Peninsula Fly Fishers

Balsa Bass Poppers


as presented by Leo Gutterres, Delta Fly Fishers
at PFF Workshop, May 17, 1990

March 2007

List of Tools

Jig For Groove

  • to cut a groove in the balsa stock for the insertion of the hook shank
  • sized for one-half inch square balsa stock
  • with a protruding nail point as the cutting tool, on the centerline, approximately one-sixteenth to one-eighth inch high

Jig For Length and Face Angle

  • for cutting the grooved balsa stock to length and for cutting the angled face
  • one-and-one-eighth to one-and-one-quarter inch long 30� angle for face

Hobby Saw

  • for cutting balsa stock
  • X-ACTO makes handles and replaceable blades
  • a medium tooth works well

Electric Drill & Three-Eighths Rounding Bit

  • to hollow the popper's face

Whittling Knife

  • X-ACTO makes knife blades which fit the hobby saw handle


  • two-hundred grit


  • for making dots, eyes, and such
  • with various sized heads


  • for making fish scale pattern
  • get bridal veil net from a fabric store

Small Paint Brushes

  • for painting the poppers
  • clean them in thinner immediately after use

Paint Drying Rack

  • to hang poppers to dry after painting
  • a board, eighteen inches long by six inches wide
  • at each end, a three-and-a-half inch nail
  • nylon line, with an overhand knot every one-half inch, tied between the nails; the knots keep the poppers separated

Tying Tools

  • vice, 3/0 thread, bobbin, hackle pliers, sissors, head cement


  • use as drill bit for rubber leg holes

Wire Needle Threader or Mono Floss Threader

  • to pull rubber leg material through the needle-drilled holes
  • get them at a sewing store or the dental care department at a drug store

List of Materials

Square balsa stock

  • one-half inch square cross-section
  • usually found in thirty inch lengths
  • look for the extra hard kind, called heart balsa

Popper Hooks

  • Mustad #33903, size 4
  • double-humped shank, to hold in groove without rotating

Five-Minute Epoxy

  • toothpicks for spreading
  • old business cards for mixing small batches

Balsa Sealer

  • for initial coat
  • Pactra Aero Gloss #70-4

Sanding Sealer

  • for second coat
  • Pactra Aero Gloss #71-4

Base Color Coat

  • for third coat
  • flat white Pactra Aero Gloss #31-4

Top Color Coats

  • Testors enamel paints and thinner
  • useful colors
    • #1145 white
    • #1114 yellow
    • #1103 red
    • #1124 green
    • #1147 black
    • #1110 blue
    • #1116 cream
    • #1165 flat olive
    • #1164 flat green

Enamel Spray Paint

  • for fish scale effect; used with bridal veil netting
  • chrome and blue colors

Calf Tail

  • for making hair legs
  • olive, white, and black

Instant Glue

  • for securing hair legs in holes in the body
  • use the slow setting kind

Hackle Butt Sections

  • for feather legs
  • yellow and black grizzly

Saddle Hackle

  • for hackling behind balsa body and over where hackle legs are tied in various colors

Rubber Legs

  • white, yellow, black, green

Construction Instructions

  1. Push the balsa stock through the grooving jig. Check that the groove is deep enough for the humped hook shank.
  2. Cut the grooved stock to length and face angle in the jig. The groove should be on the bottom.
  3. Hollow the face of the popper while holding it in the jig.
  4. Whittle cut #1: the angle on the back of the popper. Whittle cut #2: on the bottom rear of the popper.
  5. Sand the back into a smooth curve.
  6. Sand the bottom rear to make a smooth transition to the curved back.
  7. Whittle cuts #3 and #4 on the sides of the popper. At the rear, the cuts should narrow the stock to about one-eighth inch.
  8. Sand the sides to smooth curves.
  9. Whittle the four lengthwise corners (cuts 5–8) down as a first step in rounding the cross-section.
  10. Sand the popper with a winding motion to make it round and smooth.
  11. Check the fit of the humped shank hook again. Deepen the groove with the hobby saw if the shaping of the body has shallowed the groove too much. Widen the groove with sandpaper, if necessary. The hook must fit well.
  12. Glue the hook to the popper body. Prepare a batch of popper bodies before mixing the epoxy glue. A beginner will want to make a batch of as few as three; an expert will want a batch of fifteen, maximum. A thread of resin and hardener of about an inch-and-a-half from the syringe-type packaging is enough for fifteen bodies. Put some epoxy in the groove with a toothpick. Position the hook. Add more epoxy over the hook to fill the groove.
  13. Sand the bottom of the poppers smooth after the epoxy has cured.
  14. Dip and hang to dry in the following sequence.
    1. #70-4 Balsa Sealer
    2. #71-4 Sanding Sealer
    3. #65-4 White Gloss Coat or #31-4 Flat White
  15. Sand lightly between coats. A drip will form while the poppers are hanging on the drying rack. Knock it off with a toothpick.
  16. Paint the face first. Use red or orange Testors. Paint the body as you like.
  17. Make eyes by touching a larger nail head dipped in the color of your choice (such as red or yellow), and a smaller nail head dipped in black to make the pupil.
    Alternative 1: Make eyes by attaching doll eyes with instant glue (cyanoacrylite).
    Alternative 2: Make eyes by attaching self-stick metallic eyes.
  18. For a fish scale effect, spray the sides and back with the color you want the outlines of the scales to be, and let dry. Pull the netting over the back and sides so that you get a close, wrinkle-free covering. Then spray the color or colors you wish on the sides and back.
  19. An epoxy coating will protect the finish. A rod-wrapping type epoxy works well. The epoxy coated poppers will need to dry on a slow rotating drum for a smooth finish.
  20. Tie on feather legs and hackle.
  21. Tom's preferred method for legs is to make up calf hair legs. Hold the bunch of hairs in place with hackle pliers until a length of tying thread can be knotted around them. Put a drop of glue on the tied end. Let the glue dry. Cut the legs to length (to the thread tie). Drill a one-sixteenth inch hole on each side, at the back end of the popper body, for the legs. Angle the holes so that the legs will have a sixty degree spread. Glue the hair legs in the holes with slow drying super glue.
  22. Drill holes for rubber legs with a needle for a bit. Push a thin-wire needle threader or mono dental floss threader through the hole; capture the rubber leg material; pull the threader with its entrapped rubber leg material back through the hole. Position and trim to length.

Tom Kilfoil's frog poppers use these materials:

  • Testors #1164 flat green for the body
  • Testors #1116 cream for the belly
  • Testors #1114 yellow for spots on the back; drag the nail head applicator to give the spots shape
  • two separate bundles of hair per leg; a green bundle over a white bundle

Three Views Of Tom's Hair Leg Frog Popper

A Feather Leg Frog Popper

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