Companies have spawned seemingly every conceivable critter into a topwater bait—from frogs and rodents to flying mammals, birds, and even turtles. While some lures achieve instant notoriety for their ability to catch a fishermen’s eye instead of an actual fish, a hardened core of new and old faithful designs have earned respect for their ability to do their job, which is catch fish, and do it well. Because we are so fascinated with topwaters, we took a long, hard look through past generations of surface baits and picked out 25 of the best to present you here.
Rebel’s Original Pop-R is a lure that almost every other topwater chugger is measured against. After over 30 years of production, the Pop-R continues to be an angler favorite and a go-to for countless freshwater fishermen. You can work it quickly across the surface to mimic a panicked baitfish, or barely twitch it to imitate forage that’s struggling to stay alive. The Pop-R earned its stripes while helping professional bass anglers rack up prize money, but it’s just as deadly on northern pike and walleye cruising under the water’s surface in the evening.
While anglers judge most topwater bass lures by their ability to catch largemouth, the Heddon Baby Torpedo has earned a curious reputation as a smallmouth slayer. The sound, motion, and vibration from its stern-mounted, rotating propeller simply attracts fish if you work it along shallow rocky shorelines where smallmouth often congregate. In moving water, the Torpedo makes a commotion in even the fastest-flowing rivers where giant smallmouth lie in wait for a hapless meal. You can work it with short twitches and pauses, or steadily retrieve it for an action that’s similar to a buzzbait.
Floating minnows are in a class of their own when it comes to topwater lures, and certainly none have a better resume than the models from Rapala. The company’s Original Floating Minnow is a versatile lure you can run just under the water’s surface, or weighted to get deeper in the water column. However, there’s no better way to watch a Rapala get creamed by a fish than when it’s fished on top. A few flicks from your rod tip generates a wounded minnow action the Rapala is renown for—just wait and watch for the strike. You’ll know when it happens.
For decades, the Arbogast Jitterbug has proved itself as a fish-catching machine at any hour of the day, but it’s recognized most as being one of the most productive after-hours topwaters of all time. Bass and other gamefish are attracted to a steady, loud presentation at night. The Jitterbug has a double-cupped lip that produces a loud, rhythmic cadence, and causes the lure to sway from side-to-side during the retrieve. Predator fish hear the commotion and feel the vibrations from the cup lip through the water, and it’s hard to for them to resist. The Jitterbug is effective for bass, northern pike, and even muskie.
The Zara Spook is literally the bait that invented the “walk-the-dog” action, which is not an accomplishment to take lightly. While dozens of other lure manufacturers have since copied the action, the Spook remains a go-to surface lure for a large number of anglers. It’s size and weight are great for a steady, consistent, side-to-side retrieve and you can work it through countless scenarios. It’s equally effective in close-quarters or fished over thick weeds as it is on open water near schools of baitfish. What’s more, the Zara Spook is highly effective at catching a variety of species in both salt and fresh water and not limited to black bass, stripers, pike, and musky.
Some topwaters have a sound and action that’s all their own, and the Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bug is once such lure. The Chug Bug can spit, dart, chug, walk-the-dog, and of course, rattle, in the water. You can mix the combination of motions and sounds by varying the speed of your retrieve, and the frequency and power of your twitches and pauses. The Rattlin’ Chug Bug has a weighted tail that helps with extra-long casts so you can quickly cover as much water as possible. You can use it to catch a variety of gamefish in both fresh and saltwater.
7. Mike Shaw Slammer
Mike Shaw Slammer Mike Shaw
While it may seem like a curious addition to this list, the Slammer played an integral part of the 1990s swimbait craze, and it is, after all, a topwater lure. The Slammer is also a big-fish bait. Handcrafted by legendary lure maker Mike Shaw, the profile and lip design cause the lure to swim with a natural action and create a wake on the surface. Shaw originally designed it to catch the largest bass in world, but anglers hunting musky, pike, stripers and lake trout quickly adopted it. What’s more, Shaw builds each lure to handle punishment from the largest predators.
The Knuckle-Head from Creek Chub is one of a few truly original topwater baits in a world of copycat designs. This lure has a single joint between the body and head, which is actually patented, that helps create a sound and motion that’s completely distinct from any other bait on the market. The Knuckle-Head’s cupped mouth pops and chugs while the body is free to swim back and forth like a natural biatfish. It’s a well-built lure that can take a beating, which is why anglers fishing everything from largemouth in the fresh, to redfish in the salt, use it regularly.
While dozens of topwater baits on the market have a “walk-the-dog” action, Lucky Craft’s Sammy stands out. Creating an effective side-to-side action requires the right combination of lure size, taper, and weight, and Lucky Craft found the perfect formula with this lure. In addition to an impressive motion, Lucky Craft built the Sammy with internal glass rattles that increase the range it can attract fish, and while the Sammy is a largemouth bait at heart, it’s become a personal topwater favorite of East Coast striper anglers.
Another classic that has seen its share of imitators, the Smithwick Devil’s Horse remains a proven fish-catcher. Both of the lure’s front and rear props are adjustable so you can tweak them to make the bait move slower and throw more water, or bend the props back for a quieter, less chaotic retrieve. The Devil’s Horse has been proven as a standout topwater for giant pre-spawn largemouth, but it’s just as effective at catching smallmouth in moving water any time of the year. It also has a huge underground following among Northeast anglers targeting walleye in shallow bays after dark.
Another original that inspired a thousand imitations is the Lunker Lure Buzzbait. Few lure designs, if any, can boast the lunker-catching, tournament-winning reputation of the Buzzbait. Even with a market flooded with surface baits, the original Buzzbait continues to be a part of every respectable bass angler’s tackle box. It’s still winning its share of high-level bass tournaments and is undoubtedly the number one choice of fisherman who prefer a traditional buzzbait design without extra frills like multiple blades, tandem hooks, or other accents.
Knowing how fond trophy bass can be of swimming rodents, Spro set out to create the most lifelike swimming rat on the market. With the help of pro-staffer and well-respected lure designer Bill Siemantel, Spro hit the mark with the Bbz-1 Rat. The square bill and single-jointed construction of this surface lure allows for a walk-the-dog action on a simple, straightforward retrieve. The Bbz-1 Rat stays afloat during pauses and it leaves a subtle wake in its path that perfectly mimics the movements and disruption of a swimming rodent. A big fish bait, Spro builds the Bbz-11 Rat so it’s super-tough and can endure abuse.
A hollow-bodied, rubber-legged topwater frog fits a specific niche in the bass world because it’s hard to find a lure that can work through the absolute thickest vegetation, or splash into tiny holes between lily pads—but that’s exactly the Pad Crasher’s claim to fame. The Pad Crasher has a super-soft, collapsible body that quickly exposes a double 3/0 hook when attacked, giving anglers the best possible chance for a hook-up in conditions that often cause other lures to foul. But this lure isn’t just for bass. If you’ve been thinking about taking up fishing for invasive snakeheads, make sure you take plenty of Pad Crashers when you go.
Drifter Tackle’s Doc is the third traditional “walk-the-dog” bait to make this list, and it’s for good reason. While establishing its reputation as a venerable and dependable musky topwater, the Doc began to have another, more secretive following among East Coast striper anglers who were using unpainted, bone-colored Docs with amazing results. The bait’s success with stripers was kept under wraps for some time, but the cat is officially out of the bag. So much so that Drifter is now selling saltwater Docs with stainless steel hardware, and of course, no paint job.
Cotton Cordell’s Pencil Popper is a long-time favorite among the East Coast striped-bass crowd, which alone warrants recognition. However, the Pencil Popper’s utility stretches far beyond the salty shores of the striper coast. On inland waters, it’s a great lure for catching northern pike, musky, and trophy largemouth bass. The lure’s weight displacement helps catapult it on extra-long casts to cover wide swaths of water. On the water, the added weight forces the lure to sit with its tail below the surface, creating a bobbing target that is hard to miss.
While it’s a relative newcomer to the fishing scene, Rapala’s Skitter Pop has earned the right to be on this list. Its balsa wood body is combined with a unique, cupped plastic lip that produces one of the loudest spitting actions you’ll find. It’s a versatile popping-style bait that you can work with a consistent walk-the-dog action, or barely twitch it across the surface. Built to withstand abuse and with corrosion-free components, you can use the Skitter Pop to catch a variety of freshwater and saltwater gamefish.
Snag Proof has been manufacturing lures in the U.S. since 1961, and while their original frog design is one of the oldest creature baits around, it continues to inspire the designs for a legion of other topwaters. The Frog itself is incredibly lifelike, with two hind legs and feet that kick like a swimming amphibian during the retrieve. It was the first lure that dared to be fished in nasty, thick vegetation. It’s upward facing double hooks can trudge through weeds or bushes, or bounce off lily pads. However, don’t only use this lure on bass. It can trigger some fairly violent topwater strikes from fish like pike and muskie as well.
Rebel’s Popping Frog is a little different from most other frog designs on the market because it lacks a weedless component. On the other hand, it has a super-realistic paint job that’s the spitting image of a juvenile frog. The Popping Frog’s lifelike colors are complimented by its concave face that chugs and spits water in a walk-the-dog motion across the water’s surface. Work it adjacent to weed and lily beds where predators often hunt for meals along the perimeter.
Savage Gear’s Hard Mud Minnow is the fourth and final purebred “walk-the-dog” bait on this list, but its intricate design helps it produce a great amount of movement with little effort. That means you can walk the bait on a fast retrieve without losing control of it, enabling you to quickly cover more water and create a commotion that agitates fish. Inside the lure there’s a special rattle chamber that emits a unique sound that vibrates and resonates through the water. As with everything Savage Gear does, the finish on the Hard Mud Minnows are incredible, replete with 3-D eyes and textured scaling.
Once again, one of the most innovative, game-changing lures designs in the history of angling is a topwater. The Original Rebel Minnow literally changed the way companies designed and produced fishing lures. The lure is simply a flat-out, fish-catching legend. Few baits are so highly effective at duping such a wide variety of gamefish. Anglers targeting stripers, monster rainbow trout, walleye, pike, musky, and of course, trophy largemouth, should have several variations of this amazing lure in their tackle box.
Arbogast’s Hula Popper has been around for over 60 years and inspired hundreds of other topwater-lure designs. It has a cupped face that scoops up mouthfuls of water with every short jerk of the rod tip, producing a loud “bloop” sound and bubble trail in the water. The loud, deep sound regularly triggers even disinterested bass to strike—and the strikes are vicious. The Hula Popper’s skirt adds flare and more movement to the lure, it has a terrific fish-attracting color scheme, and while the two exposed treble hooks don’t make this a weedless bait, your hook-up percentage will be high.
The Red Fin from Cotton Cordell is another multi-species gem of a bait that can produce a variety of surface actions just by changing the speed of your retrieve or twitching your rod tip. It leaves one of the best wakes I’ve seen any bait ever make and it has duped just about every species of freshwater and inshore gamefish. The Red Fin is a staple for striper, largemouth, and redfish anglers, among others.
Yo-Zuri’s 3DB Popper takes a traditional popper design and infuses it with high-end components and a detailed prism finish. The injured red eye on the popper imitates a distressed baitfish and the patented rib design on the body of the bait produces more vibration in the water compared to traditional poppers. The seven available 3DB patterns all have a prism finish that catches and reflects light, sending off more than ample amounts of flash, and if a fish doesn’t see the lure, the bait creates enough splash and vibration that any predator lurking nearby will certainly hear it.
The topwater world has numerous incarnations of “crawler” and “creeper” style baits that are intended to catch everything from bass to muskie, and all of them can trace their roots to Heddon’s Crazy Crawler. Known for its ability to catch big fish, anglers have used the Crazy Crawler for over a half a century. Its unique design creates a wild surface commotion and you can fish it in virtually any water condition. The metal wings splash from side-to-side, making a rhythmic churning of water that entices some of the most violent strikes you’ll ever encounter.
Read Next: 20 Essential Topwater Fishing Lures
The Lucky 13 from Heddon is an unsuspecting bait with a proven track record for catching multiple species of fish. The Lucky 13 is more of a chugger than a popper, and it emits a deep, resonating sound that is unlike any other topwater popper or gurgler. It’s effective around structure or along weed lines, but the Lucky 13 really shines around schooling gamefish in both fresh and salt water. Anglers have used it to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, speckeld trout, redfish, and white bass, among many other species.