When I heard the news that the Rebel Lure Company was going to release a new version of its Pop-R model in 2021, my hair stopped greying and I felt ten years younger; when I heard the lure was a throwback to Rebel’s legendary P-70 design of the early 1980’s, I felt like a kid again.
It’s a funny thing, because if I ever fished an original P-70, I don’t remember it, even though its appearance in the late 70’s coincides with the time I started fishing. I didn’t discover the Rebel Pop-R until the late 1980’s when I was entering adulthood. As legend has it, it was around that time that the pros who had kept the lure a secret for over a decade let the horse out of the barn. Specifically, it was anglers like Zell Rowland and Rick Clunn who made the lure famous. As this article notes, however, by the time I was buying the lure, Rowland was modifying its original design. All I knew was that if I fished the Pop-R in the right places, I caught fish.
Jump ahead twenty years to the 2016 KBF National Championship on Kentucky Lake. I had been researching local websites and following local anglers on social media when I noticed that a bass fisherman on Kentucky Lake had been catching bass on topwater – in February. At first glance, I thought it was a joke. But the day before I left town I packed a Rebel P-60 Pop-R in the chartreuse shad finish. One morning I heard a noise while paddling out to Sugar Bay (my son picked the spot for me because he liked the name), and before I knew it I had found an area where the bass were herding bait. I cashed my first big tournament check that week and it was because I had packed that Pop-R and fished it in cold, clear Kentucky Lake.
In sum, I have a long relationship with the Pop-R, and that love has not been unrequited.
The Rebel P-71 returns to the classic P-70 design of my youth and adds some new wrinkles while retaining the features the made the lure excel. When I saw the color line up of the new P-71 Pop-R’s, the “Blue Candy” model reminded me of Sugar Bay. And because I am superstitious about fishing, I decided then it was the model I would tie on first. It hasn’t left my rod since.
So consider this a love letter as much as a review of the new P-71. I’ll discuss how it casts and retrieves, how it is made and how it behaves while it is sitting still on the water and when fish are on it. I’ll also compare it to previous Pop-R models. Most of all, I will speak sincerely. Be warned: I may sound like a teenager who got bit by the love bug. Like I said, the P-71 makes me feel young again, and if you like topwater fishing, it will likely do the same for you.
P-71 Design Features
The new P-71 Pop-R is available in six colors. Listed from lightest to darkest, they are: Bone, Harvest Moon, Bluegill, Blue Candy, Silver/Black and Last Call. The finishes on the lures are remarkably detailed. Internet photos do not to them justice. For example, Bluegill has an orange/yellow patch on its underside that mimics the coloration on sunfish species, and “Last Call” has a neon-green patch, also on its belly. This is important, because fish don’t see much of a topwater lure that sits above a water line: they see a silhouette, the feathered treble and the underbelly. Additionally, I would add that the naturalistic and artful finishes on the new P-71 models are more durable than I had expected: I have fished the Blue Candy model for nearly 2 months now and it still looks brand new, even after it has caught lots of bass and suffered a few chain pickerel.
If you look at the eyes of the P-71, you will also notice a difference: they are raised. Unlike more recent Pop-R models that have eyes painted on, these eyes are molded into the lure. It may not seem like an important detail, but it is. In hydrodynamic terms, when you “pop” the lure, you are basically pushing water forward with the lure’s cup. But you also have water that inevitably moves over the lure, and those little ridges around the eyes will create a bit more spray as water goes over them. Don’t think it matters? Watch a small animal struggle in the water, and note how the droplets spray around it. Former FLW Pro John Ladd has often explained features of the original P-70 design to me, and he often describes the eyes on the lure. The P-71 mimics those eyes.
We have discussed the durable, naturalistic finishes on the P-71 and how the lure’s eyes mimic those of the original P-70. Let’s discuss the other components.
More recent Pop-R models did not provide high-quality hooks or split rings. Here, I refer to the P-60 and P-70 sizes of more recent vintage. Some, such as the Magnum P-70 and the saltwater model (the Super Pop-R) have more reliable hooks, but if you fish for big fish then basically any P-60 bought off the shelf in the last two decades required upgrades of its hooks. As for split rings, I will reserve comment, but if you fished for big game fish, you’d be advised to invest in upgrades. The important thing is that once you adjust the terminal tackle, the Pop-R’s magic action is still there.
I’ll keep this simple: you won’t have to worry about upgrading hooks or split rings on the P-71. You can trust its sharp hooks to pin big fish and its split rings to hold. The P-71 was born to battle, right out of the box.
Now, the knocker, which is the bearing that rattles in a chamber inside the lure. The original P-70’s single knocker design has an aura around it like the Shroud of Turin. Is it the chamber that produced the beautiful music? The material the rattle echoed through? The specific weight and atomic signature of the bearing? A mystical magnetic field it produced? I’ve read a lot about the old P-70 – try buying one on an auction site, and you will see how it makes anglers crazy. It is a thing of legend.
That’s why I won’t touch it. To accurately test such things, you would need to have hydro-acoustic technology to measure the P-71’s sound in the water, compare it to that of an original P-70, and so forth. In the absence of peer-reviewed scientific testing, everything is speculation. This should suffice: the P-71 has a single knocker, it resembles that of the P-70, and the sound it makes attracts and catches fish.
In sum, the design features of the P-71 are above the standard of more recent Pop-R designs. Additionally, the price point is excellent relative to the Pop-R models, as well as other popper designs, which sell for more but simply don’t have the Pop-R’s acoustic profile and action. The new P-71 Pop-R is a bargain as well as an upgrade.
A topwater lure can be made of strong materials and have fancy paint, but how does it behave on the water? I began fishing the new P-71 in late spring, so I have not seen how it fishes in colder water or how it casts through colder air (air resistance is lessened in the cold, and sound travels farther in cold water). I have however fished it in wind, stained water, clear water and moving water, as well as some really hot, humid days, and this is what I have noticed.
First, the new P-71 is a heavy lure, for sure, but in clear water, long casts allow the angler to keep a low profile. Additionally, while it travels far in the air, there are long distance casting techniques that allow the lure to make a soft landing on the water.
Second, the P-71 has a big profile on the water but it requires little movement to make it pop. Additionally, the lure does not move far when you pop it, thereby keeping it in the strike zone. This is an important improvement over more recent models, because a curious fish attracted to its rattle and pop will easily find the lure nearby. This is very important in stained water, where fish will strike on sound and movement rather than sight.
Third, the P-71 walks beautifully, so you can chug it. I have found this to be one of my favorite techniques: I drop the cast and pop the lure in place. If there are no takers, I pop it one time in case a fish is hesitating. And then I walk it for a few feet, kicking up spray and splutter. Usually, this will bring a fish in or entice a big blow up. Check out the video below for an example, and note also the soft landing on the cast.
Popper fishing is a cadence technique, and the best poppers can be used in different ways. The P-71 allows for varied applications of cadence-based retrieves, so you can walk it, chug it or pop it. And because it has the famous Rebel “pop” at rest, it basically has it all.
I must add, however, that if you make short casts, the P-71 is an acquired skill. I often pitch a P-60 Pop-R under over hangs and trees with branches near the water line, because that model’s lighter profile make a softer presentation. The P-71 is hard to use in that way and I admit I am still refining that presentation. For long shore lines, fishing exposed structure, grass lines, and open water, the P-71 is magnificent. For short, precision casts, its large profile requires lots of skill and practice to make the right presentation. It can be done, however, and when you do make that perfect short cast and softly land a P-71 in the perfect spot, well – just hold on, because a fish is coming for it.
When I won 3rd place at a KBF Trail event on Lake Chickamauga in 2019, the tournament director asked us during the awards broadcast what lures we used. I said “The Rebel Pop-R.” His reply was “Old school, I like it.” The comment stood out to me. Poppers are associated with an older generation of legendary pros. I’m a Gen Xer who grew up idolizing those anglers, and I compete from a kayak against my own generation and Millennials, too. Look at it this way: the Pop-R has caught fish for three generations of tournament anglers. That’s a pretty convincing body of evidence.
In personal terms, I have won more money with a Pop-R than with any other lure. But tournament winnings are only a small part of the reward. The fact of the matter is that the Pop-R has brought joy and excitement to my fishing for decades. The rejuvenated P-71 Pop-R model has the durability, action and components to continue that streak for decades to come. The Pop-R is a timeless lure, and the P-71 is its future.
Henry Veggian is a member of the Jackson Kayak Fishing Team and the Ketch Outdoors Team. He writes widely on kayak fishing for KBF, Basstrail and other outlets, including his bowfincountry.com blog. Follow him on Twitter (@miacalva) and Instagram (@HankVeggian).
All Text and Photos © Henry Veggian 2021