BB13. Tap's Popper Bass Bug (The Original Bass Bug)
DEERHAIR BASS BUG FLY PATTERNS. Hook size 6 2 - $US each
The early European settlers of North America noticed that the local Native Americans practiced an early form of bass bugging to catch dinner. They used a long pole with which to throw out on to the water surface a collection of hair and feathers tied in a buoyant bundle which they then dragged across the surface of a warm water lake, pond or creek. Bass Bugging is not new. In the 1800’s only a few bass bugged. In 1900 no bass bugs were made commercially, but between 1910 - 1930 the sport really started with lots of assorted bugs on being offered for sale in magazines and tackle shops. Bass bugging became unfashionable just after world war two but regained popularity again in the 1970’s.
H.G. Tapply or Tap Tapply to his friends wrote a column called "The Sportsman's Notebook" plus six "Tap's Tips" for 'Field and Stream' every month for 35 years. That added up to about 2,500, fifty word 'tips' plus nearly 500 articles on fly fishing, fly design and fly tying. Millions of outdoorsmen considered Tap as their wise and trusted advisor. When asked he always said "Oh I'm no expert." He invented many flies. Everyone was designed to solve a particular fly fishing problem. His deer-hair bass bugs were intended to sit comfortably on a medium weight fly rod, to float like corks, and to kick up a strike inducing ruckus on the water surface when retrieved. He tied flies that would catch more and bigger fish. He invented a deer-hair bass bug popper that still cannot be surpassed. It is a model of simplicity with its wedged shaped tightly-packed spun deer-hair body and flat faced front. It makes a plop and gurgle noise on the retrieve as the flat head is forced through the water. It casts like a bullet. It became known as 'Taps' Bug. Tap did not name his bass bug. Others assigned his name to this style of deer-hair popper.
Tap was self taught. Tap tied flies for his non tying fishing friends. He tied files commercially for a while in the 1940's but the profit margin was so small for the amount of work that he stopped. Tap carried on tying flies for friends well into his 80's. He had been caught by the fly fishing bug quiet badly in by the mid 1930's. Commercial flies were too expensive so he decided to teach himself how to tie flies. There was only one published beginners fly tying book back then. It was called 'How to tie flies' by E.C. Gregg. It's instructions were not as clear as they should have been. After figuring out what the author was trying to explain Tap began a life long fly tying and fly fishing passion. As he still could remember all the difficulties he had when he first started tying he decided to write a clearly written step by step manual for beginners called 'The Fly Tyer's Handbook'. It first appeared in 1940 and reprinted in 1949
This version of a deer-hair popper is very similar to the first popper that Tap designed. It has been improved by the addition of rubber legs and a larger tail to make more 'noise' on the water surface and thus attract more fish. North American Gulf Coast Redfish show a rather surprising enthusiasm for small surface poppers
BASS BUG FLIES
Bass hide from their own predators by seeking cover. This also protects them from the discomfort of strong sunshine. They prosper when they find a location where they can eat in safety without spending too much energy in catching food. This is why they like to lie in ambush for their prey. Much of their prey lives in or near shallow water. They understand that anything that is on the surface splashing around is usually out of its natural environment and vulnerable. This makes them easy to catch.
Bass always keep an eye on what is happening on the surface and rarely refuse to eat off the top. Any insect or terrestrial animal that falls into the water is normally helpless. Bass bugging is great fun. A bait fish splashing and slapping around neat the surface sends out signals that it is disorientated or injured. Poppers and Diver patterns are good imitators to use. Amphibians like frogs are not that good at swimming and no match for a hungry Bass who wants an easy evening meal so tie on a kicking frog pattern. Try using a floating Hopper dry fly to imitate a locust, cricket or grasshopper that has misjudged his landing spot and is now trying to swim to the shore. Bass are opportunistic feeders. If anything suggests food they will try and eat it so long as they do not have to venture too far from their hiding place. You can have hours of fun fishing from the shore, wadding in the shallows or sitting in a boat close to the shore looking for that bass hiding place.
Bass will assume that things that splatter onto the water and then wriggle, jerk and splash are alive. These fish primarily hunt by sound and sight. Even if the object does not look like anything it has seen before, if it moves and therefore alive, it is considered food. All bass are active aggressive predators. When young they feed on tiny crustaceans, insects and their larvae, rodents, worms and tadpoles. They soon add to the range of their diet and progress onto larger food such as frogs, crayfish, leeches and other fish. The largest bass has been known to take baby ducks and other small waterfowl.
Floating bass flies whether constructed of wood, plastic, foam, or our favorite deer hair all seem to be lumped into the same category of "bass bugs". A few are tied to imitate specific bass food like mice, leeches or frogs, but others are 'attractors' that try to give the impression of something living and edible. Since bass are keen predators. They will eat anything that looks like fair game and especially attack a bass bug that suggest a living creature struggling at the water's surface. Flies that attract attention and appear to be a vulnerable are the most successful.
Deer hair bugs can be shaped to look and perform like a hard headed wooden poppers, yet they are a fraction of the weight. This is one of the advantages deer hair bugs have over hard bodied bugs. When dry, they are virtually weightless. Thus, they are good to use in situations where you want the fly to land softly, like shallow and clear water, where you do not want to spook the fish.
The drawback to deer hair bugs is that they inevitably soak up water. There are methods to delay the process, but you really cannot eliminate it altogether. The best solution is to have a few duplicate flies on hand. As one gets wet, clip it off and tie on it's twin, with yet another fresh one waiting in your fly box. By rotating flies it is possible to keep bass fishing with a good floating deer hair bug all day long. Even so, I do treat my deer hair flies with a waterproofing spray. I like my bugs to ride partly in the water surface not always on the water top. A swimming frog has part of its body under the water and this is what I try to mirror. I work plenty of floatant into the bug when it is still dry but leave the underside untreated so it absorbs some of the water.
The flat faced popper bass bugs, like our red and white or green and white bass bugs are meant to "pop" and "bloop" along the surface much like a cupped face hard foam popper to attract the fish's attention.
Also consider having a selection of smaller deer hair muddler style flies. Most of them have a rounded face so that when it's pulled through the water, it doesn't make as much noise as the larger bass bugs, but rather leaves a wake behind it like a small boat. They are especially useful for skitterish smallmouth bass in clear streams and rivers.
WHEN TO FISH
When bass find the temperatures in the shallows too cold or too hot they will move to deeper water where it is hard to get them to top feed on a floating bass bug. This is when I switch to streamers like muddlers, zonkers, matukas or woolly buggers. Both species generally migrate to the deeper water during the midday sun and come back to the shallows in the evening. When it gets too cold smallmouth bass stop feeding but largemouth bass will still feed now and again. If you are an ice fisherman you may even be lucky to catch one.
KNOW HOW TO LOOK FOR BASS
The ability to work out where you can find bass in a given body of water at any time of year is not a God given mystic gift. It is a skill that can be learnt. Spend some time on the shore or a boat dock observing the characteristics of the lake. This is time well spent and will lead you to the bass a lot quicker.
The first thing you should look for are large areas of shallow water that are less than ten feet deep, generally known as 'flats'. They can be around a cove, tributary streams, on sand banks or in the center of the lake. Bass are really shallow water fish. Even on very large lakes such as the great lakes in Central North America they will concentrate on the large flats that can be found extending out from the shore line.
Buy a good map with the water depths shown. Look for areas on the map where the under water contours are wide apart. This is where you should try casting for bass. If the lake you are fishing has a lot of shallow water the fish obviously have a lot of choice. They will prefer shallow water with cover. Fish around weedy shore lines, boat docks, and any fallen trees. Another way to identify shallow water is to look for vegetation growing in the water. Small baitfish like swimming around the vegetation as they can more easily find small aquatic insects and therefore the bass like hunting in these areas for the Minnows.
Although, as I mentioned, bass are basically shallow water fish they do like quick access to deep water for a safety. Deeper water can be found on the flats when a channel is formed by stronger flowing water passing over the shallow section and over the years eroding the lake bed. This is normally found when rivers or streams enter lakes. To help detect channels look for flooded trees that sometimes line the points of deeper water.
Bass also like vegetation transition zones which occur through change of water depth and ecosystem where marsh grass, pepper grass and bulrushes change to smaller aquatic plants. They are great Bass hangouts but it is essential to have weedguards on your flies for fishing these hot locations.
Over hanging trees or flooded shoreline trees are also great locations to find bass. They love the cover in this shallow water. Swim your flies through them and wait for the hit. Rockwalls and boat docks and piers also provide cover that Bass like.
Off color water will bring bass up to the surface, while clear water pushes them deeper, or closer to cover. In colored water fish a bass bug that makes a lot of noise. Try a popper or diving bass bug.
In a lake that has few shallow flats and a very steep shoreline you might have to concentrate on parts of the shoreline that stick out in a point to find shallow water as sediment concentrates around irregular shoreline features.
HOW TO FISH WITH BASS BUGS
Practice your casting to get expert at hitting the target area. You must establish control quickly because bass often strike the fly as it falls or immediately as it hits the water. You must be ready for a strike at any time.
Do not use the rod tip to move the fly. This causes immediate slack line and loss of fly control. Do not use the rod to pull or jerk the fly over or through land- or water-based obstacles. For best results, continue to use straight line-hand pulls. Always point your rod tip directly at the bass bug
Don't twitch your rod. Twitching the rod causes many feet of slack line to form so you cannot feel a strike. And when you don't feel the take, you lose strikes, particularly from larger fish. Manipulate the bass bug by tugging on the line. Tug hard and the bug pops. A gentle tug and the bug twitches. A one inch retrieve will move your bug one inch.
Most bass prefer to ambush a helpless or careless creature rather than engage in a tiring high-speed chase of a terrified prey. A lot of big bass will attack when a bass bug is accidentally or purposefully let sit for a long period (ten seconds or more) or when moved it only slightly just after it hit the water. Most fishermen like to move bass bugs too quickly which may be more entertaining to us than to the fish.
You can get good hit rates by inching the bass fly in, over, or around structure, as if it was trying to sneak out of danger. There are times when bass will chase and strike rapidly moving bass bugs. No one retrieve is always the best. Foods, temperature, water conditions, and individual fish habits vary. That's why fishing flies and catching bass never get boring. Don't hesitate to experiment with all types of actions and action speeds.
I like fishing the edges of areas of aquatic grass. They form around ledge outcropings in the middle of the rivers or along river banks. They usually hold large populations of nymphs and minnows and thus are very popular haunts of Bass. Cast your bug tight against the grass bed and give it a twitching action, pause, let it sit motionless for a few seconds and then give it another twitch. Fish it out for about ten feet and then cast to a new spot five feet further down stream along the edge of the grass bed.
To imitate the movement of frogs and snakes (for which you can use the our big leech bass bugs) you cast the bass bug and allow the sinking-tip to sink. Make short strips of the line and the fly will work on the surface. An abrupt or longer pull causes the bass bug to splash or pop and dive following the sunken line tip. If you keep pulling the fly swims to the depth of the fly-line tip. Now stop pulling and the fly turns head up and returns to the surface as long as the line tip does not sink deeper than the length of the leader.
You can use the 'no retrieve' method when you suspect a bass is under a structure. Put the fly as close to the log, stump, or boulder as you can, and keep it there. This method is also ideal if there is just a small open space of water in lily pads or cypress stumps. In these areas the bass will not or cannot move far for prey, and it will usually respond well to the sitting fly.
You should try the 'twitch and pause' method. Cast the fly to a spot that you feel has a bass nearby. You want to imitate helpless creature or one that's relaxed and moving slightly. Let the fly sit in place about three to five seconds, then twitch it an inch or so. Pause and repeat the twitch several times, then make another cast.. If you're using a surface or diving fly, vary the twitch from a silent move to an audible pop or bubble. More noise works best on rough surfaces, and in dark, murky, or densely structured water.
Try the irregular strip and pause method. The more irregular the stripping rhythm, the more effective this method is as you are trying to imitate natural movements of a handicapped creature. Cast the fly well past where you suspect the bass is waiting. Let the fly settle a second or two or until it sinks to the level at which you want to fish it. Then begin a series of fly-line strips, from an inch to a foot long, pausing between them. Vary the strips and pauses -- that is, one strip, pause; three strips, pause; one long strip, and so on. Retrieve the fly up to, through, and past the area you feel holds the bass.
FISHING FOR BASS UNDER THE WATER’S SURFACE
It has been said that smallmouths like cray fish more than largemouths. This is very simply because cray fish like the same cold gravel bottomed water that smallmouth bass prefer.
Bass can go crazy over a jig fly that sits on the bottom for two or three seconds, then suddenly jigs once or twice. floating fly line and an eight- to ten-foot leader. Allow the jig fly to sink to the bottom or as deep as you want to fish it. Make a fly-line strip, then pause. This causes the fly to hop up and down abruptly or "jig".
A deadly method for fishing deep for big bass in heavy brush or weed cover is to swim a fly deep over the bottom structure, using two to four feet of leader on a fast-sinking, full-sinking line. The heavy fly line sinks to the bottom, pulling the buoyant bass bug with it. Each time you pull or quickly strip in fly line, the fly dives toward bottom and then rises when you stop pulling. If you pull the suspended fly slowly along, it swims without encountering or hanging up on structure obstacles such as moss beds, sunken logs, brush, and rocks.
Big fish can be provoked to attack large big bass bugs that intrude on their territory. Try retrieving a bass bug past some water-lilies where these predators lurk. Large flies can also draw a strike from migrating salmon for the salmon reason. They are sometimes known as a 'piss-them-off' fly. These salmon have changed to a bright color on the migration back to their spawning areas. They do not feed much but defend the territory they have staked out for themselves. The small dark flies that you used with such success in the summer will not work. You need a big colorful fly to provoke an aggressive strike reflex.
THE HISTORY OF BASS BUGS
The early European settlers of North America noticed that the local Native Americans practised an early form of bass bugging to catch dinner. They used a long pole with which to throw out on to the water surface a collection of hair and feathers tied in a buoyant bundle which they then dragged across the surface of a warm water lake, pond or creek. Bass Bugging is not new. In the 1800’s only a few bass bugged. In 1900 no bass bugs were made commercially, but between 1910 - 1930 the sport really started with lots of assorted bugs on being offered for sale in magazines and tackle shops. Bass bugging became unfashionable just after world war two but regained popularity again in the 1970’s.
CHOICE OF BASS BUGS. WHICH ONE TO USE WHERE?
When the wind is stirring the water surface up into mini waves I like to tie on a big loud bass bug that will attract the fish’s attention. My favourite is a popper style bug In flat calm shallow water when I do not want to spook the fish by a heavy landing fly I cast a soft bodied round faced bass bug pattern. When I have to cast to holes between lily ponds, under bushes that are overhanging or among the roots and branches of a tree where the bug cannot be moved too far in one direction I like to use a pattern that has lots of legs and feathers. A design that will vibrate and wriggle when I give it the slightest twitch. When fishing over sunken weed beds or deeper water I like to use bugs with long tails that move under the water whilst the deerhair body floats on the top. Bass bugs will take anything that looks alive and will fit in their mouth. They seem not to take much notice of the color of the bass bug. It is the movement that counts. If you are having problems locating your darker coloured bass bug during dusk or in dark wooded locations use a brightly colored bug. The bass aren’t color prejudice. They will eat anything. Use a bass bug that you can see on the water.
DEERHAIR v HARD BODIED BASS BUGS
Why use deerhair bass bugs and not the hard-bodied plastic, metal or wood bugs. The heavier a bass bug is the harder it will hit the water and the noise can spook the fish. A Bass has a sensitive mouth. A bug made of soft clipped deer hair will nearly always stay in a fish’s mouth longer than any metal lure, plastic or wooden hard bodied bass bug. This makes it easier to set the hook. I normally count to three to allow the fish to close its mouth and turn away before setting the hook. When your bug disappears in a big splash of water after a bass attack do not raise your rod tip as you would do to hook a trout. Keep your rod pointing at the fish and give the line a hard pull. When you can feel the resistance give another pull. Then you can haul up the rod using your whole arm not just your wrist. This puts the road at the right angle for the fight that is about to start and drives home the hook. If you use a hard bodied bug you need quick reflexes to hook you fish before your bug is spat back out for being inedible.
LINE & LEADER
A 7 or 8 weight line is ideal but use 9 or 10 if you do a lot of fishing near heavy weeds. It should be a floating line but even unsinkable lines can get covered in that green gunge so take a cloth impregnated with line cleaner with you if your line begins to sink. Choose a line that is highly visible to help you locate your bug. Lines appear as dark silhouettes to the fish. It doesn’t matter what colour they are.
BASS BUGGING FISHING TIP
Are you fed up with overcrowded bass boat fishing waters? Then try something different. Explore the streams and rivers that feed your Bass lake or pond. The bass consider them part of their territory and some use them to hunt for food. I found this out by accident whilst fly fishing for trout using a big mayfly pattern and landing a three pound bass. These tributaries are normally too small for boats and with luck you will be on your own. Unnatural smells can deter bass from taking your bass bug. If it smells nasty they will not eat it so be careful when using gasoline, suntan cream, beer, and insect repellent. Rinse your hands in the water before tying on you bass bug
NORTH AMERICAN BASS FISH
The species of fish collectively known as black bass are the largest members of the Centrachidae family (which also includes bluegill, crappies and sunfish). They include two of the most important sporting fish species in North America: the smallmouth bass and the largemouth bass. (The Sea Bass of the Moronidae group found in Europe, Australia and North America are classified as a different species)
Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui) is a hard fighting fish and is the most highly prized black bass. It is a bit larger than the Northern largemouth bass and can reach a maximum of about 12lb (5.4kg). It prefers clear lakes and streams with rock or gravel bottoms.
Largemouth Bass (Micropterus Salmoides) has huge upper jaw that extends to behind its eye and has thus given rise to its name. It prefers weedy, mud-bottomed waters. The jaw of the smallmouth bass does not extend beyond its eye. The northern largemouth bass very rarely exceeds 10lb (4.54kg) but the Florida subspecies largemouth bass (Micropterus Salmoides floridanus) can reach 20lb (9.1kg)
Redeye Bass (Micropterus Coosae) in the Southern States of USA has a white tipped orange tail fin. Young redeye bass also have a brick red dorsal and anal fin. It of course has a red eye as you would expect with a name like 'redeye'. It is one of the smaller bass species normally not growing more than 1lb (454g) but they can grow to 8lb (3.6kg).
Suwanne Bass (Micropterus notius) is a small fish that rarely gets bigger than 12oz (340g). It can be found in the Suwannee and Ochlockonee river basins of Florida and Georgia. It has an overall coloration of brown with black marks but the adult male has a distinctive blue belly, breast and cheeks.
The Guadalupe Bass (Micropterus treculi) of central Texas has distinctive dark bar markings down its side. It is a small fish and seldom gets larger than 1lb (454g)
The Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus) of the Mississippi basin area gets its name from the rows of small dark spots on its belly and flanks. It grows to about 5lb (2.27kg). There are two local subspecies: the Alabama spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus henshalli) and the Wichita spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus wichitae).
Migration and Transplanting Over the last century through migration and transplanting smallmouth and largemouth bass can be found in most parts of North America. They are very adaptive and sometimes can be found in the same stretch of water. As a generalisation it can be said that smallmouth bass spawn most successfully over gravel bottomed water where as largemouth bass prefer mud and silt.
NIGHT FISHING FOR BASS
When the sun goes down the bass seem to disappear for a while. They seem to take a break from feeding. They appear to have a rest before their next round of hunting and eating. Some say it is because the fish need time to adapt to the darker lighting conditions. Others because they now have to travel to different hunting grounds and it takes time to get there. What I have noticed is that I get a lot more takes, an hour or so after sunset. The time period varies depending if it has been a very sunny day or an over cast day. On sunny days the time period is longer. This could be due to the water temperature. Fishing at 2am the bass seem to be much more active than earlier on. The water has cooled down and the Bass appear to wake up.
The feeding grounds the bass prefer during darkness are different to that during daylight. They are no longer interested in lurking under the cover of weeds, lily pads, old tree trunks and shoreline vegetation, where they can hide in safety and launch an ambush to secure their next meal. The bass now go hunting for natural cover that holds food. This can be the edges bordering around overhanging trees and shrubs, or it can be the edges near deep water. The latter are the best place to fish. Look for the outer edges of weed-beds, the drop off point where the shallow shore line edge changes into deep water, or any submerged steam bed that runs through the flats. The bass slowly cruise up and down these areas foraging for food. They keep on the move and do not stay in one spot unlike their daytime behavior. The problem with night fishing is that accurate casting is more difficult. If you fish in their other night time habitat you are in danger of getting tangled in the over hanging vegetation. The problems may be worth it though as the bigger fish seem to like lurking around these locations.
At night use big streamers to imitate baitfish. Visibility is very poor so the fish listen for their prey. Choose a streamer that displaces a lot of water when it is retrieved. Once the bass detect movement the come and investigate whether it looks edible. Fly color is not important, but traditionally black flies have been used. If you want to use surface bass bug flies use them near the over hanging vegetation near the shore line. Night bass bugging is slightly different to daytime. Let the bug land with a loud plop. On the forward cast stop the line suddenly. Use a slow but steady retrieve to try and imitate a land animal that has accidentally fallen in and is trying to swim to safety. Round faced deer hair flies and drivers are ideal. Do not use poppers as they are too noisy. Mice bass bugs are very successful at night.
If you are hunting for stripers and they are not feeding on top of the water surface then they are feeding down below so change from deerhair bass bugs to streamers like, Muddlers, Woolly buggers, Matukas, Zonkers or Clouser's minnows. If they are not down below MOVE as they are holding up else where. If you find fish but they are not taking try to match the local bait fish, but just before you change your fly change your technique you use to strip your flies. Strip faster and shorter or slow way down to nearly dead drift. I have found it some times works not to give the bass time to look at your fly by striping very very fast. When I get a hit I stop, strip twice then stop again and await the normal hook up.
I love your deerhair bass bugs. This is why I keep buying them. Yes foam and cork poppers last longer but I have a traditionalist attachment to deerhair flies. Why? Well they do have some advantages. They can be cast and landed as loudly or quietly as you want onto the water surface and they are soft in the predatory fish’s mouth like their natural food. I remember reading an article by Lefty Kreh when he said that the colour of bass bug poppers is not as important as the way they are cast and fished. Any attention grabbing colour would do and he favoured white yellow and chartreuse. I agree with him 100%, Mitchell Meechan, Kentucky
CUSTOMER'S COMMENT - CLOUSER'S MINNOWS CATCH LARGE & SMALLMOUTH BASS
If the Largemouth and Smallmouth bass will not come to the surface to attack your great deerhair bass bugs I go deep and get them with a streamer. My favourite weapon of choice is a Bob Clouser’s Deepwater Minnow. Yes I know Bass feed heavily on Crayfish but a streamer will also catch great Bass. When I have spooned a bass I have found that they have been eating crayfish and Baitfish at the same time. When ever the water is clear and shallow I use the green and white Clouser and in deeper water the Chartreuse and white Clouser. Dave MacGregor, Tennessee
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