July 27, 2009 by Jason Sealock
Editor's note: The editors at FLW Outdoors Magazine field tested several topwater popping baits to put together this article, which originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine. Learn more about FLW Outdoors Magazine and how to subscribe by clicking here.
Pop. Pop. Splash. Splash. Set the Hook. Grab the net. Then drop that keeper in the livewell and fire back out there again. The action can be fast and furious when bass are schooling or rummaging shallow bushes looking for an easy meal, and they readily fall victim to popping topwaters. There are literally dozens of popper varieties on the market, and we sampled a large pool of manufacturers' offerings.
The Rebel Pop-R has accounted for numerous tournament wins, including two back-to-back Stren Series wins by pro Craig Powers in 2005. According to Powers, there is nothing magic about a popper. It's all about where you cast it and how you work it. In fact, he's been throwing the same Pop-R for about 20 years now. The paint is literally rubbed off the bait - a testament to the power of a popper in the right hands.
Having said that, there are variations among different makes of poppers, from design to color to size options. We broke down and ranked several options for each popper. We took them into the field and fished a variety of areas on the lake and caught a few fish to learn what each popper did well and didn't do so well.
There are several differences between various poppers. Obviously the differences in the concave mouth will change the action of the bait. How it sits in the water also changes action. Some poppers ride horizontally on top of the water, and others ride with a head-up, tail-down position. Some poppers spit water while others make a large gulp and bubble. Those that cause a large gulp usually have to be worked slowly. Those that spit water rather than gulping it can actually be worked much faster. The medium poppers can be worked fast if you jerk them softly and much slower if you jerk them harder. In the right hands a popper will actually walk like a Zara Spook.
In our table you'll find details about each popper and how it performs in comparison to its rivals. Here are a few we selected as our personal favorites:
Berkley Frenzy Popper: The Frenzy Popper is a must have. It sits tail down in the water, but when you give it a fast jerk, it spits water quickly and violently, and you're able to work the bait at a pretty good clip. If you give it a lighter pop, you can actually get the bait to walk, and it keeps a true track as it walks. Deep-gulping poppers notoriously turn to one side or the other, and sometimes this causes the bait to grab the line with its back hook. With the Frenzy Popper, we could work it around bushes and laydowns quickly without ever losing our straight track or fouling up. Tack on a price tag under $3 and this bait is worth every penny and then some.
Rebel Pop-R: It's hard to argue with success. So many bass have been caught on this bait that it would be hard not to have a special place in every tackle box for one. We asked Craig Powers what he does to customize the bait, and he told us that he takes them out of the package. While he did admit to swapping out hooks over the years as they rust and dull, the bait is perfect as is. It's a big gulping bait with a hard pop. But with a light popping cadence the bait works back and forth like a spook with a very unique spitting and sputtering action. It's as deadly in thick cover as it is in open water, and with a reasonable price tag and many color choices, it's money well spent.
Strike King Spit-N-King: What really struck us about this bait is that it sits horizontally on the surface and has a nice spitting spray when you pop it. However, you can really move this bait, almost like a jerkbait, and it never gets fouled or out of track. Throw it up in the thick stuff and skip it out of there in a hurry. If you don't want the fish to get a good look at your popper, then this is the bait for you. It's easy to see why this worked so well for George Cochran at the 2005 Forrest Wood Cup in the clear waters of Lake Hamilton.
Rapala Skitter Pop: Talk about a commotion on the surface. This bait is like dynamite in a super small package. We were very pleased at how much of a quiet commotion this bait makes. It really looks like a minnow that is being attacked by another bass - a key trigger to strikes. The molded plastic, add-on lip really throws the water, and surprisingly, even with the 3-foot spray it throws, you can work the bait really fast. We do wish they were a little cheaper but that's the price you pay for a quality bait.