DIY Airbrushing Popper Heads

As I get older, I’m finally realizing that things that seem simple on the surface are often more complicated than they appear. When editor Ross Purnell returned from a trip to Venice, Louisiana, he told me that schools of bull redfish had mangled a foam popper. He asked me to write about building a durable, functional foam popper, and I brazenly thought, “No problem.” As I dug into the subject a bit more, and enlisted the advice and experience of my good friend and foam popper tier extraordinaire Brian Schmidt, I realized how much thought and design goes into these things.

Like many of us, I’ve tied poppers for a long time, but my personal preferences, based on an elevated sense of self-worth and tradition, have dictated that I use only perfectly tied deer-hair poppers. Foam poppers always seemed like the low-rent, quick-and-easy versions of what should be a considerable time investment in both the learning process and each individual fly. Boy, was I wrong. As it turns out, foam poppers are just as interesting, and can be just as detail-oriented as good deer-hair flies. They can be beautiful, or just about as simple as you like.

I’m going to share with you the best way to secure the foam head so it doesn’t break loose and spin, the proper placement of the hook shank to produce the best “pop,” and how to attach durable eyes. And I’ll share a cool new trick I’ve learned using compressed air and permanent markers to airbrush colors and patterns onto the foam heads.

I’ve owned a Copic brand airbrush system for several years, but I’ve been unhappy with the size and longevity of the proprietary compressed-air canisters. A DIY alternative is to use a common can of compressed air to blow across the tip of any permanent marker, spraying ink onto the head. It takes a bit of practice to gauge the right distance and volume of air to apply the ink in the desired manner, but it doesn’t take long before you’re producing beautifully blended, colored foam popper heads.

Use a test spray next to the popper head on a disposable background sheet to gauge the distance and intensity of color. You can add patterns to your popper heads by spraying the ink through mesh sheets. I’ll warn you that this can be quite addictive, and it won’t be long before you have 50 markers in various colors strewn about your desk. I have been leaving the faces of my poppers white so I can more easily see them in low evening light, but feel free to paint the face if it makes you feel good.

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