Surface Lures

by Scott Moeller

September 2010

As you may already know, there are lots of different kinds of lures out there. So let’s focus on just one particular group of lures known as the “surface lures.”

A surface lure is any fishing lure that is intended to stay on or near the surface of the water and attract fish lurking below. In most cases, the lure is dragged or jerked across the surface of the water producing a movement or vibration that imitates an injured minnow, a frog, or a large insect.

Most surface lures consist of a solid body made of buoyant plastic or wood, with three-pointed (treble) hooks attached to the bottom or rear of the lure.

Because it is the movement, sound or vibration of the surface lure that attracts the fish and gets them to “look up”, most surface lures are classified by the type of movement or vibration they produce as they are pulled across the surface of the water. The main categories of surface lures are: stickbait, propbait, crawlers, and chuggers.

Surface Lure Types

LureExampleHow it worksFish
StickbaitstickbaitStickbait are the simplest of all surface lures. They are essentially little more than floating imitation baitfish. They have no fins or propellers that make the lure wobble, so the angler must supply the movement. A simple stickbait “walked” noisily across the surface of the water by carefully jerking the rod, will resemble the vibration and motion of an injured baitfish and draw predator fish up from even deep water.Stickbaits are commonly used for catching largemouth bass, but also tend to work well for fish such as smallmouth bass, pike and muskie.
PropbaitpropbaitPropbait generally have a small propeller at one or both ends that spins and splashes as the lure is pulled along the surface of the water. Propbait are sometimes also referred to as “fizzers”. This fizzing or buzzing noise is thought to closely approximate the buzzing wings of a struggling insect. Propbaits tend to be a bit more versatile than other surface lures, and can also be used in windier conditions, since they create more of a disturbance than the other lures.Slow retrieves work well with bass, while fast retrieves work well with pike and muskie.
CrawlercrawlerCrawlers are surface lures that have fins or wings that cause the lure to waddle or wobble from side to side as it is pulled along, often making a popping, gurgling, or splashing sound. Crawlers are often used when looking for fish across large expanses of relatively shallow water. The steady motion and constant gurgling attract fish that are in the area.Crawlers are often considered some of the best lures for largemouth bass, but are also good for pike and muskie.
Chugger or PopperchuggerChuggers are lures with a concave indentation on the front of the lure that intentionally catches water and makes a chugging or popping sound and produces a splash as it is pulled or jerked along the water. Chuggers are sometimes also referred to as “poppers”.Chuggers tend to work great for bass, but are not as effective in catching pike or muskie.

As you might imagine, slight variations within each of these categories causes different lures to behave slightly differently, making one a “twitcher” while another is a “buzzer” and accounting for the origin of countless different names for these lures.

Because their success depends on the fish noticing the specific motion, splash or vibration of the lure, surface lures are most effective when the wind is relatively calm and the surface of the water fairly smooth.

The use of surface lures seems to be on the rise in recent years, possibly because more and more anglers enjoy the experience of seeing and hearing the moment they catch their fish. A good-size fish can create a sudden and surprising noisy spectacle when it breeches the surface of the water and grabs your surface lure, making for an unforgettable fishing experience.

So give a surface lure a try the next time you’re fishing for bass, pike or muskie. And, for a further discussion on why fish are attracted to certain lures, check out Lesson 5:5 - Flashy Fish Catchers in the MinnAqua Fishing: Get In the Habitat! Leader’s Guide.