Among his peers in professional tournament competition, Bobby Lane is best known for his skill using spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs, but when water begins cooling in the autumn, the Yamaha Pro often changes to a topwater popping plug. Usually considered a summertime lure, Lane actually keeps a popper tied on throughout the fall months.
“Topwater popping lures are more versatile than many anglers realize,” he explains, “which is why I like them so much. Not only can you fish them over and around all types of cover and structure, you can also retrieve poppers at different speeds depending on water conditions and the mood of the fish. Now, as bass move into creeks and start feeding heavily, you’re going to encounter the fish in a variety of places, and with a popper you can cover them all without having to change lures.
“They’re great big-bass lures, too,” he adds. “My biggest bass on a popper weighed 9 pounds, 11 ounces, but I’ve caught a lot of fish in the six- to eight-pound range with them. When bass won’t hit other lures, you can often tempt them into striking a popper.”
Topwater poppers are made by many different lure manufacturers, and all are similar in design, measuring two to three inches in length and incorporating two dangling treble hooks. The primary feature each of these lures also share is a concave face that catches water and “pops” as the lure is retrieved.
“Bass are normally active in the morning as they feed on shad near the surface, and a popper imitates those shad perfectly,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “It doesn’t really matter where the shad are, either, because you can fish a small topwater popper like this on points, over submerged vegetation and breaklines, around rocks and logs, or along riprap.
“Depth-wise, you can work a popper out over depths as deep as 20 feet, but I usually prefer water less than 10 feet deep. Being from Florida, I’m accustomed to fishing over and around submerged vegetation, which is probably where I use a popper most often.”
Another aspect of the topwater popper’s versatility comes in the variety of ways the lure can be retrieved. A popper’s action comes from rod tip movement, and Lane normally begins his retrieve sequence by popping the lure two or three times, stopping to let the bait sit motionless for a few moments, then popping it again as he moves it by his target.
“That’s really the basic way to fish a topwater popper,” he explains, “continuing that popping and stopping action the entire retrieve, but if that doesn’t produce any results, you can pop the lure a little faster without stopping. If the water is cooler, you can try just the opposite, only popping the lure once and then letting it sit motionless a few seconds longer.
“Really, the bass will almost always prefer a particular retrieve sequence, so I keep trying faster or slower retrieves until I get a response. For instance, I’ve had good results in extremely clear, calm water by popping the bait just once, then letting it sit absolutely motionless for as long as 10 seconds. In those conditions, I think bass may actually study the lure before striking. When I’m fishing where a breeze is rippling the water, I’ll use a faster popping retrieve with fewer pauses to get their attention.”
Lane fishes his topwater poppers with a long, medium-action rod and always with 15-pound monofilament line. Monofilament has only a slight amount of stretch so a bass can engulf the lure better. He doesn’t like braided line because it tends to wrap around the hooks during a cast.
“I don’t make extremely long casts with a topwater popper, either,” concludes the Yamaha Pro. “I know without a doubt bass are going to hit this lure, and the further away from you a bass hits, the more chances it has to jump and get free. Shorter casts also mean I can make more casts, and that means even more strikes.”