PER­FECT­ING POPPERS AND STICKBAITS

Sport Fishing - - GAME PLAN -

Calm sur­face waters are ideal for most pop­ping styles be­cause con­di­tions won’t hamper your abil­ity to work the plug. Rough wa­ter, how­ever, can cause a pop­per with a large head to tumble in the troughs. Pop­per fish­ing re­ally thrives with two types of fish species.

“For me, it’s ag­gres­sively feed­ing fish on the move, or deeper-hold­ing fish with the po­ten­tial to launch into ag­gres­sive feed­ing be­hav­ior,” says Capt. Jack Spren­gel, of East Coast Char­ters in Rhode Is­land. “Ag­gres­sively feed­ing fish in­clude tunas, jacks and even blue­fish, while the ex­plo­sive strik­ers that hold in cur­rent or ori­ent to struc­ture com­prise species like cu­bera snap­per, wa­hoo and mahimahi.”

Capt. Jamie Thinnes, of Sea­sons Sport­fish­ing in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, tar­gets bluefin tuna from 40 to 70 pounds at the sur­face when his lo­cal waters hit 66 to 68 de­grees.

“The ‘foamers’ are those tuna at­tack­ing an­chovies at the sur­face,” says Thinnes. “‘Pud­dler’ tuna also hang at the sur­face, cre­at­ing rip­ples but not nec­es­sar­ily eat­ing. Feed­ing tuna hit plugs al­most im­me­di­ately, de­stroy­ing the lure when it hits the sur­face.”

Thinnes watches for fol­low­ers be­hind sur­face lures such as the Shi­mano Colt­sniper. If he gets bumped on the re­trieve, he’ll speed up the lure even faster. No bites at all are a sign the re­trieve is too fast, or the tuna are sim­ply pud­dling at the sur­face.

Spren­gel tries to em­u­late the speed of flee­ing bait­fish. “The key with [sur­face feed­ers] is for the lure to hit the wa­ter mov­ing, con­sis­tent with your pat­terned speed,” says Spren­gel. “Slow it down or speed it up in a pat­tern; once you get their at­ten­tion, keep it there.”

When cast­ing a pop­per near struc­ture, start the re­trieve with long, deep sweeps of the rod, quickly tak­ing up the slack line. The long, deep sweeps are per­fect for grab­bing the at­ten­tion of the deeper-hold­ing or struc­ture-ori­ented fish, and of­ten re­sult in a large swirl be­hind your plug.

“Once a large boil forms be­hind the lure, be­gin a se­ries of fast, er­ratic chops, act­ing like an in­jured or dis­ori­ented bait­fish, and you will likely be re­warded with a clas­sic, full-body breach [at­tack],” says Spren­gel.

A lure is only as ef­fec­tive as the an­gler ap­ply­ing the ac­tion. Be creative and mix up re­trieves un­til you fool fish into strik­ing. If fish are re­cep­tive, you might be able to work the bait with­out much thought. But when fish get picky, that’s the time to try to fig­ure out nec­es­sary changes in how you re­trieve your lures.

Of­ten, big tuna want a stick­bait like this (above) cranked at top speed across the sur­face, but at times, stickbaits and, par­tic­u­larly, poppers (right) will be most ef­fec­tive when paused in­ter­mit­tently.

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