The Pop ‘n Drop Rig | Topwater + Finesse Tactic for Bass

The Pop 'n Drop Rig by AJ Hauser

Finally… finally, back in the creek… it’s been too long… “, you mutter to yourself.

The wind is lightly blowing on this warm June morning in Illinois as the kayak slips silently into the slow-moving water. You begin to plunge the paddle below the surface and make a quick note on clarity.

A foot of visibility, maybe two“, you again mumble out loud, remembering the rainfall from earlier in the week, “with this sediment I’m not sure where the smallmouth are, but there is a good chance they’ll be in tight to cover.

Creek Fishing in Illinois: Kayak and Smallmouth Bass

You start to make your way upstream, against the current.

Left. Right.
Left. Right.
Left. Right.

The methodic movement is almost enough to put you to sleep. Blades dipping below the surface one after the other, sparse droplets sprinkling down each time you lift. Left. Right. Alternate. Repeat. At times you scrape the rocky bottom as the creek bed comes up within the runs between the riffles and pools.

Might as well start casting here“, you say as you arrive at the shallow end of the first pool, “I can work my way up to the riffles, then lift the kayak above my head and hike to the next run… now we gotta find the fish.

Smallmouth bass fishing presentations flood your mind:

A jigworm is always a great option but it’s so slow, doesn’t allow you to really cover water. A swim jig lets you cover water, but they’re clunky and don’t look natural in this stream because of their size. An inline spinner might be better… maybe a small swimbait is the right option… but maybe not… can they see it and feel it from far enough away in the sediment? Topwater is always fun, but it seems like the topwater bite is always hot or cold – and with limited time we need something that is versatile. Efficient.

Can we do two things at once?” you ask yourself? “Maybe… combine a few items? Wait… what if we…

Grabbing a small pair of pliers, you frantically get to work on your creation:

Creek Fishing in Illinois: Heaven on Earth

First, let’s snip the back split ring off of a Livetarget Popping Frog (which is similar to a Rapala Skitter Pop) to remove the rear treble hook. Then we’ll strip 3 feet of line for a dropper. Done. In your head, you envision the dropper holding a trailing plastic – something that could look like it’s chasing the popper, but also settle a foot or so below the surface (held in place, suspending seductively) tempting fish that are not inclined to commit to a topwater strike. A quick palomar knot attaches a light wire wacky hook to one end of the dropper, and another attaches the line to the popping frog where the rear treble was seconds ago. A Strike King 4″ Ocho in green pumpkin is attached to the dropper hook – wacky – of course.

That should work“, you reassure yourself, looking at the goofy contraption you’ve just Frankenstein’ed while slowly floating in circles back downstream. “That… should… work?

Hmmm… maybe…

A few quick paddles back to the spot you wanted to start exploring, and it’s time to cast.

Kayak AJ Hauser Creek Fishing

WHIZZZZZZZZZZ-SPLASH!!

Good Lord… not the most subtle presentation…“, you grumble as you begin twitching the popper back towards the kayak.

Twitch… twitch…. twitch… the popper spits and gurgles as the stickbait trails behind, settling underneath and making the popper sit out of the water at a 45 degree angle.

One cast. Two casts. A third…

Man it looks pretty good, I mean it should wor-

BOOM!!

A MONSTER creek smallmouth annihilates the popper, ripping the entire rig underwater as you lean back into a startled hookset. The abrupt commotion decimates the summer morning calm.

She starts to bulldoze with the current, ripping line off of your Abu Garcia Orra spinning reel, which makes a familiar sound that is both exhilarating and scary –

Oh my – please God let me have a good hook in that beast! Don’t pop off. Don’t pop off!!

The drag on the reel is absolutely screaming.

A jump.
A splash.
A turn.
A doubled-over rod.

More bulldogging… she plunges beneath your kayak… but then… she starts to tire.

After another minute, the battle is over. You lip ‘er boatside and hoist her in the air to marvel at the impressive girth… the Pop ‘n Drop dangling from her mouth.

What a sight to behold.

Pop 'n Drop Creator AJ Hauser with a Beautiful Smallmouth Bass
Pop ‘n Drop Creator AJ Hauser with a Beautiful Smallmouth Bass

Believe it or not, this story is true, and while she would be the best fish on that warm summer morning, she wouldn’t be the last. The popper drummed up another bite or two, but many lesser smallmouth fell prey to the trailing wacky worm suspended in the current of the creek.

Creek Fishing Smallmouth TRD Craw

The popper almost acted as a bobber with hooks, but overall what I learned was this:

At certain times, in certain conditions, the Pop ‘n Drop is a great way to combine an aggressive technique with a finesse presentation that allows a fisherman to cover water quickly and pause in strategic locations to entice a bite.

Let’s talk a bit more about what it is, where it came from, and how you can make your own to catch more fish.

The Origin of the Pop ‘n Drop

The very first iteration of this presentation was made in my garage about 6 years before I actually got around to using it. I set it up with an old Rapala Skitter Pop, and hung it up on the wall. One day I tried it on a lake with largemouth, and I think I caught one small bass… but at that time I was still green – and we all know that there is no shortage of exciting, active presentations that we simply have to try.

I tried them all.

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
The original combo and cobweb collector.

This obsession took over, and ultimately culminated in me having too much stuff… which is also what led to the creation of The Minimalist Fisherman. I needed to reduce… and as “must have” presentations were tossed aside or retired, this one remained on the wall of my garage, covered in cobwebs…

For some reason, I couldn’t throw it away. It just always looked like it should work.

Last year, I began fishing creeks heavily after discovering 3 or 4 hidden locations in Illinois. Beautiful spots. Isolated, full of deer & songbirds, eagles and herons. Yet, it all came with a very frustrating learning curve, as current, sediment load & clarity changed substantially between trips.

More than one early morning outing were a complete bust due to changing conditions…

washed out creek illinois fishing

This year, after a few unproductive trips, I needed to figure out a way to fish multiple depths so that I could find the fish. Actively search, without skipping over semi-neutral bass. To date, jigworms and small plastics have accounted for about 65% of my catches – so it would be foolish to ignore them – but you have to work them slow, and they certainly don’t work well in chocolate milk! Then, I remembered the wall decoration…

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Off the wall and into the frying pan! Or… something.

I took it down, and made a smaller version with a more natural looking bait that might appeal to smallmouth in skinny water, and it was game on.

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Pop ‘n Drop: Livetarget Frog Popper w/ 10lb Red Label Seaguar & a light wire wacky hook (AJ Hauser)
Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Rapala Skitter Pops work well with the Pop ‘n Drop technique.
Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Weedless and regular light wire wacky hooks work well on the fluorocarbon dropper.

Pop ‘n Drop Components

You can mix and match any number of components when it comes to making your own unique Pop ‘N Drop. Chances are you already have everything you need to get started:

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser

Part 1: A Floating Bait
Start with a floating bait that can support the weight of the trailing offering & dropper you plan to use. I found that even something as small as the Livetarget Frog Popper could float a fluorocarbon dropper (18″) with a (sinking) 4″ Strike King Ocho.

Important note: if your trailing bait is too light, the wind will catch it on the cast and you will experience some pretty nasty snarls. Experiment until you find the right combination for your situation.

Part 2: A Dropper Line
I like fluorocarbon. 10 pound test Seaguar Red Label works fine for smaller applications, and 20 pound fluorocarbon works when I am fishing largemouth, like in the video below. I have gone all the way up to 30 pound fluorocarbon at times, in very heavy muck where the bass aren’t line shy.

Important note: the other thing to keep in mind is your leader material. Even when I am fishing braid, I will use a small fluorocarbon leader to make my topwater connection less visible. It does sink so you have to balance everything. When I use the smaller Livetarget version on my creek spinning setup, I simply tie straight to my 10 pound fluorocarbon mainline – no leader required.

Part 3: A Dropper Hook
Wacky hooks
are the way to go. They are low profile and compact with wide bends. Light wire options easily penetrate fish jaws. If I am going to work over weeds or shallow timber, I might opt for a wacky hook with a weed guard on it. These days I’m using a Berkley Fusion19 Weedless Wacky Hook because the guard is made out of fluorocarbon. It collapses better than the wire guards on my Weedless VMC hooks.

Part 4: A Trailing Offering
Try a YUM Dinger, an Ocho, or if you want a trailer that floats – pop a Z-Man TRD on there and keep everything up on the surface. If you’re fishing a bigger floating bait, you can even get away with a full size stickbait – just make sure your line and hook are matched appropriately.

Pop ‘n Drop Heavy Cover Modification

One significant mod that I tried (with mixed results) was a Pop ‘n Drop with a Z-Man Pop Shad and a large single Trokar EWG hook. This left me nowhere to attach my dropper, so I had to put a split ring in some tubing used for spinnerbait trailer hooks, which allowed me to slide it onto the shank.

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Pop ‘n Drop Heavy Cover Modification

From there I was able to attach a 30 pound dropper line to a weedless wacky. Kinda cool – but here’s the problem. Twitching the popper made the rubber tubing slowly move back on the hook, right up under the belly of the Pop Shad. When a bass hits topwater, the Pop Shad will not move down the hook on the set – meaning you will lose fish.

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser

I lost a BIG fish.

I did manage to catch a good handful on the lower portion though, as I was able to use a full size Zoom Zlinky (with heavy salt) as my dropper offering.

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
The Zoom Zlinky is a soft, salty stickbait and a fish catching machine!

So this version, geared towards largemouth bass in ultra-mucky water, is going to require more thought… I’ll keep working on that. Just don’t make this mistake that I made with this version of the rig!

Give the Pop ‘n Drop a shot!

Don’t be like me – don’t take this presentation and use it as a wall decoration for years – get out on your favorite body of water and put it to work.

I’ve posted a few videos with this technique hard at work, and there are more to come…

Create your own combination, and let me know how it goes!

Pop 'n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser
Pop ‘n Drop Finesse Topwater Technique by AJ Hauser

Tight lines!