September 22, 2016
Every few years, a new bait comes along that seems to revolutionize the bass fishing industry, even if it is only for a small window of time.
From the Biffle Bug to the Senko to the Chatter Bait to the Alabama Rig, lure manufacturers are always searching for that next great, can't-miss bait.
Recently, based on my own personal observations from a handful of tournaments I've covered, that bait appears to be the Whopper Plopper, a lure designed by Outdoor Channel television personality Larry Dahlberg and one being produced by River2Sea.
So popular is the bait – Ploppers, as many anglers are calling them –it has been all but impossible to find the lure in some bait shops at various times throughout the year.
And that's despite the fact this two-piece bait with a unique spinning tail – one originally designed for large predatory fish like muskies – actually comes in two sizes (2.75-ounce 190 model; 1.50-ounce 130 model) and 17 different colors.
Why has the Plopper been so difficult to find? Possibly because it is tied onto so many rods and reels belonging to a number of tournament bass pros on the various circuits.
But don't expect all of those pros using the bait to admit to doing so because of their personal lure company sponsorships or a desire to keep a few unknown tricks up their competitive sleeves.
Some of these bass pros will tell you that they are using the bait while others are more prone to keep the bait secret and hidden from view when reporters, TV cameras or the public happen to be around.
Why such a buzz about a strange looking topwater bait that spits, chugs and gurgles its way back to a bass rig after being cast a literal country mile? Because this unique cross between a buzzbait and a walking topwater bait works – just ask 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ and Major League Fishing pro Chris Lane.
"My neighbor (back in Alabama) gave me two of them and asked me if I wanted to try them," Lane told BassFan senior editor John Johnson earlier this year after the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
"I told him that I'd heard about them and I'd love to try them," Lane continued. "I brought them over here (to Toledo Bend) and the first strike I had, halfway through the first practice day, was a fish that weighed 10 to 12 pounds.
"I had it all the way to the boat – I wanted to get a picture of it – but it got off."
Nevertheless, Lane knew he was on to something and proceeded to use the bait as an integral part of his T-Bend strategy. In the end, it was nearly to win the event as Lane finished in second place behind eventual champ Kevin VanDam.
But Chris Lane is not the only professional bass angler utilizing the bait according to FLW Tour pro and Major League Fishing angler Zack Birge.
"There's a lot of guys using it on tour," said Birge, the young gun bass fishing pro who won the Rayovac FLW Championship in 2014 and the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Championship in 2012 while competing for the Oklahoma State University bass fishing team.
"It's not going to get the big 'Whoa!' (factor) like the Alabama Rig did because you're not going to catch 40-pound bags on it, it's not going to happen."
"But it is another option to throw for a topwater that is very good," added the 23-year-old Blanchard, Okla., resident. "I guarantee you, 99 percent of the guys out there have one in their boat, especially the tour guys. But there may only be a couple that will promote it."
After the success he's enjoyed with the bait while fishing various FLW Tour and Major League Fishing events, Birge seems to be one of those anglers willing to open up about the bait.
When did the SpoolTek pro first pick up a Whopper Plopper?
"I used to have a deal with River2Sea and I got some, but they were all the big ones," said Birge. "I didn't really like them because they were so big and I just put them off to the side. Then they came out with the little ones, but I had ventured on and was using something else and I never did get any (of the smaller baits)."
But then Birge heard some anglers talking about the success that they were having with the Whopper Plopper, so he obtained a few.
"I went and bought a couple, one being the bone (color), and I took them and used them in a little local Wednesday night jackpot tournament and absolutely wrecked them on it," he smiled. "From then on, I've kind of been hooked on the bait."
When will the Plopper work? Birge thinks it will work most of the year except the absolute dead of winter.
"I started using it this year (back in the) early spring (and on) up through summer," he said. "I'm more than certain that it's going to be great in the fall. I don't know when they'll quit biting it, but I'm assuming that depending on where you're at, we're talking late October or Novemberish."
Why such a long timeframe that the bait seems to be productive in?
"It's an awesome topwater bait and it's got a unique sound to it," said Birge. "It's in a class of its own in terms of sound and what you do with it, so I do have a lot of faith in it and have caught a good number of fish on it. Just about anywhere I go, I'll have one tied on."
While Birge has more than a half dozen different colors in his bait box – not to mention a couple of custom painted versions – he admits his standard go to Whopper Plopper is the small bone-colored lure.
"It's just personal preference and confidence," he said. "It seems like every time I go back to catching them with one, it's on bone so that's what I throw (a lot)."
Aside from the colors that he prefers using, Birge also likes to trick the baits out when he pulls a new one from the box, primarily by replacing all of the snap rings and hooks with "stouter stuff."
What rod, reel and line set-up does he use?
"Usually, I throw it on 60-pound braid," said Birge. "My personal rods that I use are a 7-foot, 3-inch Falcon or a 7-foot, 4-inch heavy Falcon.
"I also use a real fast Shimano Titanium reel, the faster the better. As for the gear ratio on that reel, it's either a 7.5:1, which is normally the slowest reel that I'll use, (or) I've also got an 8.2:1 that I throw it on too."
How about the retrieve that Birge uses for the Whopper Plopper, anything special there?
"No, it's just like a buzz bait, sling it and reel it," he smiled. "That's about as complicated as it gets. You can actually pause it and twitch it like a topwater bait. That gets it to sound a little bit like a prop bait, but I don't have the patience to do that."
Having fished the bait in a variety of places that have largemouth, smallmouth and even spotted bass, I asked Birge if he had noticed one of the black bass subspecies preferring it more so than another?
"The largemouth seem to come up and explode on it and come out of the water to eat it," he said. "The smallmouth sometimes, they seem to come up and shark it, come up from behind and eat it and go down with it.
"But the largemouth, they just seem to come out of nowhere and crush it."
Where does Birge try to throw and fish a Whopper Plopper bait?
"Well, you really can't use one anywhere around grass at all," he said. "You can't throw it around any kind of vegetation because it will wad up, so that's what you don't do with it.
"But otherwise, you're looking to target anything and everything (with it) except grass," he added. "I'll throw it around lay downs, timber, docks, rip-rap stretches, just about anything you'd want to throw it around."
While some anglers like Lane have found big-bass success with the Whopper Plopper, for Birge, it's more of a quantity type of bait.
"For me, it seems like it has been a numbers kind of thing," he said. "I can catch a ton of fish on it. It's another reason I like throwing it in events like Major League Fishing (where you want to catch as many fish as you can).
"But it will also catch some really nice fish too."
All in all, there aren't too many tournaments where Birge doesn't try a Plopper, even in the noon hours on a hot summer day.
"I'll throw it all day long, that's just how much confidence I have in it," said Birge. "From daylight until check in time, it's crossing my time to pick it up, to throw it and to give it a try.
"A lot of people don't realize that one of the best topwater times is high noon. (So) I'll pick it up and use it for a half hour or so in the middle of the day because of that.
"You can really do some damage with it if you go down the right stretch of bank with it."
If you can find one at your local bait shop that is. And when it comes to that chore, well, good luck.