Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fly Tying Series # 5 Poppers

Today we're going to be discussing one of my favorite flies for bluegill (the ultimate fly rod fish) and bass, the popper.  There are probably as many different ways to tie this fly as there are fishermen who tie it.  I do not think there is a right or wrong way to tie it.  The essential elements are cork or foam body (spun deer hair can be used as well), a tail and (optional) hackle at the back edge of the popper body.

Just as there are many ways to tie a popper, there are just as many ways to fish it.  Some days, casting it out and letting it sit until the ripples fade away and then giving a very subtle twitch is the hot ticket.  Other days, casting it out and immediately starting to twitch it and "pop" it back in in a rapid retrieve works while still other days, a slow deliberate retrieve with no popping or twitching at all is what works.  Typically, I start off slow and if that doesn't work, I speed things up a little.

I also find warm summer evenings during the last 45 minutes or so of daylight up until shortly after dark the most productive.  I have caught fish in total darkness on poppers and during the middle of the day, but odds are best during that last part of daylight on warm summer evenings (at least here in Kentucky where I fish).

  • Hook: I like the Mustad CK 52S hooks with a kink in the shank but any wide gap hook will work
  • Body: I like foam because it's easy to work, floats well and stands a lot of fish teeth quite well.  I like the foam cylinders available at nearly any fly shop.  Little River Outfitters in Tennessee has them (not on the website but if you call them they will ship to you) and they do not charge for shipping.  Great fly shop, but your local shop, Cabelas, Bass Pro or any place that sells fly tying supplies should have this item).
  • Tail: Hen or Rooster cape feather (No need to use prime dry fly hackle here, the cheap stuff works great)
  • Hackle (same or contrasting feather palmered behind the body)
  • Eyes - optional can be painted or use doll eyes from a craft store or no eyes at all, I don't think it matters
  • Thread - I use 210 Denier (fairly heavy) thread for my poppers.

Start with the hook. here is what I use:

use a size appropriate to what you're tying and fishing for.

One of the various ways to tie this fly is do I put the body on first and then tie in the tail and hackle, or do I tie in the hackle first and then put on the body?  I find it easier to tie in the tail and hackles first and then slide the foam body up to them but I've done it the other way with the body already on and then tie in the feathers.  What ever floats your boat,  this is all about being easy and relaxing.  Don't fret the small stuff.

I lay a good thread base down on the hook first and then tie in 3 feathers at the point where the popper body will stop.  2 feathers should be tied in for a tail.  I usually turn the feathers so that there is a slight natural split in them (you will see most feathers with a natural curve,  just put the feathers so that the natural curves are facing away from each other.  I then tie in the 3rd feather that will be used for the hackle.

Variation: You can also use marabou for a tail and no need to palmer a hackle feather.  I tie quite a bit of these and the marabou adds some more movement.  there are days these work better than the standard looking poppers.  Maribou is a wonderful feather for warm water applications.

This is a horrible picture but you'll get the idea.

Next, palmer 4 or 5 wraps of your 3rd feather to create a pretty decent hackle collar, whip finish and slide on your popper body.
I poke my bodkin through the popper body to make it easier to slide over the hook shank.

I also put a couple drops of super glue on the hook shank to help hold everything together before sliding on the body.  The thread base you laid down earlier gives something for the glue to bond to.

At this point, you can use sharpies to color the body, or I suppose you could paint it.  Personally, I leave it alone because as often stated on this blog, I just don't think the fish are that picky some of this stuff is more to catch fishermen than fish.

You can also add eyes.  I do like eyes and am not sure the fish care but I like them.  A drop of super glue and one of the craft store doll eyes on each side.

Reader's Tip:
One of the blog readers suggested placing the hook "lower" in the popper body so that it's coming out closer to the bottom, thus increasing the hook gap.  Sounds like a great suggestion to me and thought I'd pass it along.  Thanks!

Before anyone yells, yes, I did get the popper body too close to the hook point and this fly would probably loose some fish.  One thing I like about tying with foam bodies, if you make a mistake like this, it's easy to fix.  I took an Xacto Knife and trimmed away the foam to give more clearance for the hook point.

As mentioned, there are plenty of variations on this fly.  One can also use the pre-shapped popper bodies and can even turn them around in "sneaky pete" style.  following photos show some variations I tie but the method is the same on all of them.

I hope you all have enjoyed this.  As always, tie up some of your own, make them pretty if you wish, but most of all, spend time fishing with the flies you tie and don't be afraid to experiment.  The photos here and
the ones in the fly tying books are suggestions.  There's nothing wrong with being creative.

Next week, I'll tie an experimental fly.  I haven't used it yet but it gets rave reviews from some of the guys on the fly fishing forums.  It uses "Boa Yarn" and is essentially a leach or something else the fish like to eat.  It's experimental so I don't have a lot of tips on how to fish it but it is another 5 minute fly.  Here's a sneak peek.


  1. Your poppers look well tied but the ones in the 1st and 3rd pictures are not designed right. Poppers should be tapered to the tail like your last one and reverse to the yellow headed slider. All the old companies, like Pecks did this for a reason. The popper will set at an angle in the water, down at the tail. It does several important things. It will make the popper chug better when you twitch it and it doesn't move forward much. It also makes the popper just move more, looking more alive. Also it helps hook set immensely.

    Instead of putting the hook through the middle, slice the foam from the bottom and slide it in and glue with one of the super glues, while squeezing the foam back in place. You will have a lot more hook gap that way.

    Also, for bass poppers a great hook is the Mustad 37141. It is an English style bait hook. With one little squeeze of pliers it will turn it into a heavier shanked Stinger hook for a superior bug hook with a larger gap.

    Hope some of this helps you with some ideas to try and am not trying to be critical. Bob

  2. Bob,
    No offense taken. I tie these in a lot of different styles. The ones with the straight cylinder shape do work for me though and are a much quicker tie. I very much appreciate your comments and taking the time to write.

    I'm not much of a fish counter but did decide to keep a journal last year just to see how much I really fished and what I caught and on which flies. According to the journal (which ended up being a lot like work so I don't think I'll do it again) I landed a little over 1,000 bluegill last summer on poppers and just shy of 50 bass. Most of the bass were on the small side with the largest one being 18" and most in the 10-14" range with a few real dinks thrown in just to keep me honest. Bluegill ranged in size from dinks to nice fat hand sized ones and a couple crappie thrown in even though I wasn't really fishing for crappie with poppers.

    I agree 100% with the hook gap thing. Sometimes though, I do like to fish poppers pretty fast with a swimming motion on the surface without causing a lot of disturbance and the straight ones seem to "skate" across the water better than the tapered ones so I tie them up several different ways.

    The one that I cut, I was in a bit of a hurry and didn't realize how much I crowed the hook point until after it was already tied and the super glue set. It really isn't that well tied of a fly but we all make mistakes :-).

    That last one (green with tapered body) I did use the slice and super glue method. The only thing I don't like about that method is the occasional gluing my fingers to the popper body.

    I do like your suggestions and that is the intent of this series. I wanted to stimulate some conversation and ideas. The thing is to make us all better tiers and hear what works for others and for me.

    When it comes to poppers, I'm a little non traditional in the way I fish them at times. There are times when it seems a very fast swimming retrieve works a lot better than the usual cast it and let it sit until the ripples stop and then giving short Little pops. I don't know why that is, but some days, it seems you just can't bring it in too fast, especially for bass.

    Anyway, absolutely no offense taken and I appreciate your suggestions.


  3. Thanks for taking the time to post this article!
    Much appriciated.

    Have fun,