Shallow water, particularly along drop-offs, is also good popper territory. Connecticut River guide Blain Anderson fishes poppers on the flats, focusing on the edges, turns and bends that river herring seem to hug. Likewise, Gains — who fishes the Susquehanna Flats in the spring — uses poppers on the edges of ditches and sloughs in the flats, which are also areas that river herring frequent. Rip lines created by current and depth changes are also a good bet. “Stripers stage just before or after the rip, and crash the bait as it washes over the shallows,” says Cape Cod guide Terry Nugent. Any shallow-breaking surf is a prime place to use poppers. During all the natural commotion in the surf zone, a popper works wonders getting noticed.
What makes a good striper popper? “The more noise they make, the more attention they will garner,” says Crescitelli, adding that “rattles help.”
“The bigger the water, the larger and noisier the popper should be,” says Gains. That’s even more relevant when stripers are up in the white water. Good plugs for big water include the array of bottleneck poppers, as well as plugs like Guides Secret M-80s. But pencil poppers might be the best overall for big water. They have a walk-the-dog action that not only moves water, but also replicates a noisy, wounded baitfish. “Pencils will get strikes when it doesn’t look like there are fish feeding, especially when they are on big bait like bunker,” says Crescitelli. “We kept that big splash and big profile in mind when we designed our pencil popper.”
In the back bays, it’s a different story. Large noisemakers actually spook fish in shallow water or against a sod bank. Smaller, lighter plugs — like a Gag’s Grabber Schoolie-Popper or a Guides Secret Baby Bottle Pop — are better choices. Stillwater Smack-Its have a large following and are made in a junior version, which works well in back bays.
Floating versus sinking? Opinions vary. While there are instances that require you to rip the plug across the surface, I prefer plastic floating plugs because I can work them slowly, with intermittent pauses. Frequently, I get stripers following a plug all the way to the boat. By pausing it every few seconds, I can keep it in the water longer, allowing that indecisive fish to make up its mind. Furthermore, such a retrieve better imitates a dying baitfish, expending its last bit of energy. Such behavior makes stripers believe it’s an easy meal, so they instinctively attack.