Pencils vs Poppers

Pencils vs Poppers

When rummaging through the topwater tackle box of most anglers, you’ll find that two bait categories take up the majority of the space: pencils and poppers. Pencils, often referred to as walking-style topwaters, are more elongated with a pointier nose. Whereas poppers are usually shorter, with deeper cupped mouths made to spit water.

These are the two most common topwaters because they are two of the most effective bass fishing lures ever invented. Countless fish have been caught on these two bait types over the last century, and countless more will fall for them in the future. But, when do you use one versus the other? Well that’s what we’re going to talk about today.


Examples of Pencils and Poppers -

MONSTERBASS offers a great example of each of these lures in the Mad Max Popper v3.0 and the Ragnar v3.0. The Ragnar measures 4.75” and weighs 3/4 of an ounce, while the Mad Max is a good bit shorter and lighter. Even though there are certainly bigger poppers and smaller pencils on the market, these two baits are great examples of the size and shape of “normal’ poppers and pencils.

Looking at these two lures, you can see clearly that the walking-style Ragnar has a more elongated body, where the popper is shorter. But if you look at the tail section of these lures, you’ll also see that the popper has a quicker taper to the body, where the Ragnar stays pretty thick most of the way back. This difference is pretty common across the two bait types, since pencil baits are designed to sit horizontally on the water and poppers are designed to sit more vertically, with their tails down.


Different Actions -

Pencil topwaters are designed specifically to “walk” across the surface, swiping left to right as they are worked along. It may take a little time to develop a cadence, but once you do, the bait is designed to glide back and forth. This creates a near constant movement, as the bait moves in the other direction just before it stalls out completely from the previous twitch of the rod tip.

Poppers, on the other hand, are designed to be fished with more of a stop-start rhythm. Thanks to the cupped mouth of a bait like this, it chugs and spits water when it’s twitched along. Allowing the bait to rest in place for a second or two between twitches gives the bass ample time to hone in on the bait. And, while you can certainly twitch a popper straight back, you can also walk these baits side to side too, which gives the bass even more time to find the bait.


When to Use Which -

Walking-style topwaters are better for targeting bass at longer distances, since they can usually be cast farther than the smaller and lighter poppers. These baits also have more drawing power, so these are the better option of the two when fishing over broad areas like points and flats or when trying to call fish up from deeper water—whether that’s open water or while fishing over top of a submerged brushpile or tree top.

When fishing in closer quarters and around shallower cover, a popper is usually better. These baits can’t be fished as far out, but their stop-start rhythm makes them great for fishing around cover up close. You can throw a popper up near a stump for instance and then walk and pop it slowly by the cover, keeping your bait in a high percentage spot for a longer period of time.


Mimicking Different Forage -

It’s also important to make sure you select the right bait type based on the forage present. When fishing around shad, both poppers and pencils work well. But, when targeting bass relating to blueback herring for example, the longer pencil baits better mimic the longer baitfish. On the other hand, if you’re fishing around bluegill and other bream (which often feed on bugs along the surface), a popper is the better imitation of this baitfish.

You’ll want to make your color selections for each bait too primarily using the match-the-hatch mentality. Use shad patterns to mimic shad, bluegill patterns to mimic bluegill and so on. The only thing that might impact this is water color. In muddy water, you’re typically going to want to use a white, chartreuse or other bright color bait, since most baitfish pail out in the mud. In clear water, you’ll want to use a more natural or transparent color.


Final Thoughts -

The same gear can usually be used with both of these baits. A 7-foot medium or medium heavy casting rod works pretty well, with something close to a 7:1 gear ratio reel. Since both braid and monofilament float, you can use either of these lines types. But you don’t want to use fluorocarbon, since it sinks. Thirty-pound braid works well, and 15-pound mono will usually suffice.

If you haven’t yet added one or both of these baits to your repertoire, it’s time. These lures are great for fishing from the spring through the summer and deep into the fall. They work in a wide range of water clarities and depths. And they each catch big fish. Use the tips above to know when to use which, and you should find success fairly quick with pencils and poppers.

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