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Bass Fishing Fly Fishing Largemouth Bass

Tactics for Popping Bugs on Fly-Rod Largemouths

by Polly Dean   |  July 6th, 2011 7

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.

Tossing a popping bug along shoreline cover can get the attention of largemouths. Photo by Polly Dean.

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.

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.

  • Bill Robinson

    Very good adice. I have enjoyed great fishing for Bass

    with bug's. However, I have found that nothing beat's a

    "Spittin Image" on a Good Spinning outfit, Bass are generally much larger!! Lure is getting hard to find.


  • william Tryon

    I love fly fishing for bass and blue gilli get chills when the water breaks by a hitting fish

  • morris lee

    i love a #4 chartreuse boogle bug popper for evening fly rod bassin. it roles over great with a 7wt and 10# tapered leader. just the right amount of gurgle noise and splash.

  • Patrick Gunther

    This is how I fish my lake 3 times a week. I just grab my flyrod and vest with a couple of poppers in my pocket. No need for a tackle box. I use a #7 fly rod with 8-10lb test leader. I use a Hobie Mirage Kayak with the pedal system. Real simple tackle and a great time on the lake. This article is spot on.

  • http://ATT RATMAN

    This has been at the top of my list since I was a young man . I was watching a early version on TV an I tried it and it worked . There is not much that can even equal the feeling I get when the Bass or blue gill breaks the surface.

  • DJinNC

    An 8 weight is the best option for serious buggin'! You can use a 5-7 weight, but throwing real Bass sized popper (2-1/0) any distance in any wind requires a real rod. Almost every "bass" specific fly rod is an 8wt in 8'-9' length. It's not the size of the fish but the fly and bugs are very wind resistant. In fact the "Clouser Rod" is for smallmouth and large mouth and it was an 8'9" 8wt rod besigned by Bob Clouser. Sage's Bass rods are essentially 8-9 weights. I learned the hard way, trying to fish a wet size 2 popper with a 7 wight rod. I did it, but was worn out. Took my 8wt the next outing on the South Branch of the Raritan and it was a breeze! Easy long casts that were very controllable.

  • doggie

    I select rod weight by the size and weight of the flies I will be throwing. I fish big flies in wind so I generally use an old 8 or 9 wt for bass, a rod I do not cry over should it get broken. I also adjust my leaders as well, using heavier or stiffer leaders to turn over large flies and poppers without having to work hard on the cast to do it. Four pound leaders are fine for pan-fish poppers where I fish. twelves are the norm for me in OK.

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