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Making Foam Poppers

    For Jack, "Chevyvan37"

Above: Dahlberg style popper, Striper popper, Gen-X popper, another Dahlberg style popper

I was visiting Dan Blanton's board in the late spring of 2007 when I ran across a post from Jack, a fly fisher who wished to pass on the necessary skills and tools to make foam poppers and other "bugs". Jack has terminal cancer but believes that what he has learned could be of value to someone interested in fishing for bass and other top water fish. I wrote him and he sent me page upon page of photos and more pages of instructions on the tools, materials and methods of construction. I played around using a drill as a lathe on a few prototypes and then made the commitment to buy the tools and materials necessary to do it right. 

    Since that time I've caught hundreds of fish on his poppers and have had my clients do the same Indeed, I have two flies that alone have caught hundreds of fish each without any signs of wear with the exception of the deer hair being a little shorter, the flashabou a little sparser and the chartreuse feathers a little faded.

    I truly can't thank Jack enough. He goes by the name of ChevyVan37 on Dan's board. I hope he's still making poppers and still fishing them.

Fly tying tools needed:

  1. A high speed rotary tool. While Dremel is the name most recognized, I found a three speed Black and Decker Rotary Tool for $24.95.
  2. A  2" nail that fits the chuck on the rotary tool.
  3. #80 sandpaper.
  4. Fly tying vice.
  5. Fly tying scissors.
  6. Thread bobbin.
  7. Apron
  8. Dust mask


Fly Tying materials: Dahlberg style foam popper

  • Contact cement
  • Hooks: Mustad #3366 2/0, Bass Pro XPS straight 
    shank round bend, 3/0, 4/0
  • Thread: Flat waxed, white
  • Tail: Chrome flashabou, six green grizzly hackles
  • Yellow dyed deer hair
  • Green dyed deer hair
  • Permatex Super Weatherstrip Adhesive
  • Scrap yarn
  • Shaped foam popper head 


Tying Instructions

1. Go to your local 99 cent store, Wal-Mart or Target and pick up several pairs of flip-flops. Make sure they are solid foam. They need to be smooth on the upper surface since they are going to be glued together. Some light texturing is OK on the sole. You can find the sandals in many colors. I was lucky enough to find these in green and black camo. Most of the time you'll find solid colors. The sandals cost between 99 cents and $1.99. Each pair will make 30-40 poppers.

2. Cut the toe straps off the sandals and push out the plugs. Coat the tops of both sandals with contact cement using a throw away paper towel as a brush. Wait 15 minutes and then press the two together to form a single sandal, double thickness.

3. Once the sandals are together, step on them to really push the glued surfaces together to bond as a single sandal.

You'll find that each pair of sandals has it's own "rubber" properties. Some are stiff, some are elastic and rubbery, some are dense, others are less dense. It doesn't seem to make a difference. They all work satisfactorily in shaping.


4. Using a VERY sharp knife, cut the sandal into  long strips and then into blocks, each block will become a foam popper head. I usually cut only one strip at a time, leaving the rest of the sandal together until I need the materials. Each square should be a little less than an inch on a side by whatever length the thickness of he two sandals is. It's really important that the knife be very sharp. If not the cuts are ragged and the whole process is frustrating.

5. Push the nail through the rectangle of foam trying to both enter and exit at the center of the surface square. It's important that you get as close to center as possible since when placed in the rotary tool, the block will spin at 8,000rpm. If far out of line it will vibrate the tool to an unacceptable level.

6. Lock the rotary tool in a vice so that you don't have to hold it while turning the popper head. Be careful. Don't over tighten and crack the case of the tool.

7. Slide the nail into the rotary tool and tighten the chuck. Switch the tool to middle speed, about 8,000rpm before turning on. Put on a dust mask and apron before doing the next piece.

8. Turn the rotary tool on. Use a piece of #80 sandpaper to shape the popper. Hold the sandpaper UNDER the foam so you can see the shape of the popper you are making. Careful, the whole thing takes less than a minute to turn the rectangular block into a round, tapered popper. If the popper body is too long, you can hold the sandpaper at the back of the popper body near the rotary tool and shorten it by sanding off the excess.

9. Curl the sandpaper and push it in the front of the popper head, forming the cup shaped front of the popper.


10. Slide the popper off the nail and stand it on its front. Carefully cut down one side parallel and close to the center hole of the popper body. I'd guess I usually allow about 3/16th of an inch. The popper body is now finished and ready to use on the fly.

11. Lock a hook into the tying vise. Tie on a pencil leads worth of flashabou. The length should be about 2 1/2 to 3 inches,  long enough to show beyond the feather hackles that are tied on next.

12. Tie three hackles to each side of the flashabou, concave sides facing inward so the feathers lay tight up against the flashabou. Don't worry too much about trimming the hackle tips. Just tie them down tightly.

13. Cut a bunch of yellow deer hair about a quarter pencil thickness. Hold it over the place where you want to tie it on the hook. Put four to five wraps around the bunch of hair and then cinch down without letting go of the hair bunch. If you let go you'll spin the hair. By holding it, it will flair on top of the hook but not spin around.

14. Fold the ends of the deer hair towards the back before tying in another clump of hair.

15. Cut a bunch of green deer hair and tie it in front of the yellow deer hair using the same technique as above.

16. Tie in another smaller bunch of yellow deer hair, again the same as above.

17. Tie in another smaller bunch of green deer hair, again the same as above.

18. Open the tube of Permatex and put some on the bare hook ahead of the deer hair.

19. Tie in some scrap yarn in front of the deer hair and wrap it into the Permatex, allowing the glue to ooze through. Wrap back and forth until you have a base to slide the foam popper head on to. Make sure you tie the yarn down tight since you'll have to push the popper head over it and you don't want it to slip back. Finish the tie with a simple overhand loop. The popper head will prevent any unraveling.

20. Coat the outside of the yarn with a thin coating of Permatex. Not too much or it will push back onto the deer hair. Not too little or the popper head will slip on the hook.

21. Slide/push on the foam popper head. Some of the glue will be pushed along the back of he popper and end up gluing the deer hair in front to the back of the popper head.

22. You're done! You now have your first foam popper. If you don't hang it up where it can't be retrieved it should last for well over 100 fish. Allow the fly to dry and the glue to set overnight.

The above fly can be used morning to night, eight to ten hours without any difference as to it's floatability. It just plain floats without stopping. It's lighter than a hair popper and casts easily. Most of all, it catches fish, lots of them. And better yet, it doesn't wear out. 

The Dahlberg popper is one of three patterns I've developed so far. The possibilities are endless however. I wish I had space for all the info and photos Jack sent me. I've yet to experiment with such things as making the fly dive rather than pop. I do know that if you reverse the popper head it will act as a slider rather than a popper. I'm trying to come up with a mouse pattern that incorporates both hair and foam.

You can tie the same fly in a number of different sizes depending on the size you make the popper head. You can use permanent markers to color the foam. You can glue glitter to the foam using five minute epoxy.  I'm also working on a hook-up version of the same fly. The striper fly I've developed seems as effective as a crease fly and is much easier to tie and much more durable.

Jack left me a legacy of many dozens of patterns and Ideas. I'll probably never get to all of them because the few I've already tried are so effective it would be hard to beat them. At the same time, the ideas are endless for this type of fly. Perhaps you'll come up with a killer pattern of your own. If so, take some pictures and send it in and I'll see if I can include it on this or another page.

If you send me a fly or two of a hot pattern that you've come up with I'll reciprocate by sending a few back! My address is on the Booking Calendar and Rates page.

Thanks again Jack,

Captain Jerry