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Advanced Pencil Poppin'

Clockwise: Madd mantis, 2 oz Winch, 1.5 oz Dagger, 2 oz Guppy



Originally pencil poppers were designed by Stan Gibbs to reach striped bass busting well beyond the reach of other lures.   This trait alone has earned it a permanent slot in many angler’s bags.   They come in many different designs from wood, plastic, floating, sinking--- the options are almost limitless.

Winch Dagger Pencil doing the job...
Gibbs Pencils

They were so popular with striped bass that other fisherman began to use them to target other gamefish (both fresh and salt).  Fish known to annihilate a pencil popper include Giant Trevally, Snook, Bluefish, Largemouth Bass and many many more.


Some of the most popular brands of wooden pencils include Guppy, Fixter, Winchmaster, Norcal and Linesider69.   Plastic versions include Cotton Cordell, IMA, and Savagear.


Technique Matters


Regardless of prefererence, knowledge and technique matter most if you want to catch fish.   You need to know which pencil to use at a given time and you need to have the skill to present the plug in such a way as to induce a strike.   This sounds simple, but can be very complex for even the most experienced angler.   Anyone can loft a pencil over a cresting wave and walk it back to shore.   The challenge is achieving the tempo required to illicit a strike in a given condition.


              Every factor is considered especially current speed.   I notice many anglers will retrieve at the same cadence whether the surf is fast or slow.   What works for me is first getting the pencil to walk at the same speed as the waves.   If that doesn’t work, I’ll speed it up or slow it down.    With fast currents I prefer heavier pencils for maintaining rhythm.  I’ll even let the pencil sink and work it like a swimmer.   Contrary to popular belief, retrieving pencils doesn’t need to be topwater zig zag .    In some situations you can even let them sink to the bottom to work like needlefish.   Don’t be afraid to think out of the box when it comes to presenting pencils.   They are one of the most versatile plugs available today.

Madd Mantis, Evergreen Shower Blows 150, Savagear Propwalker
Evergreen Shower Blows 150

Pencil Popping Tips


The challenge of pencil popping was learning how to achieve the desired action.   As a novice, I'd be in awe of surfcasters cranking and popping pencils with ease.    Then when I tried to copy, I felt totally uncoordinated.   Reeling and popping a an 11' rod in the surf is unlike any other topwater presentation skill.    It's easy fishing topwater in lakes or bays when waters are calm and rods pointed downwards, but when you have breaking waves, longer rods and heavier lures the task becomes more complex.


For the surf, conditions play a major factor.   First you need to know when you can present a pencil popper.   The time frame between wave sets should be at least 9 seconds in order to give the plug enough window to work properly in the strike zone.   Yes some guys will throw them in rougher waters, but I'm talking ideal conditions where the lure can be presented in the most enticing way.  Then you must have the ability to crank and pop the plug with rhythm all the way to shore.   When you develop the ability to present a pencil popper in the surf, experiment with different sizes and weights.     Patterns are always changing on the surf, so to be successful at pencil poppin', you need to adapt to the conditions in front of you.



1. Develop manual coordination to perfom different retrieves.


2. Understand how current will affect your presentation.


3. Keep a variety of pencil poppers in your bag


4. Use the correct gear to manipulate the plug to precision.


5.  Know when to fish a pencil popper.

Final Thoughts


To excel in the art of pencil popping you need to develop total control of the lure.  You must be in tuned and able to visualize what each crank and twitch is doing to the lure in current.   There are no short cuts to this skill.  You also need the right gear in order to present the lure in the best way possible. 


Lastly it takes practice like everything else in life.  I used to have absolutely no confidence in pencil poppers until I saw this guy landing fish hand over fist in Staten Island.   Since then I’ve tried to master this technique through inquiry, experimentation and just simply putting in the time and effort to learn the ins and outs of presenting pencil poppers to my targeted prey.

Fixter, Winch Prop, Gibbs


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