If you are a regular reader of this blog you know by now, that "simple is not a common theme around here. As a fly fisherman that loves fly tying almost as much as the fishing, I tend to get a bit carried away at times. However, every once and a while I like to get back to the basics.
I recently found a bag of corks being sold at a local craft store. I picked up a few bags and thought I would tie up some old school poppers. Not that there is anything wrong with the “new school” popper bodies being offered today. Companies like Flymen Fishing Company are offering some killer foam popper bodies that even a novice fly tier can turn into a great looking popper that catches fish like crazy.
Back before my time poppers were made of two materials wood or cork. Both made excellent poppers. Wood could be heavy unless constructed of balsa. Cork had the advantage of being lightweight and floating, well…like a cork. I have always had a soft spot for cork poppers. They cast well, and cork floats perfectly in the water and never gets waterlogged.
Back to my bag of corks. My original plan was to tie up some panfish poppers. I would need to carve/sand some tapered bodies out of the corks, and I had plans to paint them up. Not long ago made myself a new set of fine diameter brass rods to be used for painting various sized dots and eyes on popper bodies. I also recently acquired an airbrush that I have been practicing with, and I was ready to put both sets of tools to work. As I opened the bag of corks, it occurred to me that they were the perfect size for a small bass popper just as they were. So I switched gears and decided to build some bass bugs. I assembled a small mountain of supplies including different colored hackles, dyed guinea hen feathers, marabou, rubber legs, etc. I then thought about the painting process and everything it would involve, sealers, basecoats, airbrushing, dot painting and lacquering. All of a sudden the process seemed a little daunting, all I wanted to do was tie a few cork poppers.
A few weeks back I sat in on a warm water fly tying course put on by Michael McAuliffe and Ramsey Outdoors, a local (not for me) sporting goods store. While we were getting ready for the class, I struck up a conversation with one of the other attendees who was showing Michael some of the prettiest poppers I have seen in a long time. What struck me about these poppers was their simplicity. The body was made of natural cork, no paint it was merely finished with some varnish or epoxy. If memory serves me correct, they had painted eyes, but that was it. Simple, elegant, beautiful and they looked like they would fish. With that experience in my mind, I packed away that small mountain of materials and got to work turning out a dozen simple poppers. Some red hackle left on my desk from a previous tying session and a hen neck from my backyard flock and some stick on 3D eyes completed my materials list, including, of course, the corks and hooks.
For a hook, I selected a kinked shank Mustad popper hook in size 4. Although a straight hook will work in a pinch, the kinked version prevents the cork body from spinning around the hook shank. The procedure is pretty straightforward. Slice the cork with a single edge razor blade from end to end going about a quarter of the way through the cork. Mount the hook in the vise and cover the shank (the section that will be covered by the cork) with two layers of the thread then tie and cut off the thread. I coat the thread wraps with superglue then slide the cork over the hook. Hold it in place for a minute; then it is on to the next step. Next, I stuck the eyes on the cork. The molded eyes have an adhesive back that temporarily holds them in place. I put a drop of UV resin on each eye and hit it with a UV light to permanently attach them to the cork body. My original plan was to coat the cork bodies with spar varnish, but since I had the UV resin in my hand, I decided to go that route instead. A coat of Flexible Solarez Resin and the bodies looked good to go. The final step was to tie in two sets of black and white hen feathers and finish it off with some red hackle.
I liked the end result but I was not the one eating them, they would need some testing. The poppers went into a fly box and put onto the kayak for my next outing. My usual M.O. for this time of year is to head out on the water a few hours before sunset. I like to probe the deeper water for panfish while the sun is still high in the sky. As the sun sets, I switch over to topwater bugs and try to bring up a few big ‘gills. Just before dark I usually change rods and start throwing larger bugs for bass. I typically have enough time to catch a bass or two before heading home for the night.
On my last outing, as I was switching over to my bass rod, I remembered those cork poppers. I clipped off the fly that was rigged on the rod and dug out the box of poppers. In the failing light I tied one on and started casting. Immediately the popper started getting knocked around by some hungry bluegills, a good sign. The size 4 popper was too big for them, but they gave it their best, knocking and dragging it around. After a half a dozen casts, the popper slipped beneath the surface of the water. It was such a gentle take I thought it was a bluegill that grabbed hold of a feather and pulled it under. I was quite surprised when a good-sized largemouth exploded from the water on the hook set. After a brief fight, I had a 19-20 inch largemouth bass finning quietly at the side of my kayak as I held his lower jaw. I plucked the fly from its mouth took a few quick pictures and sent her on her way. I’d say we have a winner! Next up some pint-sized versions for panfish…