CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS
Once You Pop, You Just Can’t Stop!
Despite catching many bass on plugs, I have never, until recently, had much luck with surface poppers.
I have impulse bought quite a few such plugs after reading various BASS magazine articles and gleaning other information from members. I genuinely thought that I had given the poppers a fair old go, whenever conditions permitted, but with the benefit of hindsight I have now changed my mind. You know how it is, you never have faith in a new method or lure until you have had a few successes with it.
I think that my early lack of success using surface poppers manifested itself in the form of two main problems. Firstly, I always prefer to fish a minnow lure first rather than a popper, so most of my popping was done as a last resort following dozens of fruitless casts with the minnow. This probably meant there were actually no bass, or very few, around anyway. Secondly, if there were fish around, I would catch pretty quickly using the minnow, and therefore be reluctant to switch to the popper because the minnow was already ‘doing the business’.
In reality, poppers never really got a fair ‘crack of the whip’ and understandably remained my second choice. Nonetheless, I did catch half a dozen on Big Bugs and Skitterpops, but only on those occasions when I had blanked with the minnows, or got bored and switched to poppers.
A slight change in fortune came about during a promising evening session whilst on a visit to Ireland. I quickly caught three or four bass, and as there were obviously a few bass about, I actually switched to the popper to target these fish that I already knew to be present. The result was some spectacular action. There were a few missed takes but a nice 4lb 12oz bass was hooked, and landed, from range.
Until recently most of my popper-caught bass have hit the lure as soon as it landed on the water, so I wasn’t experiencing the excitement of seeing the swirls as fish made repeated strikes at the twitching popper — so well described in the magazine by our more accomplished ‘chuggers’.
I fished my Welsh marks really hard, and during the course of many sessions, caught dozens of bass on minnows, but I had just half a dozen on poppers. Then one autumn I was lucky enough to make two trips to Ireland in quick session. Those trips treated me to some magical fishing that resulted in me changing my whole approach to surface popping, and to my plugging in general.
On the first trip, a howling easterly gale on the last afternoon saw Geoff, Mark and I head for a mark we knew would give us some sheltered fishing, and we knew that a few fellow B.A.S.S. members had enjoyed some good fishing the day before. When we got there the place looked lifeless. We tried another area a short distance away, where there was a nice swell rolling in, though the sea surface was blown quite flat by the strong crosswind.
I headed out across the rocky fingers armed with the trusty black and chrome Thunderstick. A couple of casts quickly showed me that the ground was too extreme even for this, the shallowest of divers, unless fished very, very slowly over the top of the gullys and ridges of rock that were only just covered by the advancing tide. This, I reasoned, was a good opportunity to try a popper.
Whilst camping in the previous summer on the French Atlantic coast, I had spent some hours in a very well stocked tackle shop ‘umming and ahhing’ about whether I really did need to treat myself to yet more plugs. I eventually decided on a surface popper that really did ‘look the business’. It was made by Duel, called an Aile Magnet, and was most realistic looking lure I’ve ever seen. I bought a brace of the 18-gram, 105 mm versions, one in sandeel pattern, and the other in joey mackerel. Fitted with strong razor-sharp saltwater hooks, these lures have a couple of magnetic steel balls inside, which fly to the back of the plug under the force of the cast, so as to give it a weight-forward characteristic. This, combined with the tapered rear end means that very long dart-like casts can be made, even into a headwind. As soon as the plug hits the water the ball bearings release and act as a rattle. Anyway, back to the mark.
With the wind hard on my back, my first cast with the sandeel pattern popper brought a couple of swirls then a take from a fish. It was only on for a few seconds before it threw the hooks and got off. “basstar. . .!” Three casts later another fish hit, but again it was lost as it turned on its side to power over a_semi-submerged ridge through thrashing fronds of wrack…“basstar…!” Two good fish lost in such quick succession was almost too much to bear!
My shouts of, “bass…… get a popper on…… there are bass everywhere!” had my two pals ditching their float gear and maniacally rooting through bags and pockets looking for poppers. Before either of them had made a cast, I was solidly into a third fish that hit the plug a mere rod length away from me, and it surged out of the gully, launching itself clear of the water in the most violent of takes! It was truly one of those heart stopping “Ya-hoo!” moments in fishing. The fish gave me a rare old runaround before eventually being safely netted. It weighed over 5lb 8oz. I was well chuffed, as they say, and encouraged the other two to get some of the action whilst I measured my fish before returning it.
Geoff opted for a chrome and blue Saltwater Big Bug. Mark had left his poppers in another bag, so improvised by tying the tying the two trebles of a Jointed Thunderstick together so he could twitch it back across the surface to simulate a badly injured fish. He got plenty of swirls but no takes; possibly the hooks were being masked in such a way as to prevent any positive hookups. Geoff was persevering with the Big Bug but getting no swirls. I was into my second fish soon after returning the first. This one weighed 3lb
I called to Mark and threw my spare Duel popper over to him, “Give that ago you scrounging Mancunian so-and-so, there must be lots of fish here”. To cut a long story short, Mark and I had, between us, fifteen bass in a couple of hours by using the Duel poppers. Geoff fished between us, either side of us, and in front of us, but for some reason try as he might, the bass ignored the Big Bug. It seemed very odd, because, even though there was a howling wind, it was bright and sunny, and the water was gin-clear. I wondered if, on this occasion, it was the realism of the Duel lures that made a difference.
Eventually Geoff gave up and Mark and I eventually had to retreat to sit on top of a grassy bank fifteen feet above the water. Dangling our legs over the edge like a pair of ageing Huckleberry Finns, we cast our plugs out to exactly the same spot and twitched them back in tandem, right next to each other, to see which one the bass were going to go for.
The fish we caught weren’t big. They averaged about 2lb 8oz, but it was a cracking end to an equally cracking five days of fishing. We sat there laughing our socks off!
I got the mackerel pattern Duel popper back from Mark just in time to take it on the second trip, this time to southern Ireland. It was early November, and I wanted to try the really rough plugging ground that Bob Moss had been ‘raving’ about for a couple of years. I bought several Irish Ordnance Survey maps for the area. I also got confirmation from Bob’s pal and acknowledged local expert, John Hall, that I was more or less looking in the right area. I didn’t want to ask John direct questions as such, because I had never met him before, and the last thing I wanted to do was turn up on his patch, take his knowledge, catch some of ‘his’ bass and then disappear. Where, after all, is the challenge in that? Equally, Bob had been a bit vague in his description of the fishing marks there. He also recognized that it was John’s ‘patch’ and not his.
In considering the bass fishing along Ireland’s southern coast, we are talking about an awful lot of ground. This certainly is different than the comparative confinement of somewhere such as The Dingle Peninsula.
Look at a map of Ireland, find the areas between Rosslare to say, Skibbereen, and you will see what I mean. There are hundreds of miles of coastline waiting to be explored.
It was good to hear from John that in my study of the maps, I had identified more or less, the right places to explore. He said that if I found myself in the area near where he lives, he would, if he could find the time, meet me to squeeze a session in. This we did, though by the time we met up, I had already found myself some nice fish of 3lb, 4lb 8oz, and 7lb 12oz. All these were taken on a jointed Thunderstick. I also landed a beauty of 8lb 14oz on the joey mackerel pattern Duel popper. The morning session with John saw me back where I had earlier taken the 7lb 12oz fish. I got lucky again and bagged bass of 2lb and 6lb 6oz on the Thunderstick, as well as a personal best 9lb 8oz bass on the joey mackerel pattern Duel popper. It was caught in the late morning in bright sunny conditions and with cold northerly wind.
As well as the encouragement John gave me to enjoy this local fishing, he also gave me some advice: don’t stay put unless you really have to; cover as much ground as possible until you locate bass.
Many of you have marks that you know so well, to the point of knowing what state of tide bass are most likely to show up, but when you are fishing somewhere new, try to give each spot a maximum of six to ten casts then move on. Fish as far as you can along that stretch, taking mental note of likely looking spots and if fishing a flooding tide, then hit those spots again on your way back.
Anyone having the pick of Ireland’s southern coast has the advantage of miles and miles of untouched and relatively unfished stretches of coastline to wander along, but I expect most of us could find long stretches like that over here if we are prepared to put in a bit of effort. Look at maps and cover a few miles.
As far as lure fishing is concerned, I would now suggest that you vary things a bit by using poppers and minnows, and even bubble floats with Redgills, at times. I believe that bass will take any lure, within reason, that you pass in front of it. It is, after all, a wild predatory creature that is hungry. Do remember to give those surface lures a go though. I am now convinced that the commotion you can stir up with a surface Popper is more likely than a minnow to attract the attention of a bass. Unless the conditions are too rough, the first lure that I clip on nowadays is the Duel Magnet popper.
Author: Ian Morris
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.102 Summer 2002.
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008