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Part Ninety-two

Randy Fratzke

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Poppers 101, Part 2

By Randy Fratzke

Popper Hooks Hook Shapes. Let's take a look at hook options. Basically, a popper hook that is to be embedded into wood, cork, or foam, is shaped a little differently than conventional hooks. Usually, about midway up the length of the hook is a series of "crinks" in the shape of a "w". The purpose in this is so when the hook is placed into the hook slot of the popper it won't turn around or rotate in the slot. That way the lure should always remain floating with the hook beneath it, providing everything else is done correctly. On spun hair poppers the hook shank is usually the same as a normal fly hook with the exception they are usually 3x or 4x long and many have a little wider hook gap.

Color. As far as I'm concerned, hook color is a personal thing. I know several manufacturers have now come out with colored hooks and claim they work better on certain species of fish. Whether or not this claim is true remains to be seen. Basically, I divide hooks into 3 categories, the normal bronzed color, the chrome or nickel color, and the gold colored hooks. Their specific color, usually, also relates to their strength and use. Keep in mind that studies have been made on different species of game fish to find out what color spectrums they can see and how they see them. So, to some extent, hook color may play a part in whether a fish will take your popper or not. Then, of course, if you're one of those anglers who doesn't believe color plays a roll in fishing then try sneaking up on a wary bass wearing white shorts, a loud yellow and blue Hawaiian flowered shirt and a white pith helmet (not to mention the stares and snickers coming from the other anglers!)

Hook Sizes and Strength. Hook strength plays a key roll in making poppers, as does the size of the hook. As I mentioned above different colors have different strengths and different purposes. Obviously, that's why there are literally hundreds of hook designs to choose from. The strongest, and usually the heaviest, are the nickel plated and chrome hooks. These are normally reserved for salt-water fishing or large specie freshwater species. The next strongest are the bronzed hooks, which come in a multitude of sizes, shapes and strengths. The gold hooks, sometimes referred to as wire hooks are the weakest. Normally you want a hook that will hold a sharp point (and a fish), not bend out during a fight with a fish (an exception is noted below in the gold wire section) and not weigh more than the popper! The hook gap or space between the hook itself and the hook's shank is very important when building poppers. The gap needs to be wide enough to clear the body of the popper so it can catch a fish, yet have the shank set deep enough so it won't pull out of the body of the popper. With care, and practice, you can adjust the gap in a hook by bending it in or out, but doing does weaken the hook. The wisest thing to do is to purchase hooks with a gap wide enough for the poppers your making. The length of the hook is also important. The shank, or straight part of the hook, has to pass through the entire body. You need to leave enough length at the head of the popper to tie it onto the line and enough of the bend and hook showing beneath or behind the popper to allow the hook to penetrate the mouth of the fish. Most of the hooks I use for poppers are at least 2x, more often in the 3x or 4x range.

Nickel and Chrome Plated Hooks Nickel and Chrome Plated Hooks. These hooks are usually large in size (I'm not sure I've seen them under a size 0/1), are extremely durable and usually, quite heavy . They can be sharpened many times, but trying to adjust the gap is extremely difficult. The fact they are made of nickel or chrome plated accounts for all of these things. I have yet to find popper hooks made of nickel or chrome plate. Salt-water has little effect on them which accounts for their popularity for their use in many salt water flies and poppers. That is also why some anglers dislike them. If a bronzed steel hook breaks off in a fish it will dissolve in a matter of days and the injury to the fish heals quickly. If a nickel or chrome plated hook breaks off in a fish it may never dissolve and it will take a long time for that injury to heal, if it ever actually does, and we all know an injured fish is just a meal swimming around for another fish.

Bronze Hooks

Bronze Colored Hooks. I'm not going to go too far into these since they are the normal hooks most of us use for angling. There are hundreds of designs and dozens of manufacturers. Basically, they are all made of various types of steel, most are tempered or hardened, then coated (mostly to keep them from rusting). The tempering process is what can make the steel bendable or brittle. The more the steel is tempered, the harder it becomes and the less bendable it is and the more prone to breakage it becomes. The flip side of this is too little tempering, which results in a weak hook that straightens out under duress and won't hold a point.

Gold Wire Hooks Gold Wire Hooks. The gold wire hooks are very weak and bendable. The main disadvantage is they will literally straighten out on a large fish and the catch will be lost. That weakness also becomes an advantage if the popper becomes snagged or hung up. In that instance, gently pull on the line with an even pressure and the hook will generally straighten out and dislodge from the snag. Afterwards, the hook can be bent back into shape by using a set of pliers or forceps and the popper can be reused immediately. The hooks are so pliable I've even made my own popper hooks using the wire hooks and bending a inverted "V" shape into the shank without any breakage. Another advantage is their cost. They are very inexpensive, come in a wide variety of sizes, and can be found at almost any local discount store (you know, the ones that start with "W" or have a big red "K" on the sign).

Trailer or Stinger Hooks. Trailer or stinger hooks are simply a second hook connected to the popper (or other lure) that trails slightly behind the popper. Primary purpose of them is to increase the number of hook- ups", especially when the fish are striking short. While I don't use them on every popper or very often, when the popper has a lot of skirting material and the fish are hitting the skirt instead of the hook, I will put one on. Generally, they just tie onto the existing hook using a monofilament line. Some are actually tied into the popper, permanently, during the making of the lure. In either case, normally they trail behind the main hook 1 to 3 inches, depending on the size of the popper.

Treble Hooks. I seldom use treble hooks for building fresh water fly fishing poppers. Occasionally I will use one for a trailer hook, and then it's a very small one, like a #6 or #8. For larger poppers, such as those used for northern pike or musky they can be attached using a small eye screw and an "O" ring but I generally leave them for the spin and bait casters. I figure if you can't catch a fish with one hook you probably won't with 3 or 6 either. Unless you can securely anchor the eye screw into the popper it will just pull out anyway, leaving the fish with a treble hook to deal with.

I know I said I'd get into materials this week, but they will have to wait because I running short on room. As always, if you have any additions, corrections or comments please let me know and I'll include them with the next section(s). Next week I promise to get into the materials I use to make the bodies of the poppers. Until then, keep casting those lines! ~ Randy Fratzke

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