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POPPER TALK: GET THE MOST OUT OF POPPERS

Start doing a little of your "out of the box" thinking now, and once the striper run kicks into a high gear you'll all ready to "pop" out of your wader seams on a few good fish up top.
By Fred Golofaro
POPPER TALK: GET THE MOST OUT OF POPPERS
Don Musso, designer of Super Strike Lures, and the versatile Little Neck Popper.

I’ve always felt there is no better way to catch fish than on surface lures, and that is especially true for poppers.

Of course, we’re talking about the conventional use of poppers – chugging them along on the surface and basking in the explosion that frequently accompanies a bass or blue nailing the wood or plastic imitation. I know a lot of people say it, but I really would rather catch a couple of fish on topwaters, than a dozen any other way.

As exciting as it can be to catch fish on poppers, if you are only using these plugs in the standard modus operandi, than you are shortchanging the fish-catching ability of these lures. Poppers have long been tagged with being a daytime lure, and as such you’ll find very few casters who store poppers in their “night bag” unless they plan on fishing through the night and into dawn before ending their shift. Yet, poppers can be a very effective tool, even after the sun goes down.

The late Bill Miller, a crusty surfman who led numerous battles for beach access here and on Cape Cod, regularly scored quality stripers on night tides with Atom Striper Swipers. I watched him do it more than once on the old Cedar Bar and up on Cape Cod. He would simply cast his plug and retrieve it with a slow, steady retrieve.

More recently, the hot plug on some nights at Montauk has been the 2-3/8 ounce Super Strike Little Neck Popper. When retrieved at a very slow pace, you can feel the plug working in the current in places like Shagwong and False Bar. But perhaps the real key to its success is the ability to cast these plugs further than the much more popular darter, especially when wind is a factor. There are nights – and days – when that extra casting distance can spell the difference between drawing blanks and leaving the beach smiling. One of the latest additions to the Super strike lineup is a heavier red-eye model that not only outcasts the 2-3/8 ounce model, it swims just as well at a very slow rate of retrieve.

A number of years back, I was giving a brother-in-law a crash course in what he needed for his first trek to Montauk and suggested several lures he should include in his arsenal. Since he and his buddy planned on fishing day and night, the daytime list included Super Strike Little Necks, while the night list featured darters, bottles and needlefish.

The first night out, he opted for what he, and many other casters have mistakenly referred to as a bottle plug, since the shape of a Little Neck or Gibbs Polaris better mimics the shape of a bottle, than does the real bottle plug – the Casting Swimmer. He called me the next morning to thank me for all the advice as he had parlayed that “bottle plug” into a half dozen nice stripers while other more experienced casters went fishless.

If you plan on adding a couple of these poppers to your night bag, the preferred approach is to remove both sets of 2/0 trebles and replace the belly hook with a 3/0 or 4/0 VMC treble.

Another option that poppers provide is that they can be very effective at doubling as surface swimmers in daylight conditions. Both the Gibbs Polaris and the Super Strike Little Neck, when retrieved very slowly along the surface, will “swim” much like a surface swimming metal lip. Both have accounted for their share of stripers when fished in this manner, but some standard type poppers can also be induced to swim, once you figure out the right rate of retrieve.

This brings us to another effective use of popping plugs. Back in the late 60s and 70s, whenever white bait dominated the Montauk surf, small white bucktails easily outfished standard surf lures of that time, but getting 3/16-ounce bucktails to the fish presented a problem. We solved our dilemma by removing the tail hook from a Herters or Creek Chub popper and adding a 12 to 18-inch trace of 40-pound leader to the tail of the plug. The bucktail was attached to the trailing end, and the whole rig was given an occasional pop over the course of a slow retrieve. Most of the fish came on the bucktail, but now and then a fish would fall for the popper, and there was also the occasional doubleheader.

Thinking out of the box, and understanding that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the fishing game will contribute to making you a better angler. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment or deviate from the norm. You just might surprise yourself.