Zell Rowland on Pop-Rs


Name: Zell Rowland
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn. "The home of Bill Dance," Rowland says.
Technique: Topwater fishing with popper/chugger-style baits, most notably the Rebel Pop-R, XCalibur Zell Pop and Heddon Lucky 13. These baits are all shad-shaped with a concave face that spits or creates a popping sound when worked across the surface with short, quick jerks of the rod tip.
History: According to Rowland, Rebel's Pop-R debuted nearly three decades ago to little fanfare. "Guys went to the tackle shop, and to them they looked like every other chugger bait on the market," he says. "In 1986 I won a BASS Super Invitational in Chattanooga with it, then everyone wanted one. When they got them, they said, 'Hell, this ain't like anything out there.' The sound and the action they make is unlike any other chug bait."
Highlights: Along with his win at the Tennessee River in 1986, Rowland credits Rebel's Pop-R with hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal winnings.
When to Use: Rowland will throw a Pop-R year-round, except in the dead of winter. Specifically, when the water temperature reaches 57 degrees or below, he stows them. "However, I've seen a tournament won on a buzzbait in 48-degree water, so you never know," he says.
Where to Use: "The Pop-R is a versatile bait. You can throw it shallow, over deep timber and around riprap," he says. "I also like to throw it along steep drops; the kind where you can see the light-colored bottom then it just drops off and turns dark." Rowland will also throw them around visible cover with an emphasis on "around;" throwing into cover will get you hung up.
Tackle: Rowland designed what he believes is the perfect topwater rod for American Rodsmiths. It is a 6-foot, 6-inch medium action rod with a limber tip. The rod gets progressively stiffer as it nears the butt section to "take the dumminess out of the angler," as Zell puts it. What he means is when you get a strike on a topwater popping bait your first reaction is to set the hook. With the wrong rod, you'll pull the bait free of the fish's mouth before hooks are set. The limber rod allows the bass time to eat the bait before the rod loads up. Rowland uses the heaviest Silver Thread monofilament he can get away with, but never dips below 12-pound test. He spools it on an Ardent XS 1000 reel.
  Zell's favorites are Rebel's Pop-R, Heddon's Lucky 13 and XCalibur's Zell Pop. The Rebel is the one that brought chugger-style baits into the spotlight, and the one that Rowland throws most often. It is designed to make a "popping" sound. Before he throws it, he massages it with sandpaper to thin it out and give it better side-to-side movement. He will use Zell Pops — which are made to spit water — right out of the box. The Lucky 13 will make a "bloop" sound when worked correctly. The Zell Pop and the Pop-R have a feathered rear treble.
Basics: Rowland equates watching a proficient topwater fisherman to watching an artist's brush strokes. "Anyone can catch a fish on a crankbait, you reel it fast, slow or medium," he says. "Ninety percent of topwater baits don't have any action built in, you have to give it to them." When a topwater chugger is worked properly, it will make a "pop" (Pop-R), spit water (Zell Pop) or "bloop" (Lucky 13). He reels the reel and jerks the rod at the same time to get each bait to work correctly. Rowland says it is a combination of wrist action that moves the tip. As with a lot of baits, he says you need to let the fish tell you the best cadence. Experiment with intervals between pops and pauses until you find what's right. The warmer the water is, the shorter the time Rowland leaves betweens pops. Conversely, he slows his cadence down in colder water.
One More Thing: Rowland says the most important thing to remember when throwing a topwater popping bait is to stick with it. "It's such a versatile bait to find fish with, I usually always have one tied on," he says.