Fly Fishing: The Popper-Dropper Rig

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Justing Pickett, good friend and G&G fan, shows off the popper-dropper rig. Photo Louis Cahill

by Kent Klewein

Like a lot of kids, I spent most of my adolescent summers chasing bass and bream on the local creeks and ponds in my area.

Most days, a single rubber-legged popper tied to the end of my leader, was all that I needed to catch fat bream, and the occasional lunker bass. On days when the bite slowed, I’d put down my fly rod and head to the neighborhood pool with my best friend Ryan Evans. It didn’t take long for us to get labeled the “Huckleberry Finn” boys of the neighborhood. We got plenty of strange looks walking through those pool gates, fishing rods in hand, and both wearing cargo shorts with boxers hanging out the tops. Those dirty looks were well worth it, and we learned to shrug them off because that pool was the perfect place for us to cool down in between our fishing adventures. It also happened to be a great best place for us to keep track of the older females. We learned reflective polarized sunglasses weren’t just good for fishing. They also were great for inconspicuously eyeing the older females walking by in those skimpy bikinis. It was a time in my life when I was relatively stress free, and hadn’t yet taken on very many responsibilities. Those were the days.

It wasn’t until I started dabbling in trout fishing that I found a way to improve my warm water popper fishing. Casting dry flies with a weighted nymph off the back for trout worked great, and that sparked the question in my head, “couldn’t I use a popper with a dropper fly off the back for bream and bass too?” So I did just that, the first chance I got. I still remember clearly, the first time I tied an olive woolly bugger off the back of a popper, and made a cast across a pod of bream beds. I was rewarded with two bream on the end of my line. Even on days when the fish wouldn’t voluntarily come to the surface to take my popper, they rarely passed up the trailing fly off the back. When I grew up and started hitting the lakes with my bass boat, I never forgot this trick. That popper-dropper rig accounted for many big bass landed over the years. One of my best days ever for smallmouth bass was on this rig. I still use it regularly when I’m fly fishing on warm-water, sometimes even in the salt. Give it a try next time you’re out fly fishing. It works for many species of fish.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: The Popper-Dropper Rig

  1. Kent:

    Jeff in OR here:

    I have several dropper rigs I use at various times, but I’ve never tried popper ahead of the dropper. (catchy phrase eh?) I am going to give that a try at the next opportune time.

    Good to hear from you my friend, don’t be a stranger !!


    • Nick, you can use tons of different patterns as a dropper. For bass I usually stick with gummy minnows, which I’ve had a lot of success with. They’re lightweight which makes them easy to cast, and they have that “injured deadfall” after stripping the popper. For panfish, I typically use a small bugger or even a beaded soft hackle. Just try your best to match the diets of the fish you’re after and you’ll have fun using this technique.

  2. Kent,
    I use this same rig (employing a small olive and black wooly) when at our kids fishing events in local ponds. It works with cane poles as well as fly rods. Many of the takes are within a couple feet of the bank. Talk about a way to get kids to love fishing. I know because I used to fish for sunnies with small poppers in the Boonton Reservoir at dusk while my father cast farther and deeper for bass. That was some 55 years ago and I still remember the thrill of a top water take.

  3. I have tried this a few times for stripers, with the idea of calling them up with the popper and expecting takes on a clouser or trailer fly. I’m sure it would work if I kept with it but if a school of stripers is actively feeding you really don’t need to “call them up” and fishing a tandem sinking fly rig really increases the odds of hooking up. But I vow to try it some more when in searching mode for smallies as well as stripers.

  4. I started using a setup like this a few years ago, I go with a gurgler, tied inverted so as not to hang up on the weeds, with a smallish rubber legged bugger off the back. I can’t say it works like a charm, but its a setup I feel confident in.
    Confidence => Fish On!

  5. Kent- I used this technique on a sweet UpState SC farm pond this morning. Best day I’ve had down there. Bass popper up top, with a small buggy looking carp fly below. Got some on top, but loved watching the popper disappear when they whack the dropper. Good stuff, will be added to my arsenal. Thanks a million, love this site.

  6. Pingback: Fly Feature: Stealth Bomber | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

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