Fishing the Popper

Story and Photography By Carl D. DeFazio

The popper is perhaps the fly fishers most reliable fly for consistently taking smallmouth bass. Like any other fly, one must master the technique of fishing the popper in order to guarantee success under all conditions.
Poppers can be used anytime that smallmouth are feeding on or near the surface. This does not mean that they are only feeding in this area, but that they are likely to recognize surface action. Usually this occurs when the water temperature reaches the 60 degree mark in the spring and lasts until leaf fall or the water temperature falls below 60 degrees in the autumn.

For the river I fish, a good rule of thumb is from May through September. I mention leaf fall in that I have noticed that when leaves are on the water in early fall, the smallmouth seem to shy away from surface activity even though the water temperature may be above 60-degrees.
A good rod for popper fishing is a 9 ft. 8 weight (particularly if wading) or even a 6 weight, but nothing smaller unless you want to cast a very short distance. It takes a little heavier rod to cast an air resistant popper longer distances with ease.

A weight forward floating line should be used with a 9 ft., 2X leader. I have found that in clear water at least a foot of fluorocarbon tippet makes a positive difference.
Popper colors, at times, seem to have no effect on success and at other times it does. I like white and also chartreuse. Red, black, yellow and a combination of each will work at times.

Something that I want on all my poppers are rubber legs, both from the sides and at the tail.

All these things being taken into consideration, the success of fishing the popper is a direct result of placement and action. I fish the popper across stream to the end of the

downstream swing. When I cast across, as soon as the popper hits the water, I give a twitch. This doesn’t give the fish a chance to get a good look, but instead it strikes instinctively to something landing on the surface. Keep the rod tip low and sometimes on the water. Point the rod tip at the point where the line enters the water and give a small strip with the line hand to create a pop. Continue to follow the line with the rod tip as it moves downstream and insert a popping action. You will develop your own rhythm for popping.

Poppers are like all other flies; you must spend time on the water to learn where the smallmouth will be and how to catch them. This is why we fish. One thing that I will guarantee, there is no other fly that will catch river smallmouth as consistently as the POPPER!

Carl DeFazio lives on the banks of the Potomac River, in rural Hampshire County in West Virginia , where he can often be found fishing for smallmouth bass and contemplating life. He also runs a small tying business, Mountaineer Flies.
The state record smallmouth came from his home river, a 24.25 inch, 9.75 pound beauty that was caught in 1971. Carl has caught and released a 5.8 pound smallmouth with a flyrod.
His description of fishing a popper, although aimed at river anglers, works just as well on still water. Make the popper pop! When it comes alive, the bass will go for it.
Carl can be reached on E-mail at:
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