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Making Poppers
The Easy Way

By Byron Begley

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Finished Popper

I have always enjoyed fishing with poppers.  But I never thought I could make them.  Bob Clouser was teaching some classes at our shop years ago.  His popper class had one opening so I sat in.  It was an inspirational day for me.  Basically what I’m describing in this article is what Bob called the EZ Popper.  They are made from foam cylinders which are easy to obtain these days.  Back then there was only one source. 

Making poppers is not like tying flies.  It is more of an assembly line process.  I usually make up several bodies and advance the steps making several at a time.  It seems to be faster to make at least 6 at once.  I usually produce a dozen at a time.  With marking pens you can add colors.  You can use several different methods to apply eyes.  Tails and legs can be made with many different components.  You can make yours with a cupped face to make more noise on the water or just leave the face flat.  I used to coat my poppers with rod wrapping finish, which took more time and required a jig turner.  These days I skip that process.  And lately I have not applied color.  I just use different color cylinders.  It doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Hook - Mustad CK 52 S Kink Shank Popper Hook
(In this example we are using a #8 hook)
Zap A Gap CA Glue or Zap CA Thin Glue
Plastic Eyes 4.5 mm
Single Edge Razor Blade
5 Minute Epoxy Or Zap Gel for Gluing Legs to the body.
Foam Cylinders (5/16" Chartreuse in this example)
Round Rubber Legs Medium (They are available barred)
Krystal Flash
Danville 210 Thread or 3/0 Unithread
Sharpie Markers with Chisel Point (If you want to add bars to legs.
Sewing Needle with large eye
Sportsmans Goop or Shoe Goo to glue eyes to body

Step 1 Cutting the body with a razor blade.

Here I am using a 5/16th” cylinder.  Use a sharp single edge razor blade and a soft pine 1 x 12 board for cutting.  Make your first cut at about a 45 degree angle making the body long enough to cover much of the hook but leaving plenty of room to tie in the tail.  When making the cut you can move the razor blade to make the cut but only move it in one direction.  A back and forth motion results in an uneven cut.

Photograph of cylinder while making the first cut.
Once your body has been cut you will notice what is left on the cylinder is an exact replica of your first cut.  So, you can cut your second body by making a flat perpendicular straight cut and you have your second body.  If you have enough of the cylinder left you may get a third body out of it.

Image showing cylinders after the cut.
Bob Clouser said this 45 degree ramp has a purpose.  When the fish takes the fly and closes it’s mouth the ramp actually pushes the hook into some tissue increasing your chance for a hook-up.

Cutting a flat surface at the rear of the body.

Step 2

At the base of the ramp make a straight cut leaving a flat surface where the rear of the hook will come out of the body. 

Image showing the flat surface at the rear of the body.
This photo shows the flat surface left after trimming the rear of the body. Later, the hook will extend out from this point.

Dremel Tool with Drill Press Attachment

Step 3 Cupping the Face of the Popper

This step is optional and requires a Dremel Tool mounted to some sort of device to hold it for you.  Mine is an inexpensive attachment that is supposed to make your Dremel tool into a drill press.  I got mine at Home Depot.  The drill press does not fit all Dremel Tools.

I hardly ever cup the face of poppers. I just leave them flat. That saves a lot of time, the poppers float better without removing the foam and I don't think it makes any difference to the fish. Some anglers like a cupped face popper. I did at one time, not anymore.  

Cupping the face of a popper using a Dremel Tool.
If the face is to be cupped you will also need a cone shaped grinder.  I’ve cupped the face on a lot of poppers.  One thing I learned early on is you should wear safety glasses.  When I was learning to do this I had some bodies fly out of my fingers and one hit me in the forehead.  I also tried using two fingers to form the mouth and hold the Dremel with my other hand.  That did not work for me. I guess you could hold the Dremel Tool between your legs.  I don’t like having power tools running at several thousand rpm’s between my legs for obvious reasons.

Photo of a popper body with a cupped face.
I use a medium speed on the Dremel, make a small hole in the center of the popper body then turn the body with my fingers slowly to widen the popper’s smile. At one time I put a recessed mouth on most of my poppers but it is not necessary. 

Largemouth bass seem to like the added noise and moving water. When my popper hits the water I give them one jerk so everyone knows it is there.  Then I wait.  If a bluegill does not show up I start stripping and making noise to see if a largemouth bass is home. If I am fishing for smallmouth bass I rarely give the popper movement or try to make noise.

Making a slit in the foam body for the hook shank.

Step 4 - Cutting the Slit in the Body for the Hook

This takes practice.  Line up your razor blade on the belly of the popper and make a cut about halfway into the body.  This will allow you to slide the body over the hook. 

This photograph shows the depth of the razor blade in the popper body.
With practice you will learn to get the cut straight.  A straight cut is important so the popper tracks straight when you jerk it in the water.  Make this cut after you have cupped the mouth if you did that.  The hard part is over.  The rest is easy.  I would make a dozen bodies before starting on the next steps.

Wrapping a thread base layer on the hook for gluing the body.
Step 5 - Wrapping a Thread Base for Gluing on the Body

Once you get some bodies ready to attach to the hooks the fun begins.  I like to use a Mustad CK 52S hook.  You will notice the hump.  That keeps the hook from turning inside the body.  Wrap the hook with Unithread 3/0 or Danville 210 thread back a point where the back of the body will be attached.  Then wrap forward with wide spaced wraps then back again with wide wraps.  The idea here is to make a rough thread covered surface with gaps where glue will fill and bond the body to the thread. Whip finish and cut the thread.

Step 6 - Inserting the Hook and Using a Toothpick to Widen the Slit for Gluing

Insert a popper hook into the slit. The hook should only be deep enough into the body to allow for closing the gap on the slit to hide the hook. Placing the hook deep in the body will effectively close the hook gap. Slide a toothpick into the slit on the bottom of the popper.  Remove both from the vice then do the same as you did in the above step until all of your bodies have a toothpick inserted into them.  There is a reason for this.  The toothpick, if left in the slit will widen it temporarily so you can pour some Zap A Gap into the crevice and fill the gaps.

Photograph of the gap in the body after the toothpick has been removed.
When the toothpick is removed from the slit after a few minutes, a wide gap remains in the body. Now you can apply glue into the slit and it will penetrate the thread and foam body. You can use regular Zap-A-Gap CA, Zap CA Thin or Fishn' Glue. I use Zap CA Thin or the standard Zap-A-Gap. The Thin glues penetrate deeper and seem to hold a little better. They will all work fine.

Gluing the hook into the body and sealing the gap in the slit.
Step 7 - Gluing the Hook to the Body and Sealing
the Gap of the Slit

Now comes the tricky part.  You need to close the gap and hold it until the glue sets without gluing your fingers to the foam body.  Pour in a line of Zap A Gap. Grasp the body with both hands and pinch it until some Zap A Gap comes out of the crevice.  Using a paper towel wipe the excess off the body.  Then pinch some more pushing out more glue and wipe it off.  You should now be able to hold the body tight until the glue sets.  This procedure keeps the glue from running down the body and gluing your fingers to it.  It just takes a few seconds to set.  Repeat until all of your bodies are glued to the hook. Let the bodies dry for a few minutes before going to the next step.

Making holes in the body, using a toothpick to accept the eye stems.
Step 8 - Preparing Holes in the Body to Accept the Eye Stems

I like to use plastic eyes with stems.  You will need a hole on each side of the body to slide the stems in.  A toothpick works perfect for this.  Push the toothpick through each body and set aside.  After a minute or so the hole will remain open.

Body shown with holes for eyes.
Step 9 - Gluing the Eyes to the Body

Cut most of the stem off the eyes. Remove the toothpick and push the eye stem into the hole on each side of the body.  You might need to twist the eye to get it in.  Set the popper aside and repeat on each body.  After a minute or so the hole will conform to the size of the stem making it easier to push the eye stems back in after the glue is applied in the socket.

Body with eyes glued into the holes.

Open your tube of Sportsman’s Goop or shoe glue.  Pull an eye out of the socket and using a toothpick stick some goop in the hole then push the eye back in.  After the Goop dries you can remove any excess that came in contact with the body or eyes.  I have yet to have an eye come out of the body.

Body with sewing need inserted to attach rubber legs to the body.
Step 10 - Inserting the Rubber Legs

Use a sewing needle with an eye large enough to insert a round rubber leg into.  The needle I am using here is too large.  I could not find my perfect needle for this photo shoot.  I looked everywhere.  This one left a large hole in the body.  Use a smaller needle.  Push the needle at an angle from the eye to the back of the body.  Place one end of your piece of round rubber through the eye of the needle and pull it through the body and out the other side. You will be crossing the legs through the body in an X configuration.  Sometimes your needle will push the first length of round rubber out of the new hole.  You can pull on the ends of that piece of rubber and straighten the mess out.  Now, you have two lengths of rubber legs crossing each other.  Trim the legs to the desired length.

Body with legs attached.
Once the legs are inserted and trimmed you should place some glue in the holes of the body to keep the legs from coming out. I like to use Zap Gel for this step. Zap Gel provides at waterproof and flexible seal. I have also used 5 minute epoxy. Shoe Glue or Sportsman's Glue would probably work well. To avoid a mess, apply any adhesive that you choose with the tip of a bodkin or dubbing needle. With that tool you can force some glue into the holes without making a mess. You don't need much glue. A little goes a long way.

Step 11- Tying in the Tail

You can use many different materials for the tail.  You could use maribou, hackle, Flashabou, craft fur and many other choices.  I like round rubber because it is durable.  I got the idea from some poppers we sell at the shop called Walts Poppers.  I usually attach two legs with thread trying to spread them apart, then tie in some Krystal flash in the center and add a third leg on top and between the two. Start your thread at the back of the body at the bend of the hook then wrap on your choice of tail materials on. After your tail has been added, whip finish and coat the wraps with Zap-A-Gap, head cement or 5 minute epoxy. Some makers wrap some dry fly hackle around the thread then whip finish.

You may also want to put bars on the rubber legs.  I do this when the popper is finished and dry.  Lay your popper down on a your Post It Note stack of paper.  I use a Sharpie waterproof marker with an angled chisel point.  Place the point on your rubber leg where you want to add a bar.  Move the marker back and forth rolling the rubber leg so the ink marks it on all sides. You can also use barred legs. That is what I use now. You may decide not to bar the legs. Try both.

It is also a good idea to open the gap of your hook slightly. With the hook clamped in your vise, press up slightly on the eye of the hook. This will bend the hook and open the gap. You will catch more fish if you do this. That's it. You are on your way! Enoy your new hobby.

Foam Cylinder and Hook Size Chart for Freshwater Poppers Using a Mustad CK 52 S
Popper Cylinder Size
Hook Size
1/2 Inch
1/0 or #1
3/8 Inch
#2 or #4
5/16 Inch
#6 or #8
1/4 Inch

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