Part Eighty-six

Randy Fratzke

Looking at Legs,
or "Popper Etiquette"

By Randy Fratzke

I have to be honest with you folks, I'm what's known as a "Legs Man." Other people probably look at other parts first, the shank size, the cup size, the color of the hair, placement, size and color of the eyes, but for me, it's the legs! If they're not right, the rest just doesn't seem to matter as much. Granted, the overall appearance is important, and each part is an arguable point, but it's the legs that make a good popper into a great one. Poppers? You thought I was referring to something else? Get your minds out of the gutter, folks, and back into the water. This is a 'family friendly' site, not 'one of those' sites!

We had a new guy stop by the Chat Room on a Monday night while I was hosting the Panfish Chat, looking for some help building poppers for warm water fishing. He asked a lot of valid questions and, I think, got a lot of good answers from more experienced tiers on where and how to place the eyes, how deep the cup should be and how to form it. Then the question of legs came up. Specifically, how to attach them to the body when using a solid form material, such as wood, cork or foam.

Attaching legs to a deer hair popper is, to me, a pretty simple task. I tie them in during the packing or compressing process. You have to be careful not to cut them off when your shaping the body, but I've found that to be easier than trying to tie them in after the hair has been spun, packed, and trimmed. Again, this is an arguable point, and each tier needs to figure out what works best for them, and I do have an open mind and am willing to learn new tricks if anyone wants to suggest one.

Solid form materials present a number of problems when it comes time to attach the legs. You could just glue them on the sides of the popper, but they're not going to stand away from it, not to mention it's going to look pretty bad and they'll rip off easily. I use a couple of methods to attach the legs, but they come after the 'float test.' Say what? Float test? Yup, a float test! I figure that if you don't know where the water line is how are you going to know where to place the eyes, much less the legs. So, after you have the popper built, the hook seated and sealed, the feathers or hair attached, but before you do the final paint job, float the critter and find out where the water line is. Mark it with a pencil or something, then dry it thoroughly.

I have a tendency to place the legs either right at or just above the water line. The reasoning is pretty simple. The purpose of the legs is to provide a little more attraction or stimulation. They also add weight to the popper, so if you place them too low they won't move much surface water, which causes noise, ripples, and attraction. If they are placed too high, the entire popper will 'roll over and play dead.' It's a pretty simple principle, the heaviest side of the popper is going to sink the farthest in the water. Ok, you've figured out the water line and where you want to place the legs. Now how do you get those pieces of live rubber or hair fibers stuck onto popper?

Basically, I use one or, at times, a combination of methods: The Drill and Fill, The Red Hot Poker, or The Needle Through The Body.

I use the Drill and Fill method the most because most of my poppers are carved from balsa wood or cork. It will only work on foam poppers if the foam is quite dense and hard. I start by drilling a hole at a slightly upward angle just above the waterline. I use a fine bit, slightly larger than the live rubber diameter and what is called a needle drill. A needle drill can be purchased through some catalogs or at a hobby shop. It is a manually operated drill, with the diameter slightly larger than a pencil and interchangeable collets for different sized drill bits. They are very easy to use, simply twist or roll them between your fingers, with a little downward pressure. I avoid electric drills simply because of a control issue, if you can handle it, go for it. Just don't get mad at me when you drill all the way through the popper or into your finger! The slight angle is so when the legs are inserted they have a slight 'draping' or 'waterfall' effect which cause more rippling on the water surface. So drill the hole, fill it with epoxy, then, while the epoxy is still wet, use a toothpick or needle to push the rubber piece into the hole and let the epoxy dry. Use a little additional epoxy to fill the hole afterwards and sand smooth, using an emery board or nail file.

I use the Red Hot Poker method for cork mostly. I lock a needle or small brad into the jaws of either a locking pliers or a hemostat. Then, using a candle or a bunson burner, heat it until it's glowing and push it into the cork to burn a hole into the side a slight angle like above. Use a lot of care when using this method. You have a lit heating source and a hot needle going into a soft surface - you get the message, don't burn yourself or the house down trying to put legs on a popper! Also, do not use this method for foam bodies - you'll burn a big hole in it and probably wind up with a melted mess. Finish the process the same as above, using epoxy.

The last method is the Needle Through the Body. The process is fairly simple. Using canvas or upholstery needle and a needle threader pull a piece of live rubber through the eye of the needle. Put the threader (picked up for about a quarter at a sewing center) through the eye of the needle, then the rubber through the threader, like a bobbin threader. Go slowly so you don't cut the rubber, you can make the rubber thinner by stretching it. Then slowing push the needle though the foam or soft cork body of the popper. You may need to use a pliers to push or pull it though, but use care so as not to burst the body. Once the tip of the needle is through to the back side, pull it from that side, stretching the rubber slightly as it is being pulled through. After the entire needle is through, pull enough rubber through for the leg on that side and trim off the rubber on the front side. The result is two legs for each pull. The hole can be left alone and will be filled with paint during the finishing process or be filled with epoxy.

So now you can put all the legs you want on your poppers. Go for it, long ones short ones contrasting colors, different lengths. Experiment with different materials. Have fun, that's what fishing is supposed to be about. ~ Randy Fratzke

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