Kenneth Kieser: Bass anglers laud return of a great lure

The Examiner
The Pop-R has returned in a new, better-casting form.

I just received this report from the Fishing Wire:

“The new Pop-R P71 promises ‘money in the bank’ for savvy tournament anglers in more ways than one. Most obviously, it will deliver tournament winnings. As significantly, it will keep anglers from having to dig deep for hard-to-find original Pop-R P70s when those elusive baits occasionally show up for purchase online.”

Pop-Rs are one of our best topwater lures for bass. The new Pop-R P-71 is said to be heavier than the original. This will be ideal for longer casts or skipping the lure under docks, a great improvement. This great lure has quite a history, including being discontinued.

The Pop-R was launched in 1976. It wasn’t greeted with much fanfare, and had a steady but quiet run, until it disappeared in 1978. Only a handful of anglers noticed its departure; more accurately they mourned its loss. Those devotees included several of today’s bass-fishing legends I interviewed several years ago talking about this exceptional lure.

“That lure was popular with many of us,” recalled two-time Bassmaster Classic winner Bobby Murray. “Many Bassmaster pros frantically searched their old tackle boxes for Pop-Rs — one of the best topwater lures ever made.”

Though it was officially discontinued, limited quantities of the Pop-R lived on. For example, Ann’s Tackle in East Texas continued to place large special orders of the Pop-R for several top Bassmaster tournament anglers, including Rick Clunn, Bobby and Billy Murray, Zell Rowland and Tommy Martin. That shop’s success, combined with significant tournament wins for the Pop-R users told the story and production of the Pop-R resumed.

Ironically, it was the devoted followers of the Pop-R that were probably happiest to see the bait discontinued from mainstream production. They were winning hundreds of thousands of dollars using the bait — and they didn’t want their competition to know or have access to this amazing lure.

“The bait had been out of production several years but those guys were still winning tournaments with them,” Murray said. “One day a writer called me and asked if I knew what a Pop-R was. I asked him why he wanted to know? He said he overheard Zell Rowland telling another angler that he was catching bass on a Pop-R.

Rowland remembers that writer requested to fish with him at a Bassmaster tournament.

“I knew it couldn’t be kept a secret forever,” Rowland said. “He got all my information about this lure and asked if he could take some photos. Next thing I knew he had all of the Pop-Rs out of my tackle box taking pictures of them!”

Regardless of exactly how, the secret of the Pop-R was out. Two other pros admitted their success came on a Pop-R — Clunn and Martin. Bassmaster magazine ran its first-ever lure-focused article in January 1987. Rebel sold more than 1 million Pop-Rs less than a year after that article appeared.

So, what exactly makes the Pop-R so effective? Actually, the success had to do not only with the bait itself, but how the bait was handled. Most anglers had no idea how to work the Pop-R. They fished it like a normal popper/chugger, slowly twitching and chugging it on the surface, with plenty of long pauses in between.

Turns out, the pros were doing something completely different with the Pop-R. Clunn first discovered the technique by complete accident.

Clunn was guiding a young fellow on Toledo Bend, fishing a little gully that was 12 or 13 feet deep with some brush and good bass. Rick told the young client that they needed to get the bait down to the fish with a Texas rig. The kid tied on a Pop-R.

Clunn decided to let the boy throw his topwater until he got tired of it and then tie on a plastic worm so he could catch fish. To his surprise, the boy began a high-speed retrieve with the rod pointed directly at the Pop-R, completely the wrong retrieve to use with a topwater popper.

The young man made this retrieve a couple of times and a bass took the lure. Of course, Clunn thought it was a fluke, but then the boy caught three more bass.

Experts later determined that the secret to this topwater reaction bite is holding the knot at the bottom of the line tie to help pull the front of the bait upward, often aided with a drop of super glue. The result combined with high-speed retrieve prompts the bait to skip and spit across the surface, making the sound of a shad skipping across the surface.

“It sounds exactly like a shad being chased,” Murray said. “Rebel’s Pop-R is now considered by many to be the gold standard for all other topwater poppers or chuggers, but like many classic lure legends, none capture the same flotation or movement after the lure is popped.”

That was the old version, now bass pros are discovering the new Pop-R. Measuring 3 1/8 inches and weighing 9/16 of an ounce, the new P71 perfectly matches the size, shape and action of the legendary P70, but is slightly heavier. The P71 is made from butyrate, providing the proper buoyancy for spitting and popping with a low-pitched rattle that helped set apart the P70 from other popping lures.

The Pop-R P71, a large popper, is engineered for optimized casting, which is important for making long casts to avoid spooking fish. Excellent castability is also critical for making precise presentations to tight spots under docks or overhanging trees and close to riprap, seawalls, stumps or brush. This version excels as a target bait, so good casting ability slips it into tight spots.

I will admit being old school, especially with bass lures. But it is nice to see a new generation of anglers will now have a chance to discover the amazing Pop-R, almost the same as our version from the 1970s.

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser