Whopper Plopper: Origins
By Owen Gartner
The Whopper Plopper. I think many of us remember the first time we heard about this ultra-effective topwater lure from River2Sea, I mean how can you forget a name like Whopper Plopper (or the heart stopping blow-ups it produces)? But now that it has become an essential topwater lure; a household name among bass aficionados; an apple in the mimicking eyes of many rival lure makers, many may have also forgotten about its humble origins as a muskie lure and the long legacy of propeller-armed topwater hard baits that inspired Larry Dahlberg’s original design.
Largemouth bass puttin' the hammer down on a Whopper Plopper 110
The design and premise behind the Whopper Plopper is simple: it’s essentially a hard topwater lure designed to imitate an injured baitfish in its death throes, splashing about on the surface. The idea of mimicking a dying or injured baitfish in order to draw strikes is hardly new or novel. In fact, Rapala’s Original Floater, which many consider to be the first mass-produced artificial hard lure, was designed around exactly this premise in the late 1930s. The concept of adding a prop to such a bait isn't new either. The Devil’s Horse from Smithwick, which has been bamboozling bass since the 1950s, features a slim, slender minnow (aka hard stickbait) body design that is similar to Rapala's Original Floater, except instead of a lip it has two small metal propellers attached to the front and rear of the lure. Deeper bellied versions of this design have been produced as well, such as the Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad or the Lucky Craft Kelly J.
[Larry] wanted something that sounded "plop-like" similar to a "a small water bird running across the surface before flight."
The concept behind the Whopper Plopper was first developed sometime in 2008 when Hall of Fame angler Larry Dahlberg (of Hunt for Big Fish fame) got together with Simon Chan from River2Sea. Both were big fans of topwater fishing and Larry, who was particularly interested in developing pike and muskie lures at the time, was specifically interested in developing a topwater lure with a different sonic profile than typical topwaters, such as buzzbaits or prop lures like the Devil's Horse or Crazy Shad. He wanted something that sounded "plop-like" similar to a "a small water bird running across the surface before flight." This was no easy task, but they eventually developed a 190 millimeter model (which would later become the Whopper Plopper 190) crafted from a carved broom handle and a cupped rubber tail attached via wire. The large size was perfect for aggressive, toothy species like muskie, but they found opportunistic largemouth would hit the lure too, so they developed a 130 millimeter size as well to help appeal to bass anglers, the Whopper Plopper 130.
River2Sea CEO Simon Chan with early Whopper Plopper protoypes
Believe it or not, the Whopper Plopper wasn't always as popular as it is today. Upon its release to the bass market, the Whopper Plopper hardly generated much buzz. River2Sea went around to a few big bass tournaments around Clear Lake and the California Delta and handed out free lures to competitors, but you rarely heard anyone talking about them. It wasn't until some FLW events on the Delta a few years later where many of the top 10 finishers caught their kicker fish on Whopper Ploppers that word started getting around to the greater tournament bass fishing community. Fast forward a few years and even big name Southeastern B.A.S.S. Elite anglers like Gerald Swindle and Rick Clunn can be seen publicly posting pictures of big bass with freshly-smashed Ploppers hanging from their mouths. By 2016 the Whopper Plopper was no longer a well-kept secret, but rather, was quickly gaining a reputation as one of the hottest lures in fishing, bass or otherwise.
The subsequent releases of smaller sizes of the Whopper Plopper have only further catalyzed its popularity. As the smaller lure sizes require less specialized power fishing gear, making it more accessible to a wider range of anglers. For example, while the Whopper Plopper 130 and 190 require stout, "pool cue" swimbait or frog casting rods and deep spool baitcasters to properly fish, the Whopper Plopper 75 and 90 can be thrown on something as light as a a medium power spinning rod spooled up with 20 to 30 pound braid.
Whopper Plopper 75 in Munky Butt
Today, a wide range of lure manufacturers have jumped on the Plopper-style prop lure hype-train and started producing their own Whopper Plopper-style lures, including everyone from clandestine factories producing knock-offs sold on Amazon and Ali Express to major, established manufacturers like Berkley. While some are essentially cheap, blatant copies of River2Sea’s original design, such as the Choppo from Berkley, others add their own twist. For example, Savage Gear’s 3D Smash Tail adds incredibly detailed and realistic “match-the-hatch” body designs to the equation. Chasebait’s Drunken Mullet comes in a wider array of colorways that appeal to saltwater anglers and has a segmented hard body and offset double prop tail to add extra action and sonic diversity to the presentation. Similarly, some conceptual copies have been produced, including Booyah’s ToadRunner Frog, which is essentially just your standard hollow body frog lure with a prop on the back to stir up water. River2Sea even sells a small kit to retrofit standard hollow bodies with a similar prop tail.
Booyah ToadRunner in Bone
All in all, the Whopper Plopper and the myriad of topwaters it has inspired (and was inspired by) offer some of the most exciting power fishing around. Whether its the bigguns' they summon up or the thrilling blow-ups they elicit, its hard to have a slow day fishing when you've got a topwater prop lure tied on.