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Boom tubes: big popping plugs bring big fun, inshore and off.

Simply put, poppers are plugs with flat or cupped faces designed to displace more water to cause more noise at the top of the water column. Poppers in the 3- to 4-inch sizes are familiar tools in the bass fishing world, but some companies have gone the McDonald's route and supersized these poppers to be utilized to catch saltwater titans.

Throughout the world, anglers incorporate big poppers to target particular fish. They are thrown in Costa Rica for roosterfish and for giant trevally in the Indo-Pacific. Poppers are utilized throughout the world for targeting all kinds of fish, but Florida may offer more opportunities to successfully use these lures than any other location.

A large popper is between five to seven inches in length; larger versions do exist. Their styles vary from bowling pin shapes to pencils to create different levels of commotion. The face of the poppers may be flat or cupped, and the width and depth of the cup make several levels of noise. The deeper, wider cup will displace more water than its counterpart with less pronounced face.

Pencil poppers are intended to be worked faster, such as the 7-inch model from Cotton Cordell. The flip-side to that style is embodied within the Roosta Popper 195 from Halco with their very deep, very wide cupped face. This popper is designed for a larger sound and not worked nearly as quickly.

For the serious popper fisherman, proper rod selection is critical. You want a rod that can hurl a lure weighing as much as 5 ounces, such as the Yo-Zuri Bull Pop, a long distance. This requires an 8-foot rod with some beef in the backbone. The St. Croix Tidemaster 8-foot 1740 pound rod will work for poppers up to 3 ounces. For larger specimen poppers check out the Shimano Ocea Plugger series which is an 8-foot, 3-inch rod which can throw up to 5-ounce poppers.

Match these rods with a strong reel in an 8000 or 10000 series reel loaded with at least 50-pound braid and you have a rig set up for action. Many big-game popper professionals utilize the FG knot to connect braided running line seamlessly to a long leader of up to 100-pound test. But unless you have specific need for such a long shock leader, where the transition from line to leader must pass through the rod guides, it's fine to use common line-to-leader knots such as the uni knot. Terminal leaders should be at least 60-pound but it is not uncommon to use much heavier leader, depending on what you're targeting.

Comfort is the key for making a popper work for you. Some of us feel more inclined to pull the rodtip down and others like to keep it high to the sky. Either way works with poppers as long as you have the right gear. I find that doing one or the other causes me to fatigue more easily and therefore I like to switch it up. I will do a few retrieves with the rodtip high, and then some working the lure with the rod down low. Sometimes I will twist my body and pull the popper to the side. As long as the popper is not being pulled out of the water it will continue to make a racket that drives fish insane.

Pelagic fish are one of the more obvious targets for large poppers. Mahi-mahi, or dolphin, are one of the most popular pelagics, and their growth rate forces them to feed constantly. Smaller mahi may chase the poppers but the larger variety will readily try to eat the poppers. Tunas, blackfin and yellowfin in particular, are also aggressive feeders and in low light times they feed towards the surface. Loud splashes and pops attract their interest.

Other offshore fish are likely to investigate the commotion caused by large poppers. On a recent Florida Sportsman staff fishing day, a sailfish came in to inspect a popper. It followed the plug to the boat before turning off where our publisher, Blair Wickstrom, was able to flip a live sardine in front of the hot fish for an easy hookup. Action brings more action--that's certainly the case with poppers as you can create disturbances to create the action when there may be none around.

Greater amberjack are the bullies of Florida's offshore wrecks and reefs. They like to sit above structures patrolling for easy meals which may be on the top. They will shoot up to the surface and once one of them is up, the rest typically follow suit.

Captain Jason Stock out of Bradenton Beach, on Florida's central Gulf Coast, is a master of coaxing amberjack to the surface. His popper of choice is a Williamson Pro Popper paired with an 8-foot spinning rod with plenty of backbone to stop the freight trains he targets.

Jason focuses on live-rock structures or wrecks that provide relief that the amberjacks can swim above in depths from 90 to 200 feet deep. Fishing with Jason recently, I watched as he made a drift over structure tossing poppers prospecting for amberjacks already high in the column. Fie keeps a close eye on his sonar, and if he sees the distinct marks of amberjacks above the structure he will set up an anchor. From there live chum is tossed up to bring the amberjacks to the surface.

I would not have believed anyone who simply told me that red snapper could be caught on surface plugs. On a trip to Destin, Capt. Jarrett Johnson of Hot Spur Charters showed me a video on a recent trip where he had done just that. We agreed the next day that this was the goal to accomplish.

Captain Jarrett took me on a short trip to some spots he had in 80 feet of water. The few spots we stopped at were all within state waters and we could see the beach from there. The structures themselves are large steel chicken coops which had been deployed over the years as havens for attracting red snapper. We started chunking cigar minnows and within 10 minutes we had the school of snapper right below the surface. Jarrett instructed me to begin tossing the popper. Immediately we had smaller snapper making runs at the plug but were not able to get a hookup. After many throws, a giant sow took her shot and nailed the popper. After a good fight, a 20-pound red snapper with a 5 '/2-inch popper was on board being prepped to be sent back to her home.

Coastal and inshore fisheries may be where the most fun can be had with atomic-sized poppers. There is a plethora of potential species that you can chase with poppers on or near the beaches throughout the state.

On the same trip to Destin where we tackled red snapper on poppers, we also hit the emerald green water along the beaches with Capt. Jordan Todd who also calls the Panhandle home. We threw poppers at large schools of bull redfish along the beaches. The schools were in as shallow as the first trough, which may have 18 inches of water, out to 50 yards off the sand near the second trough in 8 feet of water. Watching one fish come to the popper meant he was dragging the entire school with him and then competition ensues to determine which fish is going to tag that plug first.

You can chase these bull reds in the Panhandle in the winter months. Schools of bulls can also be found on the east coast of Florida from Sebastian north through Jacksonville in the fall. Both locations are primed for explosive popper fishing.

Jack crevalle can get massive and they are among the most aggressive fish that swim our Florida waters. They can reach weights of more than 50 pounds. Commonly they weigh 20 to 30 pounds throughout the state. They usually swim high in the water column and seem to want to chase everything that moves. Possibly they are the greatest target for poppers throughout the state. Springtime along the beaches of Palm Beach through Indian River counties, in southeast Florida, is a prime opportunity for finding schools of magnum jacks.

The fish that most piqued my interest in using big poppers were sharks, black-tips and spinners specifically. These may not be the biggest of the shark species, but they are active and do not shy away. They will hunt down a popper, snapping their jaws wildly until they feel something enter their mouth. The other way they like to take poppers is in a leap that clears their full body out of the water. Be sure to rig your poppers with single hooks rather than treble hooks when targeting sharks. It will help you release them easier.

I target blacktips while walking the beaches of the Treasure Coast all year long. During the mullet run in October you can really put on a show with poppers from the sand while other anglers are struggling to get their baits noticed. This time of year the blacktips are bunched up and eating as many mullet as they can, but in a school of thousands of mullet you need your gear to stand out. Poppers stand out strongly against the waves of silver mullet making it easier for the sharks to find.

Wherever you fish in coastal Florida, there are opportunities in which you can explore the use of poppers. They can bring action when there is none, and they produce the wildest strikes imaginable. Large poppers should be in your tackle bag no matter if you fish offshore or inshore.

(1) Tsunami BlueWater Popper

(2) Halco Haymaker

(3) Yo-Zuri Bull Pop

(4) Williamson Pro Popper 130

(5) Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper

(6) Tsunami Bottle Popper

Caption: Fishing off Destin, Capt. Jarrett Johnson gets a chunky red snapper with the Halco Roosta Popper 135. Hooks are Owner inline singles, a good option for catch-and-release during Florida's protracted snapper closures.

Caption: Two views of an offshore-grade popper at work, throwing spray topside (above) and broadcasting a shockwave subsurface.

Caption: Author slings a big popper off St. Lucie Inlet, targeting large jack crevalle, a spring specialty on the Southeast Florida coast.

Caption: Big Gulf reds run to a popper as if it's a dinner bell. Author (left) with Capt. Jordan Todd and Choctawhatchee Bay gold on a February trip.
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Author:Wheeler, Trey
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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