I have to be honest with you folks, I'm what's known as a "Legs Man." Other
people probably look at other parts first, the shank size, the cup size, the
color of the hair, placement, size and color of the eyes, but for me, it's the
legs! If they're not right, the rest just doesn't seem to matter as much.
Granted, the overall appearance is important, and each part is an arguable
point, but it's the legs that make a good popper into a great one. Poppers?
You thought I was referring to something else? Get your minds out of the
gutter, folks, and back into the water. This is a 'family friendly' site, not
'one of those' sites!
We had a new guy stop by the Chat Room on a Monday night while I was hosting
the Panfish Chat, looking for some help building poppers for warm water fishing.
He asked a lot of valid questions and, I think, got a lot of good answers from more
experienced tiers on where and how to place the eyes, how deep the cup should
be and how to form it. Then the question of legs came up. Specifically, how
to attach them to the body when using a solid form material, such as wood,
cork or foam.
Attaching legs to a deer hair popper is, to me, a pretty simple task. I tie
them in during the packing or compressing process. You have to be careful not
to cut them off when your shaping the body, but I've found that to be easier
than trying to tie them in after the hair has been spun, packed, and trimmed.
Again, this is an arguable point, and each tier needs to figure out what works
best for them, and I do have an open mind and am willing to learn new tricks
if anyone wants to suggest one.
Solid form materials present a number of problems when it comes time to attach
the legs. You could just glue them on the sides of the popper, but they're
not going to stand away from it, not to mention it's going to look pretty bad
and they'll rip off easily. I use a couple of methods to attach the legs, but
they come after the 'float test.' Say what? Float test? Yup, a float test!
I figure that if you don't know where the water line is how are you going to
know where to place the eyes, much less the legs. So, after you have the
popper built, the hook seated and sealed, the feathers or hair attached, but
before you do the final paint job, float the critter and find out where the
water line is. Mark it with a pencil or something, then dry it thoroughly.
I have a tendency to place the legs either right at or just above the water
line. The reasoning is pretty simple. The purpose of the legs is to provide
a little more attraction or stimulation. They also add weight to the popper,
so if you place them too low they won't move much surface water, which causes
noise, ripples, and attraction. If they are placed too high, the entire
popper will 'roll over and play dead.' It's a pretty simple principle, the
heaviest side of the popper is going to sink the farthest in the water.
Ok, you've figured out the water line and where you want to place the legs.
Now how do you get those pieces of live rubber or hair fibers stuck onto
Basically, I use one or, at times, a combination of methods: The
Drill and Fill, The Red Hot Poker, or The Needle Through The Body.
I use the Drill and Fill method the most because most of my poppers are
carved from balsa wood or cork. It will only work on foam poppers if the foam
is quite dense and hard. I start by drilling a hole at a slightly upward
angle just above the waterline. I use a fine bit, slightly larger than the
live rubber diameter and what is called a needle drill. A needle drill can be
purchased through some catalogs or at a hobby shop. It is a manually operated
drill, with the diameter slightly larger than a pencil and interchangeable
collets for different sized drill bits. They are very easy to use, simply
twist or roll them between your fingers, with a little downward pressure. I
avoid electric drills simply because of a control issue, if you can handle it,
go for it. Just don't get mad at me when you drill all the way through the
popper or into your finger! The slight angle is so when the legs are
inserted they have a slight 'draping' or 'waterfall' effect which cause more
rippling on the water surface. So drill the hole, fill it with epoxy, then,
while the epoxy is still wet, use a toothpick or needle to push the rubber
piece into the hole and let the epoxy dry. Use a little additional epoxy to
fill the hole afterwards and sand smooth, using an emery board or nail file.
I use the Red Hot Poker method for cork mostly. I lock a needle or small
brad into the jaws of either a locking pliers or a hemostat. Then, using a
candle or a bunson burner, heat it until it's glowing and push it into the
cork to burn a hole into the side a slight angle like above. Use a lot of
care when using this method. You have a lit heating source and a hot needle
going into a soft surface - you get the message, don't burn yourself or the
house down trying to put legs on a popper! Also, do not use this method for
foam bodies - you'll burn a big hole in it and probably wind up with a melted
mess. Finish the process the same as above, using epoxy.
The last method is the Needle Through the Body. The process is fairly
simple. Using canvas or upholstery needle and a needle threader pull a piece
of live rubber through the eye of the needle. Put the threader (picked up for
about a quarter at a sewing center) through the eye of the needle, then the
rubber through the threader, like a bobbin threader. Go slowly so you don't
cut the rubber, you can make the rubber thinner by stretching it. Then
slowing push the needle though the foam or soft cork body of the popper. You
may need to use a pliers to push or pull it though, but use care so as not to
burst the body. Once the tip of the needle is through to the back side, pull
it from that side, stretching the rubber slightly as it is being pulled
through. After the entire needle is through, pull enough rubber through for
the leg on that side and trim off the rubber on the front side. The result is
two legs for each pull. The hole can be left alone and will be filled with
paint during the finishing process or be filled with epoxy.
So now you can put all the legs you want on your poppers. Go for it, long
ones short ones contrasting colors, different lengths. Experiment with
different materials. Have fun, that's what fishing is supposed to be about.
~ Randy Fratzke