Ok, this is going to sound like a stupid question, but how do you fish a popper? We all know the basics. Cast, let it sit, gurgle and twitch, then repeat. But here's the thing. Some folks catch scads of fish this way while others struggle. I've probably caught ten bass or gills on clousers, buggers, or similar streamers to every one I've gotten on a popping bug. So the question is this. How do you make that popping bug perform? Because frankly I rarely mess with them any more. I go straight to streamers. But in the weeds poppers are hard to beat, and those that have mastered them rack up the
fish. So if you have any popping bug juju please share.
First, I firmly believe that poppers work best when the water's flat calm. This means that, in New England anyway, opportunities to fish poppers don't come along all that often.
Depends on the time of year and body of water, but in general I cast the popper to the weed edge (or over a sunken weed bed) and let it sit until the ripples disappear. Then, with my rod tip at water level pointing directly at the popper, I give one sharp pull with my stripping hand and let it sit for 10 seconds. I will repeat this process, using one or two sharp pops, until I must re-cast.
I think the key is to fish SLOW so patience is a virtue. Your popper landing on the water will signal any nearby fish to investigate. Letting it sit still for a few seconds gives the fish time to consider sampling it.
You can find some videos of me fishing poppers for bass on my Youtube channel.
When I fish warm water, I'll use a popper most of the time, cuz that's what I like to do.
It's a right time, right place kinda thing with low light, and even pitch dark being the right time.
The right place, as you as you might think, is where there's lots of cover. It would not be possible to fish the places that I'm thinking of without a weed guard on your bug. The wake created when pulling your popper through the weeds excites the fish, even if they never see what's making the commotion.
One mistake that I think people make is to rush your popper through the retrieve.
Often when your popper hits the water, a bass will slip over just to inspect what's going on. Moving your bug at this point will only scare the fish. Let it sit there as long as you can stand it.
It helps if the popper has built in action like long hackles or rubber legs. That will keep the fish interested.
I think the best time for poppers is when the water is like glass. I like to cast close to some kind of structure, lilly pads, timber, culvert, etc., then let it sit motionless until about the time the ripples created by the popper hitting the water have dissipated. Give it a small twitch, barely moving it, let it sit, then another, let it sit for a shorter period, then another slightly bigger movement, pause, strip it in, recast to a different spot. Sometimes if a bass misses a quick recast to the spot will take the fish. Sometimes bass slam it, sometimes they suck it down off the surface and you won't even realize it unless you're paying careful attention. Often, after the popper sits, movement triggers the hit. If you make the movement too large, the fish will miss.
While the slow retrieve, long pause, only on calm water approach works - I emphatically argue that it's the only time/way to fish them.
I fish a lot of poppers in all different conditions and have quite a bit of success in all of them. Some days, slow with long pauses is the trick but other days they may want it fast. I have caught a ton of fish on poppers in fast current, calm lakes, choppy lakes, slow currents on the rivers, etc...
The truth is that there isn't a wrong way or a right way to fish them. If one retrieve isn't working, try a different one until you get it right.
The biggest trick with a popper, or any fly for that matter, is putting it where the fish are. If you can't read a river or a lake, your odds of success are limited at best. That is the key for me; if I am confident that I know where a fish is or should be, I will hammer it with five different retrieves until I figure out which one the fish wants. I'll do that long before I change flies.
Heck...I've even thrown deer hair poppers on sinking line for river smallmouth with lots of success. The noise and water they push gets the fish going crazy.
The guys are right, and unfortunitly ripping it thru the water, while cool and does work now and then, isnt the best way to fish them.
It's not a "now and then" success rate..it's a "works a lot of times" success rate. Poppers arent imitating one specific thing like a frog. They can be and should be used to imitate a lot of things. If you are only trying to imitate a frog with a popper, then you are missing out.
Let's look at conventional casting stuff - top water lures that are insanely sucsessful range from hollow frogs (slow or steady "walk the dog" retrieves), buzz baits (constant motion on top - never long pauses), zara spooks (walk the dog - constant motion) soft bodied buzz frogs (long pauses or constant motion like a buzz bait) - and the list goes on and on.
Fishing any topwater with the different applications in mind will result in more fishing. So, as I said before, there isn't a "best way" to fish a popper other than putting it where the fish are and varying your retrieves until you figure out what retrieve the fish want.
I don't rip them through the water because it "works occasionally and looks cool", I do it because it catches fish.
ripping a topwater
fast on top
Fast on top in a lake
^that one was one of my favorite smallies. Missed it on the landing so I let it sit. Gave it a few twitches..nothing. Started ripping it back and BOOM!
^This one was caught on Lake delevan in WI with regular casting stuff. I fished slow stuff all day including frogs, senkos, jigs, etc..got nothing for 4 hours. Finally started burning a spinner bait on the surface over some weed beds that were just an inch below the surface and picked up two like this in 3 casts .
I could keep going, but my point is that it doesn't just work sometimes...it works a lot
I grew up fishing poppers and still use them almost exclusively when I fish still waters for bass and panfish. I've always had good luck with them.
When I'm fishing flat still waters, I tend to fish them pretty slow. I impart only a slight action with frequent pauses. When fishing water that has a slight chop, I purposely splash them down hard, and fish them much more quickly and aggressively. Sometimes fishing them as a streamer or having them make a commotion looking like something that is struggling along with a short strip pulling the popper under, then letting it float up to the top.
I don't fish anything fancy, I use foam from flip-flops to make my poppers
The foam poppers are cheap, easy to tie, and last a long time. They literally hold up to at least 100 fish before they get chewed apart.
p.s. Under good conditions, small poppers attract an d catch surprisingly big fish.
I fish them all kinds of ways as Brookfieldangler has said, and although I like to fish any surface fly when the water is calm, I don't restrict poppers to only those conditions. Ripping a surface fly, whether a popper or not is not something I do a lot, but have had it work quite well. Striped bass & Bluefish are more prone to strike a faster moving surface fly than LM bass, but sometimes, LM & SM bass both want it moving fast. (Think buzzbait or spinnerbait as Brookfield has said!)
Again, you need to try different things when you're not having much success. Another thing that no one has mentioned, IMO most folks use poppers for bass that are too small. Not saying small won't work, plenty of bass are caught on small flies, but if you're going to target bass, then use bass size poppers. If you're satisfied with whatever hits it, then use whatever size is most likely to get hit. I like catching Bluegills & other panfishes, and really enjoy using surface flies, but when I target bigger fish I go with bigger flies, which is something that I progressed into over time as I was not satisfied with what I was catching on the small stuff. I now target bigger size fish with bigger flies, but even so catch some smaller ones as well.
When I was a kid, I could catch plenty of bass, but they were mostly 12" or smaller. I learned to go bigger. Of course confidence in what you're doing plays a huge role too. It took me a long time to gain the confidence to stick with bigger flies too. At first I caught less fish, but eventually that changed some & now I'm targeting 2-5lb fish, the average size where I fish, instead on 1 lbers. (Fun when targeting panfish on a 3 wt!)
Think of it this way, if the guy next to you is catching them on a 3, 4 or 5" lure, why would you toss a size 8 popper?
I also use different type of poppers. The basic bottle stopper type is what many use, but I like other styles as well. Those with long bodies, like pencil poppers will sometimes produce better than the basic stuff. I make them fat & I make them skinny! If poppers aren't working, I'll try a slider, or if a popper with a cupped face isn't working I may try one with a flat face. Try different things! There are all kinds of surface lures that catch fish, there should be some variety to what you use with the fly rod too.
I truely belive that they should be called twitchers not poppers. Once you have hit the water and the ripples go away a very quick suttle twitch is way better than a big loud classic POP. I have found that making a wake by a slow retrieve with lots of pauses is way more effective.