Poppers, chuggers, spitters. Call ‘em as you see ‘em. They’ve emerged as the hottest topwater baits of our time. And oh the fun of them. Only a tournament head wouldn’t prefer to catch a 5-pounder on a topwater lure over a 7-pounder on a crankbait. Consider scenarios such as these:
TIMING THE POPPER BITE
Spring – The attraction of poppers to largemouths in spring seems to stem from the fish’s natural inclination to move into shallow cover-filled bays that warm fast in the early spring sun. Fish bask near the surface, apparently soaking up the warmth to boost their metabolism. They’re easily spooked and not aggressive, but will softly engulf a lure floating on the surface, or gently twitched near a stump or over a weed clump.
Note, however, that this fast charge into shallow bays is characteristic only for largemouth bass of the north-central region. Farther south, the progression into thin water is gradual. Bass pro Danny Joe Humphrey, a longtime topwater expert from North Carolina, considers 60F the threshold for poppin’ action in mid-south reservoirs like Buggs Island. Humphrey, who markets several Japanese-made poppers in the Viva Series, prefers subtle poppers like the Viva Pencil Popper prior to the spawn.
Fall – At the other end of the seasonal scale, poppers can be the best bait to throw late in fall, once vegetation has thinned and bass hold among shallow wood and remaining clumps of vegetation for their final meals before ice covers the lake. Smaller poppers, as well as floating minnowbaits consistently take largemouths at water temperatures down to about 45F.
Summer – Admittedly, though, poppers and chuggers are in their prime from the Spawn Period through the Post-Summer Period, the period of the In-Fisherman calendar that begins when water temperatures first decline in late summer and ends at Fall Turnover. The food web is in high gear during midsummer, and that’s when bass do the bulk of their annual feeding. Few baits draw strikes from active bass as surely as poppers.
The fast skittering, spitting retrieve that’s the standard for summer daytime fishing in impoundments imitates the sight and sound of panicked shad. For when bass and predators sense that other fish are feeding, they want to join the feast.
During summer, poppers also appeal to largemouth and smallmouth bass that hold in cover but are ready to feed opportunistically. In rivers, all species of black bass choose holding positions that give them shelter from current but allow them to scan the water moving by, to pick off potential prey. During low water in summer, which also brings clear water, smallmouths hold by boulders and deadhead logs in the main channel.
Big smallmouths bit best when the popper drifted alongside the cover object, and then was popped and allowed to settle. In the clear water, the bass could be seen easing out, nosing up to the lure, then smashing it with a vengeance. In productive areas, almost every log and rock held a fish.
Like other topwater lures, poppers and chuggers generally produce best during summer’s low-light hours or overcast conditions. But following this generalization too closely can cause you to miss a good topwater bite.
THE PROPER POPPER
Poppers built for bass range in size from Rebel’s 1/8-ounce P50 Pop-R and Lucky Craft’s 3/16-ounce Bevy Popper that barely stretch two inches, to Storm’s 4 1/2-inch 7/8-ounce Big Bug and the 1-ounce Yo-Zuri Mag Popper. Size matters but in ways you may not have considered.
Size: If you’ve spent much time pitching poppers, you’ve surely caught numbers of largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass whose length barely exceeds that of the bait. Bluegills, too, will nip a popper, as if it were an overgrown grasshopper. Poppers get the attention of fish in shallow water and those holding near the surface over greater depths.
Their spitting and blooping, and quivering at rest mimic the most vulnerable prey a bass can find. The helpless looking bait, pinned against the surface, begs to be eaten with each pop or blip. And in the tiny brain of our finny adversary, a big splash sometimes is more attractive than a little one, particularly if big active bass are in the vicinity. As a rule, the bigger the popper, the larger the average size of bass caught on it. But not always. Midsize poppers, from about 1/4 to 3/8 ounce cover most situations.
Mouth Shape: The key to a popper, of course, is its concave mouth that catches water and causes surface commotion. The depth of cupping, angle of the cup, and sharpness of the edge determine to a large extent whether the bait makes a bloop or boil, a quiet spit, or some other combination of commotions. These actions, of course, depend as well on the retrieve. The shape of the lure’s mouth also affects to what extent the bait will walk back and forth in a walk-the-dog pattern during a steady snapping retrieve.
Slow Retrieves (Bloopin’): Original instructions in the Hula Popper box recommend casting the bait, then letting it sit till the ripples subside, then giving it a pop and repeating the procedure until the bait moves past a high-percentage area. That’s the way anglers started fishing the first Pop-R, and this retrieve can be deadly for all species of black bass.
Where bass hold in thick weedbeds or under wood cover, the splash down and sharp bloops let them know something’s there. The surface commotion suggests a small fish in its death throes, or maybe a frog hopping off a lily pad. Splashes, too, can stimulate bass to feed, as they think another fish has snatched a prey from the surface.
These cues may cause bass to approach cautiously or sometimes to zoom in on a lure for a closer look. A subtle twitch may be the final trigger for a strike. Or the skirted tail quivering in current can motivate an aggressive attack.
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