My fishing buddy Unk tells that his dear old dad,
who fly fished for most of his many years, finally
got to the point where he would not fish anything
but poppers. I mean, if a fish would not hit on
the surface, it was not worth fishing for. I helped
sort out Unk's belongings when his house was flooded
by hurricane Ivan and I "recovered" hundreds of his
dad's poppers dating from the 1940's until his death
in the '80s. Those were the ones that did not float
out with the receding tide. Unk's whole backyard,
the neighborhood and out across the island in the
bayou was a trail of fine little colorful poppers
ranging in size from a quarter inch to Unk's eight-inch
sailfish flies. (The pink sailfish flies made a tree
near his house look like cathouse laundry drying.) His
dad must have had thousands of poppers and many of his
patterns are still on the shelves today. He was probably
a charter member in the Royal Order of the Popper club,
if there was such a thing. This week's trip to Louisiana
might have converted me to the Order. It is not a hard
conversion with the action I will describe.
My fishing partner this week was Maxi and the guide
was Brian Carter. The water was the Delta south of
New Orleans. We had two days of clear, cool weather
with less than ten mph of wind and very low tides.
These factors and redfish feeding on shrimp on the
surface introduced me to popper mania. Something
else was in the mix as reds are only popper eaters
sometimes, but not often. Rejection usually causes
reversion to normal flies. These couple of days
The night before, at the fine Woodland Plantation
with Foster serving up steak and tuna, set the
stage for the mania. The weakness that comes with
many manly drinks over fishing lies further set the
mood. Once on the water with almost zero wind and
fish charging at the boat completed it.
I resisted poppers as both of us started with the usual
flies for these flats, crab patterns and spoons. We had
four fish to the boat by nine o'clock, having started
at about eight AM. Then the fish really turned on.
Both of us were alternating hooking and landing
sight-fished reds in the eight to ten pound size range.
We had several doubles and this size fish on fly gear
can make for interesting fights, let alone two fights
at a time. On about my tenth fish, and I was behind
Maxi in numbers, I had a feisty ten pounder near the
boat and my rod "blew up." It was a "shot" heard for
a long way. Pieces flew all over the boat and water
if they were not connected to the line. It spooked
the white pelicans in the adjoining pond it was so
loud. I recovered most of the parts from the three
breaks and pulled the fish into the boat by hand.
Other fish were still charging so I picked up my
next rod in line. It had a popper on it and these
fish were eating so readily that even the guide though
it might work. The popper was intended to toss at jacks
if they happened by.
Reds do eat on the surface and I have had several on
poppers in the past. But, they have a hard time doing
it with their mouth so low on their head and they are
usually looking down, not up. Some times of the year
the crabs and shrimp are on the top of the water.
Crabs because they swim for fun and sex and shrimp
because they get bunched up or get chased to the top.
A shrimp on the top will jump when chased and a crab
will dive for the bottom. All-in-all you get a few
on top popper flies but not usually very many. It
is usually much more productive to get a crab pattern
in front of them.
My first cast had the fish almost do a back flip to get
the popper. He did not get hooked as I was so surprised
by the attack. I pulled it back to toss it again as the
monster was thrashing about looking on the bottom for
whatever might have dived from the attack. One "pop"
and he looked back up, spotted the fly and sort of
"locked on" to the little bug. I just barely moved
it and "WHAM" I was hooked and off he ran. It is so
sudden that it almost knocks you off the platform.
I fought this one and Maxi jumped up front and hooked
into another double for the boat.
That started it. The popper stayed in the rotation
with Maxi's crab and we were off to the races again.
Fish were everywhere in less than a foot of water.
Brian would just be working the boat again after
helping with a release and the guy not involved in
the release would see another and have a cast in
front and hook up. I looked down and it was ten
o'clock. I would have sworn the day was over. Maxi
quit counting when he had 17. I said I had less than
that, Brian countered that by saying I was ahead.
Maxi had had a run of several that "got off" and
were not landed. Maxi was having hook issues in
that a hook had "unbent" just enough to make his
"debarbed" hooks a bit slippery.
I got fish to slurp, gulp, slash, smash and swallow
popper from about any angle. You needed to deliver
the fly in front of them but when that happened and
you were able to pop it just right so they still had
turning room and could see the fly, they would leap
at it. You had to make sure the sun was not directly
behind the plug or they would get confused and just
stir up the mud looking for the fly. Some would run
in and out of the mud looking for the crab and you
had to let them know the "shrimp" was still on the
surface. I think I got another dozen popper fish
in the next hour.
One fish was way up in the shallows almost out of reach.
It was a "popper" fish in that is was half out of the
water. That makes it easier for a fish looking at the
bottom to see things on the surface at eye level. While
poling up to get within sixty feet of this one, Maxi
hooked into another one and was fighting it while I
tossed and hooked into this shallow one. Brian
grabbed a rod from the tower in back and was attempting
to get a "triple." With all this we needed one of these
for the records. I let pressure off mine, as Maxi did
on his, so not to scare away Brian's. The third did
not bite. Strange, but then again we might have already
caught that one somewhere else in the pond. Fish with
sore jaws must have been all over the marsh by then.
My fish wandered off towards the shore while I was not
"pulling" on him. I did not see it but there was a
passage behind an island and the fish went behind the
island and there I was with a fish in another pond and
no way to get him off the hook. I tried everything and
Brian could not get the boat nearer. It was only a
two-foot fish so I tried to pull it over the island
and through the grass. The fish dropped in the deep
grass and broke the line. That was not a good "catch
and release" so Brian quickly pushed us around the end
of the pond and got almost to the island from behind.
He finished the rescue by wading onto the island in
knee-deep mud and picking up the fish. It recovered
and swam off. The boat looked like a mud wrestling
arena. Good guides do good things for fish.
Back to fishing, the bite continued. The pace slowed
as the tide filled the ponds. It was almost three PM.
Someone said we might want to eat lunch. Heck, nobody
had even remembered we had it with us. For the next
hour or so we caught fish at a slower pace: probably
every ten minutes or so. The seven doubles we could
remember were to be all for the day. Seeing the
"second" fish in the deep water was too tough. At 4:30
the sun angle was not "perfect" and who would want to
fish with anything less than perfect conditions after
the day we had had. Home and in the bar by six served
as a perfect end to the day. We had one fish that was
hooked in the gills and died. Foster cooked that one
for a perfect dinner. We tried to remember when poppers
had worked so well and how many fish we might have caught
today. Brian was the one watching most of the day and his
count was, "you all hooked about sixty." Not all that
many got off so our count, not really important, was high,
even for this place. Bed felt great at about nine. That
was a half day earlier than the night before.
Maxi had a seven-hour drive to Atlanta and had to be
rested for work the following day so we left at 0630
the second day to get an early start. The Plantation
had the lunches for all three of us ready again and we
hit the marsh in the early sunrise. Seeing at least
a thousand white pelicans flying along beside you at
two feet off the water, watching birds diving on schools
of trout in the deep water, driving by dozens of magnificent
frigate birds waiting for the bait fish to come up and
seeing the many herons, egrets and osprey starting to
hunt for their breakfast, makes you happy your eyes are
clear and blood free of demon rum on a morning like this.
The wind was zero but some puffy clouds hung in the air
like pantaloons on clotheslines on a summer day. I guess
that dates me some. I was called a "complainer" for
warning that, "we cannot have two days like that, ever."
Well, we didn't. We had a better one!
At just after seven, with a red sky at our backs in
flat, calm water, we spotted the first fish of the
day. Maxi was to be primary as were going to drop
him off at noon and I could fish more after he left.
He requested my popper rod while handing me the "crab"
pole. He got the first one he tried, the second and
then a third without me even standing up. On his
fourth try, I got a shot at a second fish and we
had a double. It was not eight yet and you could
not see the fish under the water more than 20 feet
away. By about nine we had settled in to switching
the popper between us. The popper guy got the first
shot at a fish. It worked better for getting a clean
bite if there was not another fish fighting right
beside him. We were hooking them so fast that Maxi
got "trapped" with the crab in his hand since I could
not hand him a rod with a fish on it before he would
hook another fish with the crab first. When he
started whining like a kid not getting chosen for
a sandlot game I knew he was getting converted to
the "Order of the Popper" also.
I gave him the front of the boat, and the popper rod,
and realized we did not need the crab fly at all. I
started to clip the crab off with Maxi fighting another
nice one. Brian pointed out a monster way out front
coming at us. I jumped up front with the crab and
reeled off a long cast, maybe about 70 feet at the
fish coming down the pike. I was trying to hook him
before he got to Maxi's fight. It stopped and started
to look for the food. I tried again but while such a
long cast was in the air the fish did a full 180 degree
turn and the fly landed at the non-eating end. I picked
it up and tossed again only to have it happen again.
The fish tired of this after about four tries and
started away from us. Maxi was busy with wrapping his
fish around everything aft of the front platform and
Brian could not push to follow. I stripped line hard
from the reel and corked off a cast of a lifetime. It
hit in front of him and he hit it like a freight train
going away. I had all the line out and was into the
backing when it hit and then I was so surprised that
I actually got it there that my set was not all that
good. It could also have been the full fly line and
leader has a bunch of stretch in it also. Result was
the fish turned and the fly dropped out. He then
started chasing it toward the boat. I got about 60
feet of line stripped back in and dropped it in front
of him as he came out of the original mud patch he
created. I was pulling it along in front of him but
he did not see it. I picked up and finally got it to
him at 40 feet out. He ate it as soon as it was right
in front of his nose. Maxi had recovered his fish from
the muck and released it to see the end game. Brian
does not offer a lot of compliments but he said that
cast was a lifetime shot. I know it was lucky but I
could not change his mind. I didn't try all that hard.
I changed the other line to a popper so Maxi would quit
squawking. We were both now fully in the business of
the "Royal Order." It did not take long for the first
double on poppers to occur. Brian says he has never
seen such a day for popper eating reds. I sure have
It was almost eleven and we had another hour to play.
The pelicans were above us swirling in a bunch of a
thousand, spooking some of the fish around us by
shadows alone, so we relocated to one last pond.
The clouds would put us in the "dark" every now and
then and a couple fish bumped into the boat without
us seeing them. Brian then noted that we might not
have hooked everything we saw this day but it was
close. Maxi was not losing fish this day. Both of
our casting abilities had peaked earlier in the
morning. We caught only one more double but Maxi
first ate his lunch while I got a fish, Brian sat
down and had a rest and a coke and I got a fish
during that break. I ate while Maxi got the biggest
fish of the trip. It was a very nice 12-pound fish.
He used one of his patented methods of subduing this
one. He lets the fish swim under the boat and then
steps to the side and plunges him down into the mud.
I use the "depowering" method myself. I fight them
hard and get their noses out of the water so their
motor can only send them out of the water instead of
away. Maxi's way seems to confuse them more and once
cleaned off, they come into the boat a little more
docile than with the depowering.
After that big fish Maxi sort of deflated. He missed
two in row and we told him he could not leave until he
got one last fish. It came and so did noon. The half
hour ride back was another fantasy cruise. The same
bids, sitting full bellied now, watched us on the way
out. Porpoise played along the way. The puffy clouds
were coming back and growing. Brian had a hot date
later in the evening. He might have been thinking of
At the launch we all had had enough. Brian would have
fished me all day, keeping the lady waiting, but I was
"cooked" for one fishing trip. It could not have gotten
better and for me to keep up that pace without someone
else to share the load might have killed me. I think
we arrived at a count of about 40 for the 4.5 hours of
fishing. Nine an hour seemed slow for the activity level
we kept. It may have been more, many more. Besides that
we had several sheepheads to the boat with the biggest
being five pounds. I cannot help myself and toss at
other species that will pull on my line.
There are great days in this fishing game and there
sure are bad ones. But days like this come only rarely
in a lifetime. You have to pay your dues to have them
but in a place like the swamps of Louisiana, you have a
better chance than anywhere on earth. This time replaced
some of my greatest days near the top of my list.
Come on down and join the Royal Order of the Popper.
Deacons Scud and Maxi will let you in and Brian will
swear you in. Meetings will be held with headman Foster
in the "Spirit House" of Woodland Plantation. All you
will have to say is, "Hi, my name is (first name only)
and I am a popperholic." ~ Captain Scud Yates
October 2006, email@example.com