The 1/4-ounce Rebel Pop-R is arguably the most storied bait in the history of bass fishing. Ironically, it was discontinued due to slow sales in 1978, little more than two years after its introduction. Had it not been for Rick Clunn and a heavy dose of fate that would have been the end of the Pop-R.
During this time Clunn supplemented his tournament income by guiding for bass at Toledo Bend. On one guide trip Clunn’s client was a stubborn young man who had a Pop-R tied on. Clunn told his client to try a Texas-rigged worm because they were about to fish brush in deep water.
The young man ignored his guide, hurled the Pop-R over the submerged brush and began retrieving it at a ridiculously fast pace. Clunn stayed mum, figuring his client would soon grow weary of this tomfoolery and start fishing the “right” way.
On the client’s second or third cast, a sizeable bass engulfed the Pop-R. Clunn shook his head, believing it to be a fluke. When the same thing happened over and over and over again, he realized he had been introduced to a new and deadly bass tactic.
Soon after this incident, Ann’s Tackle in East Texas began placing orders to PRADCO for the Pop-R. This required a special run with a minimum of 144 dozen lures. When the Pop-Rs arrived at the tackle shop, a handful of bass pros secretly snapped them up. These anglers included Rick Clunn, Bobby Murray, Tommy Martin and Zell Rowland.
“Anytime we saw Pop-Rs in a tackle store while we were traveling we would buy them all up,” Rowland said.
The Texas pros managed to keep the Pop-R secret for nearly a decade, during which time the little popper accounted for hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings. This was long before the internet, social media and cameras constantly being focused on the pros. Secret lures don’t stay secret for long these days.
Rowland finally let the cat out of the bag when he won a B.A.S.S. Super Invitational with the Pop-R in Chattanooga in 1986. PRADCO was suddenly overwhelmed with orders for the Pop-R, and Rowland’s name immediately became synonymous with the lure.
“It’s hard to keep any bait you win on a secret unless you lie,” he said. “I didn’t want to lie.”
Several years later Rowland began tweaking the Pop-R by sanding the plastic walls of the bait thinner. This caused the popper to sit more tail down in the water, which allowed Rowland make the bait chug or spit.
“If I want it to chug, I work it with the rod tip down,” he said. “If I want it to spit, I hold the rod up. It’s the only chugger I know of that can do one or the other.”
To satisfy anglers who wanted a popper that would consistently spit when retrieved, he designed the Zell Pop for PRADCO’S XCalibur line of lures. The Zell Pop is now in PRADCO’S Booyah line and has been renamed the Boss Pop. It comes in 1/4- and 3/8-ounce sizes.
The Pop-R spurred countless other companies to introduce similar poppers, many of which are excellent bass catchers. South Carolina Bassmaster Elite Series pro and Classic champion Casey Ashley claimed that he has tried many different poppers, but that the 1/4-ounce Zell Pop is the only one he now ties on.
“The Zell pop is so versatile,” said Ashley, who does not have any hard bait sponsors. “I like to work it fast. No other popper can do what it can do.”
He replaces the stock No. 6 hooks that come on the Zell Pop with larger No. 4 hooks. He claimed that this doesn’t weigh down the popper or hinder its action.
“I always have a Zell Pop rod on my deck anytime the water is 70 degrees or warmer,” Ashley said. “I don’t fish many tournaments where I don’t catch at least one fish a day on a Zell Pop.”
The Prank is no prank
Booyah’s Zell Rowland Prank Cranking Popper is Rowland’s latest brainchild. It is a 5/16-ounce feathered popper sporting a square bill. Rowland claimed it can be popped like a Pop-R and that it swims similar to a Mann’s 1-Minus on a steady retrieve.
“The Prank is one bad popper,” he said. “If a bass rolls on the Prank and misses, I reel in and throw it right back there. Then I pop it once or twice, pull the bait under and twitch it like a jerkbait. They eat it nine times out of 10 when I do that.”