Saturday, January 22, 2000

Foil Pencil Popper

Originator: Walt Holman

Variation: Paul Barnett

Species: saltwater and warmwater


The foil popper was popularized by Walt Holman of Alabama. Over the years, variations by Jim Freres of Texas, and Kirk Dietrich and Paul Barnett of Louisiana, have been showcased at Federation of Fly Fishers events and other fly tying exhibitions. When a foil balsa popper is constructed to fine detail, it ranks as one of the most beautiful flies to behold. Little wonder that so many end up in shadow boxes.

Fortunately, fish don't care how good your pencil poppers look. So no matter how imperfect they seem, give 'em a try. Bass, specks, pickeral, redfish, ladyfish ... all love poppers. For freshwater, use the bronze 9674 hook. For saltwater, the popular hook used to be the Mustad 9674B stainless before it was discontinued. Any 4X stainless hook should work.


- Mustad 34011 stainless hook, size 2.
- white fishhair
- chartreuse fishhair
- green fishhair
- white chenille
- peacock or holographic crystal flash
- peel off, prismatic eyes
- 40 lb. monofilament or V-rib or larva-lace
- 20 gauge lead wire
- red thread
- white thread

Instructions (courtesy of Paul Barnett):

1. Cut 5/16" OD Balsa Plug. Use 5/16" I.D. thin wall brass tubing (sharpened edges) chucked in drill press or drill to cut plugs from balsa blocks.

2. Taper plug in pencil sharpener. Turn crank approx. 3 turns forward and 3 turns backwards – backward turns smooth cut out.

3. Cut slot for hook and cut angle on front using hacksaw blade. The hook I use most often is the Mustad 9674. #1 hook = 1 9/16" OAL. #2 hook = 1 5/16" OAL. #4 hook = 1 1/8" OAL.

4. Sand cup in face of plug. Face can be also be left flat or cut at a downward (opposite) angle to make a diving plug.

5. Glue in hook and filler. Use Devcon 2 ton epoxy for glue filler. A 1/16" x 1/8" balsa strip serves best as filler.

6. Cut excess of filler and sand taper on rear. 240-280 grit sand paper works best.

7. Glue on foil with rubber cement and roll knurled punch over body for scale look. Punch with a 1/4" or 5/16" OD knurled finish works best.

8. Pain back, cup, and eyes. Use a sponge or eyebrush with black or dark paint to create a top finish. Use an orange or red paint for the cup face and gills. Use 3 different size dowels to paint the eyes. A red-white-black eye pattern is most used. The best paint for this job is acrylic enamel (easy to work with and binds to the epoxy finish).

9. Tie on tail and coat with Devcon 2 ton epoxy. Thin epoxy approx. 20% with acetone & add ultra fine glitter for a great look. Rotate poppers until epoxy is dry enough not to sag – usually 1 to 2 hours depending on how much acetone was added.

Balsa blocks, balsa strips, brass tubing, rubber cement – all can be found at Hobby Lobby or Hobby Town. Your local hardware store, Home Depot, Lowes, Sears – you can find hacksaw blades, knurled punches, Devcon epoxy. For colored foil, the best type is that used for baking potatoes.

Alternative to drill press: a 2" brass tubing with a hole at the top for an allen wrench. The tubing is twisted into the balsa – make sure the plug is with the grain of the wood! The pencil you see is used to push the plug out the tubing. The foil in the case has been pre-cut to sizes for a size 1 popper. Making foil poppers is not time consuming …if you utilize an assembly line approach!