Few, if any, saltwater fish behave as genuine surface feeders. Unlike freshwater trout taking advantage of a mayfly hatch, striped bass or redfish never rise regularly to sip floating morsels. When we hear snook "slurp" or see tuna "crashing on top," the disturbance usually occurs as enthusiastic predators annihilate baitfish just beneath, not actually on, the surface.
Better designed for catching prey beneath the surface, game fish often look clumsy as they swipe at and miss topwater lures. So why do we insist on tossing poppers when diving plugs would probably result in more hookups?
The simple answer comes in the form of an addictive adrenaline surge when a shadowy form creates a bow wave behind your popper and launches a savage, splashy attack. Fishing with poppers provides heart-stopping excitement and lots of fun. And the bigger the popper, the bigger the fun!
Anglers who pick fights with blue-water bullies need lures that can last all 15 rounds, and then some. When designing poppers measuring 6 inches or longer, manufacturers make sure the lure bodies can withstand the crushing grip of a 100-pound tuna and the hooks will remain attached despite thrashings from 80-pound giant trevally.
As an example, consider how Yo-Zuri makes its Surface Bull GT. Workers first arrange a heavy wire frame (for hanging hooks) and a lead insert in a mold, then inject heated resin. Once cooled and out of the mold, the solid body receives cosmetic treatment that includes sanding and an airbrushed finish.
"The GT stands for giant trevally because Yo-Zuri originally designed the Surface Bull with GTs in mind," says Dave Bertolozzi, assistant manager of sales and marketing for Yo-Zuri America. "Made to take abuse, it was introduced about 15 years ago as the company's first solid-body injection-molded popper."
Yo-Zuri engineers developed Poly Balsa for use in these monster poppers. The polyurethane resin has nearly the same buoyancy as balsa wood while boasting greater density and much more strength and durability.
"A solid body provides better weight for castability. More importantly, it's stronger than a hollow body," Bertolozzi says. "A lead insert at the back also contributes to better casting distance and gives the lure better popping posture because it sits tail-down and lifts the face slightly above the surface. When you rip line, the cupped face grabs air and pushes a lot of water to create a major disturbance."
A tail-down attitude between pops can also help the hookup ratio because it puts more lure below the surface for fish to grab, and the hooks hang in a good position to stick fish that attack from beneath.
Each Bomber A-Salt Popper and Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper, though hollow, relies on a skeleton of reinforcing ribs (molded into the body) to maintain structural integrity when a big fish clamps down.
Wire-through construction represents the strongest way to secure line ties and hooks to a plug. "Strong fish - exactly the kind we try to catch with these poppers - can tear screw eyes out of a lure. Even if the body fails during a fight, the wire remains intact so you can land the fish," Bertolozzi says.
Along with a wire frame, Williamson rigs its new Jet Popper with three ball- bearing swivels. A swivel at the line tie and one at each of the hook-connection points allow the lure to turn freely when anchored in a fish's jaw, virtually eliminating the possibility of the hefty plug's weight working as leverage to throw the hook.
The Braid Super Popdancer earns two distinctions in the Titanic topwater category. At 10 inches, it ranks as the largest popper, and while others leave the factory adorned with trebles, this model comes rigged with single hooks on welded rings.
Freelance writer and tropical popping specialist Tony Pena advocates the use of single hooks on surface lures. He finds that, compared to trebles, single hooks hold better on powerful fish; are easier to remove from fish; do not foul-hook fish as much; prove safer for an angler to handle; and do not need split rings.
"Removing split rings eliminates a weak link," says Pena, who uses vise-grips to squeeze open-eye Mustad Siwash 9510XXXS (sizes 5/0 to 7/0) directly onto his lures. "I'm still trying to find an indestructible hook. They all will bend out to some degree on a big fish when using heavy drags with Spectra lines."
Jeff Pierce, sales manager for Mustad, suggests another method for hanging single hooks on large topwaters. "Replacing an offshore popper's trebles with a wire-rigged assist hook gives us the same hookup rate but a better fish-retention rate," he says. "Fish like dolphin frequently jump and shake their heads, and often tear fixed trebles loose. Tied on 49-strand wire with a swivel, Mustad's Ultra Point Single Hook assist rigs allow the lure to rotate during the fight and prevent the wire from twisting, kinking and breaking."
Take a look at a popper's body shape and face style to get an idea of how to work it. For example, the Yo-Zuri Surface Cruiser features a rather thin profile and slanted nose. "You can walk the dog or skitter it across the surface like a fleeing baitfish," Bertolozzi says. "It's designed for a fast retrieve and erratic action: walking, jumping and skipping over the water."
The Surface Bull GT and other cup-faced topwaters, such as the Frenzy Angry Popper and Halco Roosta Poppa, create much more noise and commotion as they chug, splutter, push water and leave a bubble trail. Williamson's Jet Popper has a large, cupped face with jet holes that channel water and create a smoke trail. Anglers can work the lure vigorously but feel less resistance (because of the jet ports), and the body's hydrodynamic shape helps keep it tracking straight.
Yo-Zuri's Sashimi Bull, a downsized version of the GT, contains a rattle chamber to make additional noise and sports the patented Sashimi finish. The lure has a textured surface, and a three-step process applies a finish that changes color when viewed from different angles. For example, the sardine pattern looks silver/blue when seen face-on and gold/black from the back.
Bertolozzi says his largest topwater victim to date was a 40-pound jack crevalle taken on a Surface Bull GT off Jupiter, Florida. "Topwaters provoke the most vicious, incredible strikes you'll ever see. We have as much fun watching fish miss the lures as we do hooking them," he says. "Sometimes we remove the hooks and enjoy watching jacks come up and try to devour the lures."
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