Pop Goes The Pelagic

With increased fishing pressure and struggling stocks, turning to an outside-the-box tactic is often the ticket to success.

Capt. Steve Dougherty May 19, 2011

Although dolphin aren’t the smartest fish in the ocean, at times they can be quite challenging to fool. And while we’ve been catching these great tasting, high-flying game fish for years, at the same time they have been catching on to us. While you’ve certainly encountered frenzied dolphin literally begging for a one-way trip to your fishbox, you’ve surely encountered packs of schoolies swimming circles around your boat clearly bored with your typical offerings. It’s times like these that make anglers look for new ways to fool finicky fish, with unconventional tactics often required to coax these green gamesters to feed.

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Dolphin are curious by nature, which explains why poppers initiate savage strikes. Photo: doughertyphotos.com

In my humble opinion, witnessing a big fish crush a lure or bait on the surface is the epitome of sport fishing. Whether it’s a blue marlin crashing a trolling lure or king mackerel skyrocketing on a kite bait, witnessing aggressive game fish at the point of impact is unbelievably exciting.

When you make a cast engage the reel just before your lure hits the surface. This will take some of the slack out of your line...

For Florida anglers, offshore popper fishing is within a realm of relatively uncharted waters. For reasons I can’t seem to understand, anglers probing fertile waters of the Sunshine State are somewhat stuck in their ways. Those willing to think outside the box and rip an oversized popper across the surface have begun to realize their effectiveness with seemingly uninterested dolphin.

If you’re serious about popper fishing than you will need a rod and reel outfit that’s suited for the challenge. Chugging style poppers with cupped faces are designed to push a lot of water while simultaneously creating unmistakable surface commotion. To achieve this deadly action you’ll need a specialized rod that features the perfect blend of power and action. Most popping rods are between 7 and 8 feet, although you can get away with a short jigging rod to save costs with one multi-purpose outfit. No matter what rod you select you’ll need a high-quality reel that’s capable of applying some serious drag. It will also be in your favor to spool with braided line. The lack of stretch will help you get the most from your popper.

You may be under the impression that the only time to toss a popper is when you are drifting dead in the water, however this is simply not the case. Whether you’re kite fishing a current edge, trolling a weedline or chunking in the vicinity of floating debris, it’s always a good time to work a lure across the surface. Lets say you are kite fishing and just set the perfect flight path to intercept cruising game fish. Your live baits are digging on the surface and now you’re simply waiting for a strike. Grab your popping rod and make a few exploratory casts. Who knows what you might entice with the loud splashing and popping. Even if you don’t hook a fish on the popper you’ll create enough commotion to invite fish into the kite spread.

Maybe you aren’t a fan of live baiting and trolling ballyhoo is more up your alley. While working a weedline have an angler in the bow continually casting and working a popper. While cruising along the edge he’ll have the first shot at fishy flotsam. Dipping and diving birds are also a dead giveaway. Anytime you see the slightest surface commotion toss a popper and see what happens.

Because poppers are designed to create a disturbance as they pop and chug on the surface there’s one thing you can do to work your poppers more efficiently. This holds especially true when popping on the troll and you’re required to compensate for the forward motion of the boat. When you make a cast engage the reel just before your lure hits the surface. This will take some of the slack out of your line, so the moment your popper hits the surface it will be ready for action. If you wait for the lure to hit the water before you engage the reel you will have to retrieve the slack before your lure will pop. The longer you wait the more slack you will have to gain and the longer it will take for your energy to be transferred to the lure.

Available in a plethora of sizes, colors and species specific imitations, poppers are quickly becoming another go-to option for anglers targeting surface feeding dolphin off the coast of Florida. Broadcasting an irresistible splash and vibration, poppers have the uncanny ability to entice fish to strike. Whether you’re a believer or not, try connecting on plastic for a fun and exciting alternative.

The Spice of Life

Because dolphin can be a bit wacky in their ways you need to vary your retrieve until you trigger a strike. The type and style popper—as well as the prevalent sea conditions—will also influence your retrieve. Chugging poppers with large, cupped faces are designed to create a big splash and a dramatic sweeping tug will impart the greatest action. Pencil poppers don’t necessarily chug and splash like a cup faced lure, although they certainly create irresistible surface action. When working a pencil popper you should hold the rod tip high and simply crank as fast as you can. Throw in some occasional pauses if nothing else seems to work.

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