Poppers – Making Surface Poppers – How to make fishing poppers

How to Make Home Made Surface Poppers for Yellowtail Kingfish and Kahawai

Home-made surface popper.
Home-made surface popper.

Surface poppers are easily made at home in the garage with just a few simple hand tools. They are made from wooden bodies, also called plugs, and have a strong wire bridle running through the centre to which the hooks, or hooks, are attached. Ideally, this bridle arrangement should be made in such a way that it will continue to hold a powerful fish even if the wooden body falls apart.

Strong internal wiring is essential.
Strong internal wiring is essential.

I have caught plenty of kahawai on small poppers. However, in New Zealand, the species that is regularly targeted with poppers is the yellowtail kingfish. They are caught mostly around the North Island and in the Marlborough Sounds over the summer months. French Pass, at the top of the South Island, is a good spot for them. However, in recent years a few kingfish have been caught on rod and reel at Kaikoura, off Motunau and around Banks Peninsula.

The lead weight acts as a keel.
The lead weight acts as a keel.

They are taken more easily from boats but are also caught from shore if you can find a good spot where deepwater comes in close to the rocks. Headlands, wharf piles, rocky outcrops, reefs and any other structure are a favoured spot for kingfish. However, in recent years a few kingfish have been caught on rod and reel at Kaikoura, off Motunau and around Banks Peninsula.

I have seen kingfish straighten treble hooks, coast-lock swivels, and open up stainless steel split-rings. They are immensely powerful swimmers for their size. So your poppers will have to be well made and tough if they are to be equal to the task of holding a big kingfish.

These smaller poppers are ideal for kahawai.
These smaller poppers are ideal for kahawai.

The most important part of the popper is the internal wire bridle which holds the hooks. This is best made of stainless steel. Mason Single Strand, available from leading tackle stores, is ideal. I’ve also used Mason “49” Strand Cable (275 Ib test). This is a stranded stainless steel wire. I’ve used it because I had a 30ft packet on hand. See the picture where I have used crimps to form the loops. The heavy gauge Single Strand Mason stainless steel wire is the best. The loops are formed by twisting the wire around itself with a special tool. The key thing to keep in mind is that the wire should hold the fish to your line even if the popper should fall to pieces.

I have made the wooden plugs for my poppers, shown in the photographs, with just simple hand tools. A lathe would make the job much quicker and would make it easier to shape the popper, but certainly isn’t necessary.

I also had available lengths of 30mm round rimu dowel which required only a little shaping for the desired profile. You can save a lot of shaping work to do it that way.

Top: chugger, then a high speed pencil popper, and two angled face poppers.
Top: chugger, then a high-speed pencil popper, and two angled face poppers.

You can also have a lot of fun making various different shapes that impart the popper with a different action when retrieved. Some have short fat bodies often with a concave face and are called chuggers. These kick and splash when retrieved simulating a terrified, fleeing baitfish. It is just this sort of commotion that will trigger a strike from a kingfish!

Still, others are designed to wiggle and jump when the angler winds the reel handle.

After shaping cut a slot at least the thickness of the stainless steel wire the length of the lure. I found the easiest way to do this is to place the popper in the vice and make a cut the length of the popper with a hand saw halfway through.

It is important to incorporate a lead weight in the lower part of the popper to act as a keel. This weight should also be to the rear of the popper. This prevents it from tumbling during the cast and so avoids tangles. I again place the lure in the bench vice and cut the slot for the lead with a chisel. You can place the bridle wire into the slot and then pour the lead straight in or you can hammer a piece of lead to fit.

Next, I fill the slot with auto body filler. Allow this to dry. Then trim and sand away any flashing.

This is followed by painting which is the fun part. I first give the complete popper several coats of undercoat to seal the wood before completing the painting with aerosol paint cans. These come in metallic blue and green to give a very fish-like appearance to the completed lure. I have found that even after almost all the paint has been bitten and scraped off the popper seems to work just as well as a newly painted version. The action of the popper in the water is key to its effectiveness.

I feel that eyes are a must to help trigger a strike from the predatory kingfish. The lure just doesn’t appear finished without them. The easy option is to glue inexpensive dolls eyes are in place with Araldite.

If you want to make your poppers more durable and impervious to water you can paint the finished lure with a two-part epoxy resin. Painting the finished popper with Araldite glue makes them tougher and they also look more like you bought them at the shop!

When out fishing it is a good idea to have a separate rod rigged with a popper and placed in a rod holder. Then if kingfish suddenly appear on the surface you can toss them a popper instantly. This is important because they often disappear just as suddenly as they arrive. It is also a good idea to prospect with a popper when you first get to your fishing spot. Sometimes the kingfish aren’t visible on the surface and a casually cast popper can bring on the action.

Making your own poppers is fun and saves money. When they cost only a couple of dollars each you can afford to cast them in all directions.