clear room in your tackle box.
1. Bomber Badonk-A-Donk SS
“My go-to for nighttime tarpon in the summer is Bomber’s Badonkadonk SS,” says Captain Robert Trosset, a Florida tarpon captain. “It sinks slowly and has a really natural action underwater when you start twitching. For whatever reason, when the tarpon in the channels won’t touch anything else, I’ll get a fish to hit one of these lures.”
2. Heddon Sonar
“Blade baits are very underrated but I catch a lot of smallmouth on them in the summer, particularly the Heddon Sonar,” says Frank Campbell, a New York smallmouth guide. “Any time you mark bass over a rock pile, just lift high and drop the lure on a tight line. You’ll catch a lot of them on the fall.”
3. Missing Link
California trout guide Mike Mercer’s Missing Link is able to stand out—even among rafts of naturals. A new green drake variation is available this year.
4. Havoc Pit Boss
“When I fish deep for bass in the summertime, I shorten the body of the Havoc Pit Boss and use it as a trailer on a 3/4-ounce football jig,” says Ohio bass pro Fletcher Shyrock. “I rip the heavy jig over the bottom with long, upward rod sweeps. The fast lift and fall, combined with the Pit Boss’s flapping appendages, draw reaction strikes.”
It’s hard to peg Georgia guide Kent Klewein’s pattern for any one thing—it just looks buggy. You can dress it up and fish it dry, float it like a nymph, or attach it as a “stinger” fly behind a streamer.
6. Dead Drift Crayfish
The big crayfish pattern, designed by California trout guide Tim Haddon, dredges big brown trout out of slow, deep runs. Let it sink and flutter lazily over the bottom. Meat eaters can’t refuse that much protein.
7. Work Glove with Rubber Palm
“You’re bare hands will look like raw hamburger after grabbing a dozen big flatheads—and that’s not fun,” says Marty Jenkins, a Tennessee noodling guide. “I don't go grabbling to prove anything, so I wear fish-cleaning or gardening gloves with the rubber coating on the palm. They're flexible enough to feel fish, but will keep you from getting cut.”
8. 7-Inch Swin’n Raider
“The 7-inch Swin N’ Raider by Joe Bucher Outdoors is a real sleeper for summertime muskies,” says Red Childress, a Pennsylvania muskie guide. “I think this lure works so well because it offers a more realistic texture than other baits, so when a sluggish muskie hits, it hangs on. It’s also very easy to work, has a really lifelike action, and doesn’t cost a fortune.”
9. Big Bite Top Toad
“I’ll cast a chartreuse-swirl Big Bite Top Toad rigged on a 4/0 extra wide gap hook right against the bank, then work it over the top of lily pads and submerged grass,” says Massachusetts bass guide Greg Miner. “I use a slow, stop-and-go retrieve across the vegetation, then once the frog reaches open water, I’ll let it float motionless on top for several seconds. That’s often when a big largemouth sucks it in.”
10. Southern Pro Tackle Hustler
“Crappies will hold behind stumps and rocks on the bottom when current is being generated at the upstream dam,” says Steve McCadams, a veteran guide on Kentucky Lake. “So, I’ll cast a Southern Pro Tackle Hustler tube bait rigged on a 1/16-ounce jighead upstream at an angle, then reel slowly so it swims downstream like a small minnow. The crappie rush out and grab it!”
11. No. 8 Rapala X-Rap
“Everyone thinks you have to throw bait chunks or metal lures to mahi that stack up around lobster pot buoys in the summer, but the truth is my number-one mahi killer is a small plug,” says Captain Eric Kerber of New Jersey. “I do the best with a No. 8 Rapala X-Rap. They cast easy, they swim well, and there’s nothing like seeing a mahi blast one on the pause.”
12. Fork Tackle Craw Tube
“Summer bass stack up in these little ditches like cordwood,” says Texas bass pro Kelly Jordan. “I’ll rig a Lake Fork Tackle Craw Tube on a 5/0 wide gap hook below a pegged 3/16-ounce sinker, then work my way methodically along submerged ditches in the murky tributaries of lowland reservoirs, pitching the creature to every brushpile and stump along the way. Lunker bass are in this cover feeding on crayfish, and if you hit it right, you can load the boat in short order.”
13. Carp Bitter
The newest, hottest carp fly comes from the original trash fish guru—Colorado carp and pike guide, Barry Reynolds. It’s a twist on a bonefish pattern, with crayfish-imitating color and action.
14. No. 12 Rapala Deep Husky Jerk
“For catching big walleyes anywhere, I’d have to go with a fire tiger No. 12 Rapala Deep Husky Jerk,” says FLW Walleye Tour Angler of the Year Tom Keenan. “I cast them after dark or pull them behind planer boards.”
15. Beetle Spin
“If the redfish bite gets slow in the summer, I tie on a Beetle Spin with a black-and-chartreuse body,” says Ross Montet, a Louisiana redfish captain. “I like the one with the blade that’s about the size of a quarter. There’s something about the action that turns reds on. I guess it looks the most like a crippled baitfish. Sometimes I’ll even fish one more like a chatter bait.”