Zell Rowland was among the first professional bass anglers to grasp the unique characteristics of the Rebel Pop-R, a lure that emerged from obscurity and near obsolescence to take its place as perhaps the best topwater lure of all time.

It's hard for me to pick out my best memories with the Rebel Pop R because it has created so many of them for me. Most people associate me so closely with the Pop-R that, even if I catch my bass on a jig during a tournament, they still think I caught them on a Pop-R.

It is definitely a bait that you can catch bass with on just about any lake you fish. But what a lot of people these days don't know – or have forgotten – is that it almost disappeared before it ever really caught on!

Here's the story of how I found it, why folks forgot it, and how it came back to become the most deadly topwater bait to ever hang from a fishing line.

I started fishing the Rebel Pop-R (P-60) in 1977 when I was only 20 years old.

Rick Clunn had used it a lot when he was guiding on Lake Conroe. He told me that fish would come up to hit it over 30 feet of water. I had always liked throwing topwater lures like the Smithwick Devils Horse and the Heddon Chugger, so the Pop-R played right to my wheelhouse. The more I threw it, the more I liked it. I played with the bait and studied it to see how fish would react to it.

I learned to work it, and I learned to work it well.

The first rule of thumb I discovered was: the clearer the water, the faster you move it. In clear water conditions, I reeled constantly and jerked the bait.

When I was fishing water with more color to it, I found it better to slow the bait down. In muddy water, there wasn’t much reason to fish it at all.

By the late 1970s, a handful of us Texas anglers were throwing the Pop-R a lot. It was a hot bait for us, especially on Lake Mead. We caught lots of fish at other lakes, too.

From pop to poof

But, for some reason, sales were not good. All chuggers and poppers are not the same. Most fishermen don't realize that, if you have a Pop-R on your line, you don't have a Heddon Chugger or a Lucky 13 or an XCalibur Zell Pop. It is a totally different bait. Back then, every fisherman had a poppin' lure in his box…but it wasn’t a Pop-R!

Fishermen did not understand a lot of things about that bait, particularly how its surface action differed from other topwater lures and how special some of those colors were.

Rebel actually made it in what we call a silkscreen pattern. They had a baby bass pattern and another in a frog pattern, and they stamped the paint job.

Those baits were incredible. It seemed impossible to go to any lake and NOT wear out the bass with those two colors!

But we kept our secret. And sales dwindled. Then, in 1978, Rebel discontinued the lure.

Resurrection

I told almost no one about the bait. When I caught fish, all I said was that I got them on a topwater bait. When Rebel discontinued them, I bought up Pop-Rs and hoarded them. I continued to work with them, experiment with them, and even test new paint jobs on them. So did a few of those other Texas anglers.

We caught so many fish on that lure that tackle dealers who knew what was going on swept up any stock that they could find and upped the price.

Tackle dealers in the know started selling their Pop-R P60s for $8, $10 and up! That was unheard of back then. This was long before other companies started selling baits for $20 or $30 apiece, but people who had heard the whispers paid that much for them.

The secret escaped when I won the B.A.S.S. Super Invitational tournament at Chickamauga in 1986.

Everybody asked me what I caught my bass on, of course, and I gave my usual answer. But one of the writers had seen the lure. He recognized it and let the word out.

I literally won so much money on that bait in one year that Rebel had to bring it back. In those days, if a dealer ordered a gross (144) of a discontinued lure, the company would run a special order.

They still planned to sell it only to dealers who would order 144 baits or more. But that first year it came back, Rebel sold more than a million Pop-Rs!

The “why” behind the R

What is it about the Pop -R that makes it so good? Why do certain lures catch more fish than others in general.

It's because of its shape, size and the sound it makes moving through the water.

Shape: The more realistic a lure looks, the more fish you will catch on it. Pick out the spinnerbait that you have caught the most fish on. More than likely that spinnerbait has a willowleaf blade on it. One of the greatest baits ever made for cranking is the Cordell Spot. The reason? It looks like that willowleaf blade. The Pop-R has that same willowleaf shape. Both mimic the shape of a baitfish.

Surface action: You can chug the Rebel Pop-R, – just work it like other chuggers – or lift the rod tip and make it spit. You can't do that with any other popper. The spitting sound is just like a shad flicking the surface.

Dial in action: Everyone asks me how to work the bait, but I can’t answer that. You have to let the fish tell you how he wants it worked. Does he want it slow, medium, fast? Does he hit it when you pop it once and then just let it sit there? Does he want you to pop it twice, then move it three times? You have to experiment. Work the bait different ways until you learn how the fish wants it.

How much do I believe in the Pop-R? I have a Pop-R tied on every time my boat is on the water! I may not always use it, but it is always ready.