By Lawrence Taylor

About an eternity ago, a young man of 9 and his parents landed in the country. It had been a tough couple of years for the boy, uprooted from his home and spending time at several schools during the past two years. He never made friends quickly anyway. Now he gazed across the pastures of eye-high Johnson grass and shouldered a rod and Zebco 33 and headed down the two-track path toward the pond his mom promised would be there.

It was four or five acres of murky promise. One day when walking the banks he spotted a brightly colored lure hanging on the end of an old laydown tree and he waded out and plucked it off. It was a happy looking lure, wearing a wide smile and colorful skirt.

He tied it on and through trial and error started catching fish – big green sunfish and moss-colored largemouth. He fished with it three days straight. It was magical. It caught fish at every pond for a mile around, until it disappeared into a monstrous swirl that never even pulled any drag before snapping the line.

He sat down in the grass and cried.

Conventional wisdom says that when facing off-colored water, anglers fare better with spinnerbaits or loud vibrating crankbaits and that’s pretty accurate. But there is a topwater lure that is not only capable of getting strikes in colored water, but excels in it. It’s the Arbogast Hula Popper, and it’s likely created more anglers than any other lure. One heart-stopping explosion on that classic lure and the fish isn’t the only thing hooked.  

In stained water, bass attack with more ferocity and surprise than in clear water. Bass living in a dirty water environment rely more on sound and vibration than sight when feeding, simply because they can’t see as far, and when they decide to attack prey, they do it with gusto so it doesn’t get away.

One reason the Hula Popper has survived for more than 50 years is because a few select anglers learned about its effectiveness in off-colored water. To attract and catch fish in this situation anglers must get the fish’s attention in a manner slow enough that the fish can locate the bait, and once they do find it, the lure must convince the fish it’s a living bit of forage without moving out of the fish’s strike zone.

The Hula Popper jumps the first hurdle with its unique concave mouth. Instead of a rounded mouth like a Rebel Pop-R or a Heddon Chug’N Spook, the Hula Popper’s mouth is larger and flat on the inside to create bigger, louder surface disturbance – a deep, resounding “bloop!” When twitched hard the Hula Popper creates as much commotion as throwing a baseball-sized rock in the water, plus, it’s a unique sound that no other topwater produces.

Sure, you might say, I can make a big splash with a lot of other lures, and that’s true, but how many of them continue to move during the pause to help the fish locate the bait and convince approaching fish that it’s alive? The Hula Popper does that. The patented Hula Skirt at the end of the bait is constantly moving like the legs of a spider or the slow movements of a lazy, carefree frog. Even 30 seconds after twitching the bait, the Hula Skirt continues to move.

It really doesn’t matter what the fish thinks it is, it just knows there was a big splash up there somewhere, and on further investigation it sees something just sitting there on top with its back legs or fins moving here and there.

When fishing stained or muddy water with the Hula Popper, slow is top speed. Give it a good twitch of the rod tip and then let it sit for up to 30 seconds. The skirt “legs” are still providing attraction while it’s resting on top, giving fish ample opportunity to locate it and become convinced that it’s alive even though it’s not swimming away.

The muddier the water, the slower you should work it. Another tip for dirty water is to move the knot to the top of the line tie and put a little glue on it to hold it there. That will slightly change the angle of your twitches and make it “dig” into the water a little harder and produce a louder “bloop.”

The boy that started this article spent another 30 years fishing that pond, and even taught his first daughter to twitch a Hula Popper on it. He told the 7-year-old to throw it up there under that tree and let it sit and minute, then twitch it just a little. A two-pound bass smashed it just before she twitched it, and she held on just a moment before it jumped and spit the bait back at her.

And the two sat down in the grass and laughed.