By Bob Houf

I grew up fishing with my family on many outings on small lakes and ponds in southern Ohio. It was the late 1950s and early 60s and our father and grandfather were avid fishermen – primarily bass and bluegill and the more the better.

Size didn’t matter much. But the day I told my dad in the mid-70s I had landed a 5-pound largemouth from a farmer’s pond in western Pennsylvania he said, “If I ever caught a 5-pound bass I would quit fishing.” Like many anglers (or golfers who can’t break 100), Dad was mostly satisfied catching average size fish with the occasional nice once to keep things interesting.

One of his favorite lures was the Arbogast Hula Popper – a classic bait and always the prettiest one in his tackle box. That lure is firmly attached to fond memories of my dad and our many fishing trips.

As the years passed, I finally explored fly fishing. Dad had been a very good fly caster, caught about every species of freshwater fish on his old rod and looked downright classy placing a fly exactly where he wanted it. During my college years, Dad had tried to teach me how to cast a floppy fiberglass fly rod I had bought. But I just couldn’t get the hang of it and hung up the fly rod for many years.

I stuck with baitcasters and spinning rods after moving to Wisconsin for my first engineering job out of Ohio State. Then I visited my oldest brother, Tom, who was running an aluminum plant in Anniston, Ala. Dad had successfully taught Tom how to use a fly rod and he was good enough to teach fly casting in Pennsylvania near the Letort and Yellow Breeches out of Boiling Springs.

One evening, we took his canoe to a small lake equipped with two fine fly rods and some poppers. There were a row of trees lining the bank, with their branches hanging far out over the water. As the sun dropped, we started casting poppers into the darker, shaded water as I discovered Tom’s fly rods were a lot easier to use than the fiberglass model I had 20 years earlier.

As the sun set, the fish started hitting. Tom caught a nice 2-pound largemouth. That bass had a twin who slammed my popper. From then until it was so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces, we had the most phenomenal hour of bass fishing I’ve ever experienced. Cast after cast, we landed nice fish and laughed our fool heads off.

I never had another experience like that night – until I took my family to stay in a cabin on Wisconsin’s Lake Pokegema. It was similar to how Dad would take us to Atwood Lake near Canton, Ohio, for a week each year.

He took along his 8-foot wooden rowboat – a pram named “George” – and fish out of it while we swam at a nearby beach. Invariably, he wore the same outfit on our vacations – khakis rolled up a few turns, a fishing shirt with many patch pockets, a hat and flip-flops while smoking a pipe.

One morning at Lake Pokegema, I got up early and put on a pair khakis, rolled them up a few turns, added my patch-pocket shirt and cap and grabbed my rod and tackle box. I didn’t smoke a pipe, but had a mug of hot coffee with me as I walked down the dock.

The sun was barely up, but I could see our three teenaged kids were already out fishing – Kris with her cousin Shaun in one boat, Dave in another and Jon in a third. I beamed with pride knowing my father and grandfather would have been so pleased to see them out there fishing on their own.

As I rowed away from the dock, I sized up the lake. It was a dead-calm morning when the lake looks like a mirror. To my right, a few large pines had fallen into the water and I decided to slowly row closer to them.

I had tied on an Arbogast Hula Popper – the one with the frog pattern and all the beautiful yellow and green. I would take a sip of coffee, let the boat slide along and then make a single cast to the shore. After another taste of coffee, I made a cast of the Hula Popper to the deep water edge of a fallen tree.

I ever so slowly raised the rod tip and twitched the Hula Popper when BAM! It jolted up in a splash of clear lake water and then sucked down to the depths so fast I could hardly follow it. I set the hook – which was almost unnecessary when a bass slams a Hula Popper like that.

It was a beautiful 3-pound largemouth – the first one I’d ever caught on a Hula Popper.

As I was admiring the fish, I realized I had nearly duplicated the way my father fished when I was a kid with my outfit, the tackle and the Hula Popper. As I reflect on this many years later, I am so thankful I had that singular experience to connect with my father and his favorite pastime.

And I continue to love poppers – especially the ones wearing hula skirts.