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Part Ninety-one

Randy Fratzke

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Poppers 101, Part 1

By Randy Fratzke

Poppers. To a dry fly angler they're an aberration, something that belongs on the end of a heavy duty bait casting line or at the very least a spinning rod. After all, that's where they crossed the fence from, or did they? I mean, what's a Sculpin, Dahlberg Diver, Muddler or any number of hopper patterns but poppers made from spun deer hair, wool and feathers. The only major difference, in my humble opinion, is sometimes the material used in making poppers also includes pine, basswood, balsa wood, cork or foam. For that matter sometimes I've used combinations of several of the above materials. The basic principal in all of them is to make some type of noise on the surface of the water to get the attention of the fish and make it attack the source. When the popper is designed properly, tugging on the line sharply usually results in a popping sound caused by air being trapped somewhere as the lure is pulled under the water.

Over the next couple of weeks I'd like to discuss the different techniques of making and using different types of poppers, hoppers, frogs, mice, divers and anything else you can think of that goes 'pop' in the day or night. While I could do it all in one long, drawn out, article it wouldn't be fair for any of us because there is just too much material to cover! Something you're going to notice is I'm using the word "usually" a lot . . . There are always exceptions to every rule, not to mention personal preferences.

First of all, I'd like to talk about some of the tools I use for carving and shaping my poppers. While all of these are definitely not necessary, (please don't tell my wife!) they do make the job quicker, easier, and the resulting popper looks more professional.

Tools Needed

Safety glasses or goggles, breathing filter mask, carvers gloves (optional, but nice), a first aid kit (because at sometime you will slip and cut yourself)!

Basic tool needs:

    1. Single edged razor blades and a basic set of 'Exacto' type carving blades. Used for cutting, shaping, carving, and detailing.

    2. Sandpaper. Various grits in the ranges of 80, 100, 120, 180, 200, and 250.

    3. Wet sandpaper. Various grits in the ranges of 100, 220 and 400.

    4. Paint brushes and painting devices. I use a variety, ranging from fine hair artist brushes, to the coarser nylon bristle disposable brushes. In addition I have a set of small dowels, nails, sponges and craft items I use for detailing spots, swirls and eyes.

    5. Hooks. A selection of popper hooks in various sizes (I'll get into these again later), regular fly tying hooks in 2x, 3x and 4x in various sizes; and yes, small treble hooks in various sizes. I've switched over to barbless hooks for the most part, but I haven't been able to find any popper hooks that are barbless, so I usually pinch them down and file them smooth. Using a little clear fingernail polish on the point helps to keep them from rusting and doesn't seem to interfere with hookups. I also use larger hooks, up to 0/4, in either chrome or nickel plate for salt water use. If your worried about the nickel or chrome hooks breaking off and not dissolving in a salt water fish then by all means use what ever type or brand you want. I haven't found that to be a big issue, providing you bring the fish in and release it properly.

    6. Epoxy, wood fillers, head cement, and adhesives. A variety of glues and adhesives are usually necessary. The number and types will vary, depending on what styles of poppers are being built.

    7. Paints and finishes. For most I use acrylic paints. They clean up with water, come in every color known, can be mixed together to create custom colors, and are very inexpensive. I also use spray paints for special applications that I will describe later.

    8. Miscellaneous. A small drill and drill bits, a small saw (such as a coping or jig saw), a wide variety of what I refer to as junk, tooth picks, craft sticks, cotton swabs, cotton balls, small C-clamps, clothes pins, needles, and masking tape . The more poppers you build the more this list will grow. It's been said many times, need is the mother of invention, and you'll come up with a lot of ideas of how to do things using common house hold items. A bunch of plastic mesh bags, such as those that garlic, onions and potatoes are purchased in, come in handy also, as I'll explain in another section. A variety of rubber strands to use for legs, feelers and attractor skirts.

Advanced tools:
Things that make life easier and the job go quicker. These items are not really necessary, some cost a lot of money, and are completely optional.

    1. Dremel-type rotary device with a large variety of attachments. I have carving burrs, rasps, sanders, router bits, cutting tools, extra collets and a wide variety of drill bits. In addition I also have a drill press attachment and the extension wand.

    2. A good set of wood carving tools. I have a set of palm tools and a set of chip carving tools. These are precision tools made of extremely hard metal which hold a sharp edge. The job of detailing, carving and shaping is really made easy with these. Quality and price vary widely, especially the quality. If your going to spend the money, like most things in life, make sure you don't buy a cheap set, you'll spend more time sharpening, honing and cussing than you do carving.

    3. Air-brush system. These come in a variety of styles and price ranges, from the inexpensive types that run off of a can of compressed air to the professional double action models that operate from air compressors. The nice part about airbrushes is they normally have interchangeable tips or variable spray patterns. You can also vary the amount of paint that is sprayed, from a very fine mist to a heavy coating.

    4. Miscellaneous. There is an art material called frisket which comes with either a peel off backing or in liquid form that can be used to mask off areas during the painting and finishing process you'll find works a lot better than masking tape. Power tools, such as scroll saws, jig saws, and sanders all are useful, but as I said, not absolutely necessary.

That's enough for this week. If you have any additions or comments, please let me know and I'll include it with the next section(s). Next week I'll discuss hooks and materials to use to make the bodies of the poppers. Until then, keep casting those lines! ~ Randy Fratzke

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