Top 13 Plugs for Freshwater Fishing

Top 13 Plugs for Freshwater Fishing

This article will list the top 13 plugs for freshwater fishing. Plugs are hard bodied artificial fishing lures. For the most part, they imitate crayfish and bait fish. Back in the day, they were carved from wood. Most today are made from plastic. They are available in models that fish from the surface down to twenty feet or more.

Pennsylvania smallmouth bass

Capt Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. He has fished extensively all over the United States. There are quite a few different types of fishing plugs. In this article, he will list his personal favorite lure in each “family” of baits.

The top 13 plugs forfreshwater fishing are;

  • Heddon Zara Spook

  • Rapala Skitter Prop

  • Rebel Pop R

  • Arbogast Hula Popper

  • Rapala X-Rap Slashbait

  • Yozuri Crystal Minnow

  • Strike King KVD Squarebill

  • Rapala Original Floating Minnow

  • Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap

  • Rapala Shad Rap

  • Bomber Fat Free Shad

  • Rebel Crawfish

  • Flatfish

Plug colors, sizes, and characteristics

fishing with jerkbaits

In order to not be repetitive, colors and sizes will be covered here. While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to color and size, there are some guidelines to follow. Wherever possible, it is advised to closely mimic the locally available forage in both size and color. This applies to shad, bluegill, perch, crayfish, and other forage species.

Click on the title link to read Capt Jim’s E-book Fishing for Crappie, Bluegill, and Panfish

Generally speaking, light colors work best in clear water and on sunny days. Conversely, darker colors produce better in stained water and on overcast days. In muddy water, bright colors work well. Chrome and chartreuse are good all round finishes that are hard to beat. Color is less of a factor when using topwater plugs.

best freshwater fishing topwater plugs

Plugs are also very versatile, while topwater plugs are excluded, all other plugs can be either cast out or trolled. Trolling with diving plugs is a very efficient way to locate fish. It is also easy to do and productive. Some plugs can even be fished vertically, and that includes through the ice!

Read more about and shop for freshwater lures and tackle!

Capt Jim’s list of favorite plugs includes baits that are versatile and will catch a variety of species. Many are legendary baits with decades long reputations. There are many fine “specialty” plugs designed for a certain species or application, but those will not be on the list. Many are targeted to anglers fishing for largemouth bass.

largemouth bass fishing in Florida

Top 13 freshwater fishing plugs

The first 4 baits on Capt Jim’s list of top 13 freshwater fishing plugs are topwater baits. These float on the surface the entire time, drawing strikes from fish below. While they all work on the surface, there are three different types of topwater plugs. These are walk the dog baits, propeller baits, and poppers.

1)  Heddon Zara Spook

zara spook

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The Heddon Zara Spook was the original “walk the dog” style bait. It is an extremely effective lure that catches fish to this day. It is available in several sizes and many different finishes. Chrome is a good all round finish.

2)  Rapala Skitter Prop

skitter prop

The Rapala Skitter Prop is number two on Capt Jim’s list. It puts out a lot of commotion while sitting relatively still. Gold is his favorite color. This is an excellent choice when it is breezy or there is a bit of chop on the water.

3)  Rebel Pop R

rebel pop-r

The Rebel Pop R is the next bait on the list. It is a “popper” and is a very easy bait for novice anglers to use. It comes with buck tail dressing on the tail. Capt Jim likes the silver finish with the blue back.

4)  Arbogast Hula Popper

hula popper

The Arbogast Hula Popper has been around a long time. It is an excellent popper that works well in ponds and smaller waters. The rubber tail prodecues a lot of action. Frog is a good color pattern.

Jerk baits

The next three lures on Capt Jim’s list of the top 13 freshwater fishing plugs are jerkbaits. These are long and slender. They float on the surface and dive down upon retrieve. The lip determines the depth that they will dive. Models are available that work a few feed below the surface down to twenty feet or more.

top 13 freshwater fishing plugs

These lures are called “jerkbaits” due to the manner in which they are retrieved. The lure is cast out and then the rod tip is sharply jerked. The bait will lurch forward while flashing, then stop and hang motionless when given a little slack. This action simulates a wounded bait fish and drives fish crazy!

Plug fishing video

5)  Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait

Rapala x rap

The Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait is Capt Jim’s favorite jerk bait. It is a very versatile and catches just about every freshwater species. It is available in a lot of sizes, running depths, and many different color patterns.

6)  Yozuri Crystal Minnow

yozuri crystal minnow

The Yozuri Crystal Minnow is another excellent jerk bait. It is available in many sizes and has an excellent, high quality finish. Most anglers opt for a lighter color which highlights the flash of the bait.

7)  Rapala Original Floating Minnow

Rapala Ultralight floating minnow

The Rapala Original Floating Minnow is an old-school jerk bait that still has many fans. It is a bit less expensive and still catches a ton of fish. Silver with the black back is the most popular finish.


The next five lures on Capt Jim’s list of the top 13 freshwater fishing plugs are crankbaits. These are cast out and “cranked” back in, thus the name. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The plastic lip determines the depth that they run. Lipless crankbaits do not have a lip. They are simply reeled back in while putting out a bunch of flash and vibration.

8)  Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap


The Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap is the most recognized and productive lipless crankbait, and for good reason. It has been catching fish for decades. It is a very easy lure to use. It is cast out and reeled back in using a steady pace. It works when trolled as well. The ½ ounce bait in chrome with a blue back is Capt Jim’s favorite.

9)  Strike King KVD Squarebill crankbait

largemouth bass lures

The Strike King KVD Square Bill line of crankbaits are very effective lures. The 1.5 size in the Sexy Shad is an excellent choice when fish are feeding an 2” to 3” shad. The baits come in larger sizes as well. It has a very unique side to side wobble and bounces off structure well. They cover a large portion of the water column.

10)  Rapala Shad Rap

shad rap

The Rapala Shad Rap is an excellent deep water crankbait. It gets down deep quickly and is easy to work back to the boat. The Shad Rap is an excellent trolling lure as well. It comes in a wide variety of colors and several; sizes.

11)  Bomber Fat Free Shad

bomber fat free shad

The Bomber Fat Free Shad is an excellent deep water crankbait. It gets down quickly and can then be slowed down to work the bottom. Bark colors mimic crayfish while lighter colors mimic shad that school in deep water.

12)  Rebel Wee Craw

rebel wee craw

The Rebel Wee Craw is a terrific crankbait when used in rivers and rocky lakes. It is a legend among river smallmouth and walleye anglers. They work best when bounced off the rocks on the bottom.

13)  Flatfish


The Flatfish has been around for a very long time. Some anglers have forgotten about them, but that is a mistake! The Flatfish has a great action and works well when both trolled and cast. It produces big trout in fast moving rivers.

Best rods and reels for plug fishing

bass fishing

Anglers can use both spinning tackle and bait casting gear effectively when fishing with plugs in freshwater. The determining factors will really be the size of the lure and angler preference. Spinning tackle is the best option when casting smaller plugs, it is just better suited for lighter lures.

Bait casting gear is perfect for casting heavier plugs, and especially when using top water baits. Due to the nature and which they are retrieved, there is often times slack in the line when using a top water plug. Bait casting reels handle taking up the slack much better than do spinning reels, which are prone to getting loops in ordinary fishing. Bait casting and conventional outfits are preferred when trolling with plugs.

best fishing lure for northern pike

Anglers freshwater fishing with plugs often find that a softer action rod works better than the normal fast action rod’s preferred and other types of fishing. A more parabolic bend usually results in a better hook set. That extra cushion comes in handy when a fish is shaking its head violently. This is also safer as it eliminates the plug being thrown back at the angler.

Best lines for fishing with plugs

While braided line has become very popular, many anglers casting plugs opt for monofilament or fluorocarbon lines. The stretch and the line is preferred, very much for the same reasons as using a softer action rod. However, many anglers do fine with braided lines, especially when fishing around heavy cover such as fallen timber and docks.

In conclusion, this article on the best 13 plugs for freshwater fishing will help anglers catch more fish using these extremely effective lures!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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