Deceivers, Clousers, epoxy flies – all get gulped up by rockfish due to their ability to get down in the water column. But what about those days when the fish are close to the surface, eager to pounce on baitfish? Some specialized weapons are necessary for the job, if you’d like to have a topwater fly smashed by a striper this fall.

fly fishing for striped bass
A gurgler did the trick for this chunky Chesapeake Bay striped bass.

Tools of the Trade

The most common (and familiar) example is the traditional popper, sometimes referred to as “Bob’s Banger.” It has a foam body with a large indented cup at the nose that creates loud splooshes and plops. Next up is the “gurgler.” Gurglers push water and create a mini wake, but harder tugs will result in its trademark namesake – a true dinner bell to lurking fish below. Finally, we have spun-hair poppers. Sometimes referred to as “frogs,” these flies are made out of thick chunks of spun deer hair. This allows them to absorb water and float beneath the surface, allowing a distinct action when stripped. They’re an absolute pain to tie, but often produce the most strikes when utilized correctly (on freshwater species as well).

Let ‘em Fly

Just one glance at these clunky-looking flies will allude to their anti-aerodynamics, but there are ways around this. First, cast lower, closer to the water, in order to minimize drag created by a breeze. You should also try to generate as much line speed as you can, to create enough propulsion to send that baby flying. Lastly, if you’re using a fly that has absorbent materials, soak it for several minutes. The added mass will simulate that of a split-shot, leaving you with a slightly longer cast. Remember that with topwater flies it’s not about casting distance, it’s about...


Poppers are incredibly straightforward. Alternate between sharp and aggressive strips, and soft punches that result in more sound than splash. Gurglers have a few actions, but the one that gets the most attention is a constant retrieve. The aforementioned wake’s subtle nature is its hidden gem. If the wake isn’t taking any hits, it’s time to give the gurgler some erratic tugs during the retrieve. Frogs, however, do all the work for you, so retrieve them either as a standard popper or a normal Deceiver depending on the buoyancy and weather and water conditions. The hair displaces water softly, creating a noise that will hopefully result in backing zipping through your fingers.

-By Parker Martin