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How to Fish with Poppers for The Best Topwater Action

Get the most out of these topwater classics with a lesson in their design and function.

By Joe Cermele


If you don’t know how to fish with poppers and get the most from these lures, now’s the perfect time to learn, as the topwater bite is in full swing and will stay good through summer and into fall. And, of course, topwater bites are what we all really want, right? I don’t think there are many anglers who wouldn’t agree a surface hit is the most thrilling thing in fishing, and working a popper in just the right way will definitely result in more of those explosive bites.

Regardless of whether you’re at the local lake or standing on the beach facing down an ocean, when a fish erupts on a lure working across the top, it’s magical. These days there are countless topwater lures available, some of which have unique designs that give them unique actions, but I’d argue there is no simpler, more elegant, or more timeless design than that of a classic popper.

It’s rare that I don’t have some poppers on hand, and it makes no difference what I’m targeting. The beauty of fishing poppers is that they’ll catch just about any gamefish that will feed on the surface in freshwater or salt. As for how to fish with poppers, it couldn’t be easier, as far as the basics go; all you have to do is cast out and reel back, imparting twitches of the rod tip to make that popper pop. But to get the most out of these lures, it’s valuable to understand how slight differences in their design alter their action and effectiveness. This will help you choose the perfect popper for the task at hand, and if you still aren’t sure which one is best for your local water, I’ve provided a run-down of my five favorites, which have accounted for a pile of epic surface takes all over the country. So, here’s how to fish with poppers to get in on that topwater bite.

First, What is a Popper and How Does It Work?


Poppers come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Some models are big and strong enough entice offshore giants like tuna and handle the ensuing battle. Others are light and tiny enough to be cast on a fly rod for bluegills. Although the shapes and profiles of the bodies and tails vary greatly, all poppers have one thing in common—a concave, scooped mouth. It’s this feature that makes a popper a popper. Some scooped mouths are shallow while others are deep, and it’s important to understand how the depth of a popper’s mouth changes its performance.

Poppers either float on the surface in a perfectly horizontal position or at a slight tail-down, diagonal position. The latter is actually more common, and some poppers even feature a bit of weight at the rear to achieve an orientation where the entire head is out of the water at rest. When you twitch the rod tip, the line pulls the head down, and as the lure advances forward, that scooped mouth traps water and forces it out ahead of the lure or out to the sides away from the lure. It’s the commotion created by the sound of the “pop” and the subsequent splash of the water being thrown by the lure’s head that draws the attention of fish and fools them into believing there’s an injured baitfish struggling on the surface. The depth of the mouth, however, determines how much water a popper will throw, and how much noise it will make. The thing is, louder and splashier is not always better.

When and How to Fish with Poppers

In vast, open bodies of water like large lakes or the ocean, the more commotion a popper makes, the more likely it is to draw in fish from a distance. With that in mind, poppers are great in scenarios where there’s no obvious feeding activity taking place or obvious structure to target. A popper with a deep mouth can draw strikes out of nowhere when worked aggressively. Conversely, there are times when an aggressive popper can actually scare fish away. In super-clear water where fish are on guard, for example, a popper with a shallower mouth is often a better option, and you might want to work it with soft twitches, making it gurgle and wiggle very slightly instead of chugging loudly. Choosing the right popper and learning exactly how to fish a popper—when to pop hard or pop gently—depending on the the conditions, what you’re trying to imitate, and how aggressive the fish are can make a huge difference in your success with these lures.

5 Classic Poppers That Really Produce

Almost every company that produces hard-plastic or wooden lures offers a popper these days and given that the design of a popper has remained relatively unchanged for decades, it’s difficult to make the argument that one popper is truly better than another. What I can offer, however, is a short list of my favorites—the poppers that are always in my boxes for different tasks. You may find other brands that suit your needs or specific scenarios on your home water better, but these five poppers never fail me.

1. Rebel Pop-R


The Rebel Pop-R is a classic, and if you were to pick a lure to serve as a generic popper model on Wikipedia, this would be it. It features a deeply scooped mouth and a tail dressed with white synthetic hair. A Pop-R will throw a ton of water if you need it to, but because it’s light, you can also finesse it to produce a softer gurgle. The dressing also mimics a bug just below the surface, and I’ve had smallmouth come up and simply take it under while it was sitting still.

2. Arbogast Hula Popper


  • Best For: Bass

Another classic that’s been around since the 1950s, the, Hula Popper does a terrific job of mimicking everything but a baitfish. In larger sizes, it’s a terrific frog imitation, as the rubber skirt looks like a frog’s legs and the shallow mouth produces a softer chug that closely resembles the push of a swimming frog. In the smallest size, this lure is a killer bug imitation, representing everything from cicadas to beetles and dragonflies.

3. Rebel CrickHopper Popper


  • Best For: Panfish, Trout

Measuring just 3 1/2 inches, this tiny CricketHopper Popper is a stone cold killer on small streams and ponds. To maximize casting distance, accuracy, and action, it’s best fished on line no heavier than 4-pound-test. You can make this little cricket-shaped lure spit pretty far, but I’ve found that imparting subtle twitches and letting it float is the money. I’ve even had brown trout rise up to sip a CrickHopper Popper.

4. Yo-Zuri Hydro Popper


  • Best For: Striped Bass, Redfish, Snook, Large Pike

The deep scoop of the Hydro Popper’s mouth makes it spit a mile and send out a gun-shot-like crack when you whip the rod hard and really make it chug. Most important, this lure is built tough as nails. Combine the rigid construction with heavy-duty hooks and hardware and you’ve got a popper capable of standing up to any large predator that takes a shot.

5. Nomad Design Chug Norris Popper


  • Best For: Striped Bass, Redfish, Tuna, King Mackerel

Looking to take a big saltwater predator on the surface? The Australian-made Chug Norris can handle it. Not only does this lure cast a mile, but it also throws a ridiculous amount of water. As a bonus, holes drilled through the head also let some water pass through when you whip the rod tip, creating a frothy trail of bubbles for salty heavy hitters to follow.


Prime Fishing On Lake Of The Woods


On the south end...   Summer fishing is prime time right now up at Lake of the Woods.  Good numbers of walleyes being caught.  A nice variety of sizes, which bodes well for the fishery.  Small fish, eaters, slot fish which must be released (19.5 - 28.0 inches) and trophy walleyes over 28 inches all in the mix. 

The mud is holding big numbers of fish and two main fishing techniques are being used to get it done.

The first technique is drifting or trolling crawler harnesses.  Using a two ounce bottom bouncer and a two snelled spinner will do the trick.  Best spinner colors have been gold, gold/pink, orange/chartreuse. 

Making sure your weight is near the bottom, but not dragging the bottom is key.  Try to maintain a 45 degree angle and make sure the spinner is spinning, normally 1.0 - 1.3 mph.  Walleyes will load up, almost feeling like you are dragging a wet sock.  A good feeling!

The second technique catching good numbers of walleyes is trolling crankbaits over the mud basin.  To get crankbaits down to schools of fish normally in that 28 - 32' range, lead core line, snap weights, downriggers and even a 4 ounce bottom bouncer with 6' mono or fluorocarbon leader with shallow diving crankbait will work well.

Most popular depths on the mud are 30'-36' of water over the mud basin.  Not every walleye in the lake is focusing on the same forage base.  There has also been success in that 12-20' range over sand and even shallower along shore. 

Reefs can be their own ecosystem and can always hold fish.  Fish can be on top, sides, on the rock to mud transition or even adjacent to reef out in the mud.  Go fishing, watch electronics.

On the Rainy River...  With drier weather, the flow of water is decreasing on the Rainy River.  Water clarity has improved and so has fishing. 

Most are targeting the edges of the main current where water is slower moving.  Points, bridges, underwater structure, docks and bends in the river can all change current flow, creating good spots for fish to live.

Jigs, spinners and crankbaits are all catching fish.  There are 42 miles of navigable Rainy River with literally thousands of fun spots to fish.

The sturgeon season is open.  Some nice fish were caught this week.  Anchor up on a hole or adjacent to a hole in the river and soak some nightcrawlers.  Local tackle shops have flat no roll sinkers and sturgeon rigs. 

There is a big population of smallmouth bass in the Rainy River.  Although they don't receive much attention due to walleyes, they are abundant.

Up at the NW Angle...  Great walleye fishing is the rule of thumb using three techniques, jigging, trolling spinners and trolling crankbaits. 

Reports of walleyes sliding deeper off of structure.  If fishing a "spot on a spot", jigging is the preferred method.  If fish are spread out or you are searching a flat, spinners and crankbaits will cover more water and walleyes are normally cooperative. 

Some big pike caught again this week.  These predators are often hanging around schools of walleyes and saugers, but rocky points, bays and sunken islands are great spots as well.

Muskie anglers continue reporting good success fishing a variety of structure amongst the islands. 

Lodging, complete fishing packages, small boat guide trips, and charter trips are available at

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