It wasn’t the hit that stuck with me. It was the wake. Four years ago in August, on the Cree River system in northern Saskatchewan, tucked into a reed-lined cove, I let a slider go in a 40-foot cast. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Not a ripple on the surface. The intense quiet made that fly’s smack-down sound like the crack of a rifle. Strip. Gurgle. Strip. Gurgle. It only took two pulls before a sparse clump of reeds 15 feet to the right of the bug stirred. A half-second later, that gentle rustle materialized into a bulging push of water that had so much mass behind it, it looked like a fire extinguisher being pulled just below the surface. When it happens, it may last for only the length of a single heartbeat, but that feeling of knowing it’s coming—knowing the fish is locked on and committed—is the greatest in the world. I stripped once more and the 42-inch pike exploded on the fly. It remains my biggest northern to date, and though I’d have been happy to catch it subsurface, there’s something about a topwater strike that makes any fish more special. That can be said of any species willing to rise to the occasion.
Topwater fishing is as synonymous with summer as barbecue and a dip in the neighbor’s pool. On the river, smallmouths are going airborne for dragonflies. On the lake, that deep-water hawg largemouth is up shallow in the pads, waiting for a frog to make a serious mistake. Trout are sipping bugs from one side of the country to the other. On every coast, schools of baitfish are getting thrashed up top by everything from stripers to snook and tarpon to tuna. Now is the time to let those poppers fly and those dogs walk. There is no sweeter sound on a summer night than that of a buzzbait slicing through an oil-slick farm pond. There is no greater achievement than landing a massive muskie on a huge, churning propbait. No matter your favorite topwater game, we’ll help you level up, from the bluegill creek to the giant bluefin grounds offshore.