Tactics for Popping Bugs on Fly-Rod Largemouths
July 06, 2011
There are few things that get your blood pumping faster than a bass smacking a popping bug on the surface and this is the perfect time of year for some topwater action! Popping bugs have long been the choice of fly-rodders when chasing largemouth bass. Not only is it fun to see and hear a bass hit a topwater bug, but a popper often out produces other types of lures.
ABOUT THE BUGS
Poppers may have flat or concave heads designed to make more of a popping sound when stripped. Others have more of a tapered head allowing them to dart underwater during the retrieve.
Popping bugs can be made from a variety of buoyant materials such as cork, deer hair, balsa wood or foam. Most have rubber legs, which lend them a more realistic movement and appearance. Note that square-shaped legs are less aerodynamic and will displace more water, making them even more attractive. If you find that you are getting bites but not hooking the fish, try shortening the rubber legs with clippers. Sometimes the fish strike short at the legs and this can better your chances of a hook-up.
White and chartreuse are popular colors when chasing bass. Black or green popping bugs also attract bass. Under darker, cloudier conditions the dark-colored bugs are more visible, giving more of a silhouette against a dark sky.
Consider what the fish are feeding on. If damselflies are on the menu try red, yellow or blue. If the fish are finicky, or see lots of brightly colored lures, then try more muted colors like brown. Poppers made of deer hair may get better results when the bass are feeding on grasshoppers or other terrestrials.
HOW TO WORK THEM
Bass often hit a popper while it is sitting still. When casting a popping bug, let it sit motionless on the water for several seconds before beginning your strip. Wait until all the rings on the surface from the disturbance of the landing fly have completely disappeared and even then you may want to wait an extra 10 seconds or so. It never fails to surprise when you think you can't hold the bug still any longer, and it is inhaled!
Also be ready to set the hook when just beginning to move the popping bug. A largemouth may think that he is about to lose the offering, and decide to grab it at the first sign of the bug trying to get away. Sometimes just a slight twitch of the popper will elicit a strike.
Another technique is to give one good pop or strip when the fly hits the water and then let it sit motionless for several seconds.
Experiment with varying the speed of your retrieve. Bass may be sluggish, especially when temperatures are climbing, and a very slow movement of the bug may be the ticket for drawing a strike. On the other hand, try a fast retrieve when slow isn't producing.
Sometimes you have to put yourself in the place of the unlucky bait that is being pursued. If you were being chased would you slow down? When your popper is being followed, but not eaten, stripping faster often helps to draw the bite.
Popping bugs work in any spot that is likely to hold bass. Try along the bank, especially under overhanging branches and around downed trees and logs. Throw them under docks and along seawalls.
In moving water try tossing the bug upstream of rocks and into pocket water and seams where two currents meet. Place it upstream allowing the bug to float through the "target" area.
A 5- to 7-weight fly rod works fine for throwing popping bugs. Poppers can be bulky to throw, but the good thing is that a delicate presentation of the bug isn't usually necessary. In fact a splashy entrance may draw the needed attention and more resemble the splat of a frog, large insect or even a mouse entering the water.
The rod needs to have enough backbone to land a bass, but also enough to cast a popper, especially if trying to push it through any wind.
When throwing popping bugs, you don't need to go with an especially lightweight leader. Monofilament line ranging from 4-pound to 10-pound-test works fine. Mono is less dense than fluorocarbon and more buoyant.
If fishing very calm water I may go on the lighter side of that range. When throwing into shoals or moving current you can get away with heavier line. If throwing into heavy weeds or thick cover, go with a 10-pound or even up to 14-pound-test strength. You are less likely to break off when getting snagged.
Of course, the great thing about fishing with popping bugs is that they float and can generally be retrieved when a break-off does occur.