No matter whether you’re chasing bass, queenfish, saratoga, trevally, murray cod, tailor, bream or barramundi, fishing with topwater offerings is addictive. The visual aspect of the surface strike will have you trembling at the knees and the power some species emit as they head for cover will have you buckling at the knees. While there’s now a myriad of surface lures, all imitating a wounded or struggling food source, poppers would have to be one of the more commonly used topwater presentations.
During the last decade or so, hardcore anglers have renewed interest in targeting giant trevally, kingfish, yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel and numerous other bluewater beasts on large poppers and heavy duty tackle. Obviously, tough adversaries require even tougher tackle to withstand the pressures of subduing these critters. Targeting XOS GTs requires the strongest outfits and tough lures rigged with hardcore terminals.
Eliminating weak links will give you a great chance of success when that lure finally gets crunched. As poppers promote a savage smash and grab strike, increased chances of a hook-up are highly desirable and a hotly debated topic. Different lures requiring altered hook setups to maximise swimming action and promote better hook-up potential.
Poppers are one of the more commonly used lures for targeting large GTs and other bluewater predators. There are three popular ways of rigging these large cup-faced lures, which can exceed 30cm in length and weigh more than 200gm.
Some anglers favour all trebles and while these offer great initial hook-up potential, they’re more likely to be worked free during the fight, have increased potential to be dangerous to the angler or deckie and can inflict more damage to the fish as well. The single tail hook and back-to-back belly hooks are a better solution, offering great hook-up and holding potential, yet these are likely to foul on the leader if the lure cartwheels during the retrieve.
The single head hook and single rear hook combo (top) is my preferred rigging option and is rapidly gaining popularity among the ranks of seasoned popper fishers. The lure will rarely foul with the leader and the hook-up potential is great on GTs, as they commonly attack the head of the bait to crush and immobilise it. The single hook with flexible rigging is also much less likely to be dislodged during the fight.
To make your own popper head hook, you’re going to need a few things. One of the best, most easily sourced hooks is the Owner Jobu. The Shout Kudako, Owner SJ-41 and numerous other strong hooks can be used. Some 2mm Spectra cord (Spectraspeed 250kg is good) can be sourced for around $2 per metre from chandlery stores, especially those specialising in yachting equipment. A good pair of cutters, a cigarette lighter and some heat shrink, around 15mm, are all that’s required.
For this particular popper I’m going to use an 8/0 Owner Jobu, which is the most common size. You’ll need minimum 28cm of Spectra Cord for this size hook, 26cm for 7/0 and 30cm for 9/0. You can always make the rig longer if you wish. Once you’ve cut your Spectra to length, use your cigarette lighter to seal the ends to limit fraying.
Fold your Spectra in half with a hard crease in the centre – this section is required to pass through the hook eye in the latter stages. This also gets your tag ends even.
Hold the two tag ends against the hook shank and wrap the main portion around the hook shank and down so that it overlaps the start of the tag ends.
Continue to wrap down around the shank and then pass the folded over portion back through the centre, against the hook shank, to complete a clove hitch around the shank.
Pull the knot tight, with the tag ends just protruding out of the knot, and then push the creased centre portion through the hook eye from the rear of the shank and out the gape side.
Pull this very tight so the knot snugs up hard to the hook eye. Put the hook bend over a solid structure, such as a boat rail, and then use your finger or a bar hooked through the Spectra loop to apply some serious pressure and lock the knot tightly.
A small portion of heat shrink can be passed over the knot and then reduced with the cigarette lighter or a paint stripper gun to secure and hold the knot in place and neaten up the rig.
To attach this to your popper, pass the end of the loop through the towing eyelet of the popper and then pass the hook through the loop. I like the loop to be a snug, taut fit over the hook.
Continue pulling the hook until the loop snugs up tight around the towing eyelet. Your leader will still be attached to the wire towing eyelet, usually utilising a swivel and a split ring, when using a popper head hook.
When laid back along the body of the popper, the head hook will be roughly level with the front belly eyelet which does not have a hook of any kind on it. If the head hook wraps the leader during casting or when a popper cartwheels during the retrieve or a missed strike, the hook will easily fall away and back into the desired position. The retrieve can be then continued, which is usually not possible when a belly rigged single or treble is in play. Popper head hooks, in conjunction with a single rear hook (also usually of the aforementioned patterns), are fast becoming the desired rigging method with anglers using large poppers. GTs and many other species commonly attack the head area of the prey, which means that this hook is in exactly the right spot for a positive hook-up. In my experience, chasing GTs at Kenn, Wreck, Fredericks, Bugatti, Elusive and Saumarez reefs some years ago, nine out of ten GTs were hooked on this freely swinging head hook. Give this rigging system a go as it will increase your capture rate and is one of the safest rigging options for the fish, angler and deckie.Reads: 853