Making The Most of A Pop-R
(and its clones)
by Ken Cook

 

Pop-R modelsThe venerable Rebel Pop-R is one of the most popular topwaters made. The Pop-R is manufactured in 50 (2"), 60 (2 1/2") and 65 (3") series. PRADCO added the longer Pro series as well, with the length of the 65 and packing #4 Excalibur hooks, but a diameter closer to the 60 series.
    Specialty companies both here and abroad have copied and "improved" the design and many swear by these custom (and often expensive) variations. The bottom line is still to match the overall size and action of the bait to what the fish want, but there are a few items that can be addressed to improve the odds.
    The Bait: Although other colors and sizes produce better at times, the standard Chrome/Black back 60 series is my "go to", followed by Clear and Baby Bass.
    Front Hook: The Pro series Pop-R and high end clones come with high quality hooks, but the basic Pop-R is still produced with marginal hooks. Replacing "stock" hooks with Excalibur, Owner, VMC or other high quality hooks (#6 for 60 series, #4 for 65 series) is a must to achieve a high strike/hookup/landing ratio. I use both the Excalibur (XTE6) and Owner Tournament Treble (5321).
    Rear Hook: This is the key to more strikes and hookups! Again, the "stock" rear hook and dressing (see picture above) leave much to be desired. The size, color, type and, above all, length of the dressing make a significant difference in improving success. Although many dressing colors and feather/mylar combinations are available, I generally "stick with the basics": a chartreuse and white feather combination with a few strands of mylar for flash. The dressing should be 2" or longer for the 60 series. For my "customized" Pop-Rs, I prefer the Owner Tournament Trailer (5165-051-03). VMC makes a good one as well and, although I have yet to try them, the new "ArbyDoos" and "Doo-Dads" should do a fine job too. No matter which product you choose or, if you decide to build your own, apply a couple of (extra) coats of clear fingernail polish to the tying threads to increase durability.
   The "off the shelf" Custom baits, such as SOB's Lil' Pop and
 
 

    Don Iovino's Splash It typically have this type long feathered dressing.
 
 
 
 

   At right, the required hardware and a shot of a modified Pop-R:
 

 

SOB's Lil' Pop
Don Iovino's Splash It
Tools of the trade
Modified P6001
    If you are really in to modifying baits, you can try cutting the lip to change the "popping" characteristics. "Spitting", "splashing" and "jumping" can be achieved with the right changes in the lip(s). Good with an airbrush? A custom paint job or simply adding an orange belly can often achieve results when the "standard colors" aren't working. I'll leave those mods up to you.
    Modifying the bait is only the first part. There are many ways to fish a topwater bait and it's not all technique.
     Tackle can be as important as the bait itself. Bucking the trend to return to glass for hard (treble hook) baits, I still prefer a carefully chosen 6'6" medium action graphite rod. Brand and cost (you wouldn't believe what I use) are irrelevant. Proper rod action when working the bait, setting the hook and bringing the fish to the boat are what count. For best bait control and action, I direct tie to the bait using a Palomar knot, choosing 12-15 pound monofilament line for most conditions and generally reserving heavier line for larger baits like the Spook. Lighter line will increase both casting range and accuracy and can result in more strikes. Line stretch, combined with the right rod action and drag setting, allows a good hookset without pulling free and helps in fighting the fish to the boat, especially when they make that frantic last second run.
    Although I use braid (Lynch Line) for most soft bait applications, I prefer the stretch of mono when using hard baits. Braid (or any of the other low stretch "super lines") will work, but requires a lighter drag and/or softer rod action to prevent pullouts on the hookset or while fighting the fish. A topwater bait also tends to "overrun" the line and tangle the front hook when using a superline. This can be prevented by using a short (6-12") mono shock leader, but joining the superline and mono without using a swivel (which could kill the bait's action) is a serious challenge.
    Techniques vary widely and it is ultimately the fish that dictate which to use, but I achieve my most consistent results by working the bait slowly, using soft pops and relatively long delays between. How long between pops (or "twitches") and how many? Only the fish can tell you that. The rear hook dressing is a major part of the success of this technique. Even when the bait is at rest, the long feathers are in constant, tantalizing motion. This technique works well in open water, but is at its best when targeting specific spots such as a grass edge, submerged brush or treetops, retaining walls or rip-rap and boat docks. As fish susceptable to topwaters are often spooky or finicky, I also prefer to make relatively long casts. Accuracy and delivery can be everything in this situation. Too close or too noisy on the delivery can spook the fish and, conversely, too far away and you can't get their attention.
    Any discussion of topwater fishing must cover the hookset. Nothing has changed. You should wait until you feel the fish, but it's awfully hard to do when you see that blowup or boil and the bait just "disappears".
    Good luck on your next outing!

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