Popping with Ott
T ennessee pro Ott Defoe has been on a roll in Texas this year, with high finishes at the Bassmaster Classic on Conroe, and shortly thereafter at an Elite Series event on Toledo Bend.
In both cases, a key tool in his arsenal was the Storm Cover Pop, a larger-than-normal topwater popper that builds on the legacy of the P70 Pop-R. It’s a technique that he uses whenever fish will feed on the surface, but especially in the post-spawn.
If you think that the Bass University instructor is blooping the Cover Pop and letting it sit, you’d be wrong. Sure, there are occasional times when he stops to pick out a backlash and a fish swallows it, keying him in that he needs to slow down, but most of the time he’s chugging along at a consistent pace.
“I’m pretty steady,” he said. “I usually can’t make myself slow down. Even when I’m just popping it, the pauses are very minimal.”
So why doesn’t he use a walking bait or a buzzbait? It’s because he can keep the lure in one place and aggravate them into striking while those others require forward movement to succeed.
“I’m actually just snapping the tip,” he explained. “So it creates a lot of disturbance without going anywhere. I tie a loop knot, and it walks in place. I can spin it side to side to side. In one foot of travel it may go back and forth six times. My friend Jamie Horton said that you ‘have to tell it when to come home.’” DeFoe prefers to throw it on 15-pound Bass Pro Shops Excel monofilament, because anything lighter may not handle big fish in heavy cover, and anything heavier tends to hinder the side-to-side action.
He said that the biggest advantage an angler can gain comes from learning to land it on a dime. “Most people are not target-oriented enough. It’s not always about throwing under an overhanging bush, but even when I’m just going down the bank, I’m not hoping that the fish will come four feet from here to there. I want to put it right in the strike zone, whether that is the corner of a dock or across the tops of stumps.”
The Cover Pop is bigger than the popper that most anglers throw, a full three inches, but he said that while it’s especially effective wherever big fish live, it’s his go-to most of the time. He will, however, downsize to a smaller, more subtle popping bait, such as a Rapala Skitter Pop, “if there’s almost no cover, just clean, open, slick bank.”
He’s not fussy about color, but he doesn’t believe those who say that only the belly matters. “It rolls when you twitch it, so sometimes bass do kind of come down on it,” he said. “But the majority come from below. I usually use white or chrome, with a green back or a blue back, but I’ve never seen one majorly outfish the other.”
Although he’s not always picky about his paint job, he is extremely finicky about his tackle. He uses a six foot-six inch medium-action Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite rod paired with a 6.8:1 Johnny Morris Platinum baitcasting reel. As noted above, mono gets the call over fluorocarbon, which sinks, and braid, which has no stretch.
“The rod has to have a short handle,” he explained. “A long handle gets in your way. It’ll get hung up in your jacket or your shirt. You don’t want to overpower the bait when casting and fishing it. I’m six feet tall and six foot-six inches is the longest I’ll use, but someone shorter might want to use a six-foot rod or one that’s six foot-two inches. You don’t ever want to have the rod tip hit the water when you’re twitching it.”
The Cover Pop, which will be released at this year’s ICAST trade show, takes decades of pros’ input to build a better mousetrap, so it doesn’t need many modifications, but DeFoe prefers to change out the hooks, switching from #2 short shanks to #2 regular shank trebles. He also ties his own feathers onto the rear treble. “Never fish it without a feather on the back. If you want to pause it and let it sit, it never quits moving.”
Although it’s debatable whether this technique was born in DeFoe’s home state of Tennessee, there’s no doubt that a horde of Volunteer State pros like Craig Powers made it their own and perfected it. Nevertheless, until now they’ve been shy about singing its praises in other states, but DeFoe’s Texas success changes that. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Texas anglers should be studying up on their loop knots and stocking up on heart pills for the topwater pattern of a lifetime.
Email Pete Robbins at ContactUs@fishgame.com