By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Nick LeBrun figures it was at least a decade ago, and probably a little longer back than that, when he got his introduction to the River2Sea Whopper Plopper.
"I went down to (Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas) with a guy named Ed Barton, who I fished BFLs with," LeBrun said. "It might've been 2008 or '09. Anyway, he said all he was bringing was a Texas rig and a Whopper Plopper. I said, 'A what?' I'd never heard of it before.
"He was the first one who showed it to me, but I didn't really get confidence in it until 2018 when I caught some key fish on it in the (FLW) Cup at Lake Ouachita. I also caught some the next year in the Cup at Lake Hamilton, and from then on I've always tried it at any lake I go to."
The MLF Pro Circuit competitor and 2018 BFL All-American champion from Louisiana used the noisy topwater offering with a single prop on the rear to win the recent Bassmaster Central Open at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. He weighed two bags that were in excess of 17 pounds en route to a three-day total of 50-02, leaving him almost 4 1/2 pounds clear of runner-up Kenta Kimura.
He tabbed the win, which garnered him a spot in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, as more significant than his All-American triumph.
"I don't know if I'd have said that prior, but post-win, it's been amazing," he said. "The hype around it and the coverage and the exposure has been unlike anything I've ever done. It's similar to the All-American, but it seems like it's on a little more amplified scale."
Planned to Stay on Top
The 38-year-old LeBrun, the runner-up in the Central Open at Smith Lake in Alabama two weeks prior, had been to Grand on three previous occasions – twice for Toyota Series derbies and once for a BFL. He'd never notched a Top-10 finish there, but had gone away with a paycheck each time.
Throwing the Whopper Plopper was his primary plan before he even arrived for the Open.
"I was very optimistic about that kind of bite," he said. "It's something that I like to do and I wanted that to be the deal for me. I didn't think I could win fishing points or docks; if I was going to be at the top, I had to be chunking and winding something behind those docks.
"The Plopper is a high-risk, high-reward deal and you really have to commit and throw it all day. Very rarely will it work out to where (the fish) bite it for three straight days. Usually it's a good way to catch like three fish for 9 pounds."
He threw the smaller 110cm size with the hooks removed at the start of practice and generated some good strikes. He moved up to the 130 size for the last couple hours of the pre-fish period and felt like it handled the wind and waves better, so he had both rigged up when competition got under way.
He caught his first keeper of day 1 on the smaller bait. His second one – a 5 1/2-pounder, took the bigger offering and he stuck with that the rest of the way.
He shattered the bait that produced his 17-12 stringer on day 1 when he banged it off a dock cable on day 2. It was the only one he had in the black loon color.
His co-angler, Jacob Collins, happened to have one in his box and offered it to LeBrun, who initially refused and instead threw the 110 for a while without success. When he finally accepted Collins' gratuity about a half-hour later, he caught two quality specimens in quick succession and went on to compile a 15-03 bag that moved him into 2nd place with one day left.
Collins allowed LeBrun to keep the bait for day 3 and even provided him with another one. LeBrun used it to put together a 17-03 haul that included a 5 3/4-pounder, carrying him to the win with several pounds to spare.
"I owe him a lot," LeBrun said of Collins, who hails from Illinois. "It was a mental thing – in my mind, I felt like I needed to be throwing that bigger bait in those rougher, windier areas."
> Topwater gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Fitzgerald Fishing Bryan Thrift Signature Series rod, Fitzgerald Fishing VLD 10 casting reel (8:1 ratio), 50-pound Sunline Xplasma Asegai braided line, River2Sea Whopper Plopper (black loon).
> He changed out the stock hooks on the bait in favor of size 2 Hayabusa TBL 930 NRB trebles. "Those hooks have kind of a slick coat and some fish that don't really want to eat, you'll hook them on the side or on top of the head," he said. "The 5 1/2-pounder I caught had one treble in the very top of the forehead – it was just head-butting the bait, but I caught it anyway."
> LeBrun and wife Jolene are the parents of twin 5-year-old sons and a 1 1/2-year-old daughter. "My wife is the real champion," he said. "I couldn't do what I do without her."