By Steve Heiting
The popularity of surface lures with propellers such as the Fat Bastard, TopRaider and others has grown among muskie fishermen over the last decade. And why not? They can be fished as fast or slow as needed, and watching a muskie hunt one down and pick it off the surface is an experience you’ll never forget.
Meanwhile, the popularity of other categories of topwaters has waned. Walk-the-dog surface baits like the Jackpot and Weagle are holding their own, but lures with such historic names as the Flaptail, Creeper, Hawg Wobbler, Topper and Globe are being overlooked or completely forgotten. In fact, a quick review of four popular online muskie retailers revealed that not one of them currently sells a Globe-style lure, and only one offers a Creeper. All of these lure styles have been around for at least four decades and were staples of tackle boxes not long ago. A check with guides and other top anglers suggests that you give them another look.
Guide Jake Smith, of Minocqua, runs the Smity Bait Company with his father, National Fresh Water Hall of Fame guide Russ Smith. Their Flaptail originated about 25 years ago on the suggestion of another famous guide, Roger Sabota, of Rhinelander.
Jake Smith says the Flaptail is especially deadly when a big muskie’s location is known.
“I use the Flaptail when I know the fish is there. It’s not a bait you search with because you have to move it so slow,” he said. “I think muskies are getting used to fast-moving baits. The Flaptail is in their face and gives them a chance to look at it.”
The Flaptail comes with its own built-in wire leader, which Smith said can be used to adjust the lure’s sound, as well as tune it.
“I bend the wire down sometimes and it raises the tail a little bit, which gives a deeper sound,” he said.
Guide Brian Long, a Sayner native and long-time Glidden resident, has built a reputation for producing huge muskies for his clients. The now-retired art teacher says Creepers are as good of a big fish bait as any in his tackle box.
“I have used it successfully for decades,” he said. “Because it is best fished slowly, I don’t fish it alongside bucktails and other fast-moving lures.
“But the Creeper has always been in my bag of tricks when I know where a big fish might be lying or where a muskie worth pursuing has followed earlier in the day. It truly can shake up a muskie when nothing else seems to work.”
Long likes a slow, steady retrieve with a Creeper.
“That retrieve allows the Creeper to create a deep plopping sound that fish can hear from a distance and key on easily,” he said.
The Hawg Wobbler was introduced in 1978 by Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, an avid muskie angler who later served in Wisconsin’s Senate and Assembly. When he designed the Hawg Wobbler, Moulton quickly realized he had a winner.
“The first Hawg Wobbler I made was much fatter and it didn’t work at all. It was a disaster,” he laughed. “The second was much better. I was fishing below the Chippewa dam and started retrieving it, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. This is what I was looking for.’”
The Hawg Wobbler produced immediate success when Moulton caught a 33-pounder on the lure during a tournament held by his muskie club in 1978.
Moulton likes using his bait in the “early morning, in calm water or late evening, after dark when the water’s calm, or right ahead of a tornado when the water has calmed down and it’s hot and muggy.”
He suggests anglers keep the rod tip down to keep the lure’s head in the water during the retrieve because it delivers better action.
Suick Lure Manufacturing, of Antigo, purchased the Cisco Kid Company and moved the operation from Boca Raton, Fla., in 1993. This included the Topper, a football-shaped topwater with small props on either end.
“They are definitely underused – even in my boat – with the new loud and obnoxious baits that are on the market,” admitted Mike Suick, the fourth generation of the Suick family in the business.
Suick believes the Topper’s shape makes it effective.
“It is possible to use this lure in flat-calm conditions as well as a little rougher water, as it will cut the waves and keep spinning the whole time. Newer prop baits can have a little tougher time with that,” he said. “Typically, I find myself reaching for one of these when fishing over shallower weedbeds back in bays, and for some odd reason I seem more likely to try this in the evening.”
Last season, when the pandemic brought untold numbers of muskie anglers to Wisconsin’s Northwoods, I dug into my racks of old lures for something different. I wanted a lure I could fish slowly or as fast as a prop bait, but was different. I grabbed an old Globe-style bait that had waited unused for years and immediately found the muskies still liked the lure style.
Globes are similar to prop baits because they have a propeller that spins, but the sound is completely different. Speed them up and they sputter and chatter – slow them down and they squeak and chirp.
If you’re looking for something new to cast at the muskies this season, consider one of these overlooked topwaters. It may be difficult to find some of them, but the effort will be worthwhile.