I never grew up jigging or using surface lures when going pike fishing. My dad was a diehard believer in crankbaits, and that was a fishing philosophy that I embraced fully, as well. And why not? Up in the Ontario and Minnesota lakes we fished, crankbaits worked great and they could even work on walleyes in the same water. Cast one lure, have chances at big walleye and northerns…what more could you want?
Muskies actually brought me around to the idea of surface fishing for pike, because the notoriously smart, tricky, and strange muskies would follow the lure right up to the boat, sometimes watch the lure, and one time struck at a lure hanging off the edge of the boat while I was dealing with a particularly bad tangle.
So can surface fishing for northern pike be effective? Absolutely! However, with that being said if you want to have a good experience using surface lures for pike fishing, you need to make sure you have the absolute best lures for pike fishing on the surface and that you’re using them during the right time to catch the most fish.
Generally speaking, surface lures work better in early summer through fall during early morning hours before it gets too hot.
Let’s dive into every surface lure that came up during my research as being a viable option for the angler determined to get the big pike to strike using these types of fishing lures.
What Are The Best Surface Lures for Catching Northern Pike?
There are certain lures that are widely seen as being good for top-fishing for pike in most locations, while others will be very situational but work in amazing ways in locations where pike are used to seeing the food that they imitate. Assuming you are using these during the right times and seasons, I’ve done extensive research (yes, actual research in addition to going out a lot in boats, you smart allecks) and between my first hand experience, those of many pike anglers, and talking to several fishing guides here is the list of the best surface lures for pike fishing from those who have been successful with it.
Bass anglers aren’t the only ones who have become huge fans of the Whopper Ploppers. These surface lures cause the type of commotion that drive big predatory fish once and whether due to hunger, being territorial, or both, there’s just something about this surface lure that seems to drive pike nuts.
This actually isn’t too surprising when you look into the history of the lure a bit and realize that the Whopper Plopper wasn’t designed for largemouth bass even if those were the fish that became associated with it early on, but it was designed for Muskies.
Yup, those same pike cousins that caused me to reevaluate whether or not there might be something behind surface fishing for pike.
Since these were designed to get the attention of the ever picky and tricky muskies it only makes sense that largemouth bass and northern pike and other such fish would find them equally as attractive/infuriating.
I’ve been told that although any Whopper Ploppers can work since they’re a general design, the best ones for pike fishing from the couple anglers who swear by them are made by River2Sea. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the company that made the ones we tried out.
Trust local anglers as to which ones work best in a given area, but considering the surface disturbance they cause it probably won’t make a huge amount of difference given enough time fishing for pike.
Heddon Zara Spook Topwater Fishing Lure
The Heddon Zara Spook is one of the better topwater fishing lures for pike and they are in fact very well known among anglers as just being one of the best surface lures out there for northern pike or muskie. While I can attest to the effectiveness of this lure when it’s used correctly, it did take me a while to get decent at the technique because despite looking somewhat similar to a small crankbait, you can’t fish it the same way.
See the Zara-Spooks are “walk the dog” lures, meaning they are most effective when anglers use a fishing technique that is colloquially referred to as “walking the dog.” This involves twitching the rod tip by jerking you wrist while reeling in. This causes the lure to move back and forth, to bob and surge, and imitates a confused or wounded fish at the lure “walks” in a zig-zag motion along the surface.
This really gets the attention of hungry fish that are on the hunt for some easy food, and although I didn’t see this part personally, I’ve heard many stories from anglers who use these lures of northerns missing the lure once or twice before getting frustrated and going all out on the surface, even leaping from the water to get the drop on the lure.
That would be an incredible sight to see!
What that all comes together to mean is that despite the simple overall appearance of the lure, it does some serious work when it comes to getting pike to come up from the depths to strike at your surface lure.
Important Tip: Make sure you’re in good shape and using these on clear days. The reason is that the repeated wrist motion can get very tiring when you’re not used to it – and choppy waters can interfere with the optimal technique for fishing with these lures, making them much less effective.
That said, many anglers love them as surface lures for a reason.
How to Use The Proper Walk The Dog Fishing Technique
The classic rubber frog, or some variation thereof, with a large sharp hook running through. There are even some made to be hard plastic with a treble hook, which might be optimal for those harder hitting fish to make sure that hook gets in without being bent all out of place.
Frogs work best in areas where they’re found in abundance and are a normal source of food. Reedy areas, lily pads, other areas where they seek shelter but also gives room for decent sized pike looking for shelter from heat and some easy meals.
Changing up the speed of lure retrieval is a good idea to more closely mimic the inconsistent movements of a living creature.
I haven’t included any links to frog lures because I simply don’t have enough experience with these to make a decent recommendation. If you have fished with a lot of frogs before, chances are that anything you would use for a good sized largemouth bass would also be among the best choices that are available for surface fishing top water for northern pike.
So I didn’t get any pike to hit while using this – but it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had. Having fished on many isolated lakes full of big northern pike, it’s not unusual to see mother ducks going through the weeks with fewer and fewer ducklings as the weeks go by.
These are lures that make sense for surface fishing because aside from an immediate dive to grab some food right under the water’s surface, ducks are going to be on the water, not under it. Not unless things went really, really wrong.
This is likely to only work in places that see a lot of ducks and will work best at the times of year when there are a lot of smaller ducks in an area so it doesn’t stick out as a complete oddity.
Here’s the video that put these lures back on the map for pike fishing – and it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve watched a mother duck in Canada start with ten baby ducklings the day we arrived there, and have five when we left two weeks later. Big pike don’t care, and if you see a mother duck quacking wildly and rushing the babies out of the water as the slow ones are disappearing under water one by one, it’s a good time to put a cast in close by.
Yes, Pike Will Eat Whole Ducks (and Duck Lures) – Video Proof
Plastic Rat Lures
As with the frog lures and the duck lures, these are aiming at the big predatory fish in the area who are going to eat more of the larger food sources around. Mice and rats are found throughout the wild. In fact, they’re everywhere, and they have to swim sometimes. To a northern pike or other big predatory fish in the area, these look like a tasty treat.
If you’re casting out a plastic rate lure you’re looking for bigger fish with a big appetite, but pike definitely fall into that classification. I will say that I don’t know how these work versus ducklings or plastic frogs, but they are another potential option that are in the same ballpark.
Trying these out in areas where they are more common makes sense, as any time your lures or plastic baits are similar to local food sources usually increases your chances of success out on the water.
It should also go without saying that these make a lot more sense casting around shore rather than way out in the middle of the lake.
Top Raider Surface Lures
A Raider Surface lure is similar in many ways to the currently extremely popular Whopper Plopper, however there are some differences in how they are used and how they act on the surface. Several anglers I talked to thought that the Whopper Plopper could be considered the A-Tier or S-Tier version of the Raider Surface lures, and you probably don’t need both, but then again try telling a long time angler that they need less lures in their tackle box.
So these are a viable option to get some top water action when the pike are biting, especially if you see large clouds of dragon flies swarming right above the water. Big enough clouds can entice larger fish to jump up for a meal, so getting some surface action when these arrive is never a bad idea to see what you can entice.
Prop baits is a general term for a wide array of lures that use a mini-prop or propeller to stay on the surface and create attention. These can vary greatly in size, style, and design but all of them have that prop that will keep them on the surface or near the surface.
Even some of the lures on this list that are prop baits include the popular Heddon lure and there are many frog lures, top raider lures, and others that will also fall under this general category. It’s worth exploring prop baits because what doesn’t work nationally for pike, pickerel, or bass could do wild things in a particular region. You always want to have those random lures for when nothing else seems to be working.
Jitterbugs have long been the “classic” choice for surface lures that worked with pike. I generally prefer crankbaits as the places I’ve fished those have outperformed the surface-based jitterbug fishing lures, but if you are going to go to areas where surface fishing works great – jitterbug lures have long been considered some of the absolute best options out there.
And there are plenty of anglers I’ve talked to and whom I respect who swear by the jitterbug the way that I would swear by crankbaits, and there’s a reason that jitterbug lures have been around for decades: because they work.
These lures cause all kinds of “noise” on the surface, and it’s going to be hard for curious or aggressive fish to ignore that. That also means that when it comes to getting some action fishing for northern pike with surface lures, going the jitterbug route is likely to provide some solid success.
The single hook is a major drawback here not because it makes it less of a quality lure, however when it comes to big northern pike sometimes a single hook isn’t going to do it and you really want treble hooks – preferably even with backups.
That is the biggest drawback to buzzbaits for pike because they will work in getting that strike, but I’ve also seen bent hooks, hooks ripped out of the lure, the connectors ripped out of the lures.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have success, but expect to have more potential escapes. That said, buzzbaits encourage some really vicious hits and are a great way to get some serious pike fishing action going.
Topfishing For Pike: It Can Work Like Gang Busters
In the right water, right time of day, and right season you might be amazed by just how effective pike fishing with surface and near surface lures can be. If you have a tackle box full of these lures all it takes is a little bit of time and patience and it won’t be long before the pike start going nuts. Surface fishing for pike can be very effective if you have the right lures and hit the right bodies of water, so get on out there and let’s see pictures of those trophy sized northern pike after you bring them in!
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