Fly Fishing with Poppers: Using Popping Bugs for Bass and Panfish

Freshwater poppers are small floating flies usually made of feathers, rubber legs, and cork or foam, which is pained. These flies may represent damselflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, frogs, and other creatures liable to present themselves to fish near the water's edge.

They are best when fished in late spring, summer, and early fall, when insects abound around the water's edge. Popping bugs often range in size from as small as a size 8 hook, to larger than a 1/0 hook.

Fishing with Poppers in Ponds and Lakes

In ponds, largemouth bass and panfish, such as bluegill, sunfish, and crappie, are the main target species. When fishing for these fish with poppers, it is important to use the right type of fly, to cast in the right spot, and to retrieve the bug correctly. First, matching the hatch is imperative.

When damselflies are flying around over the pond's surface, a small popping bug in any color should work. Although other flies should be naturally colored, hosting shades of gray, brown, and black, popping bugs may be brightly colored, as many of the insects and frogs in ponds, found by bass on the surface, are brilliantly colored.

At times, largemouth bass will take larger poppers, while smaller sizes, and sliders (poppers that dart underwater because of their tapered heads when stripped, instead of splashing the surface with a cupped face, like normal poppers) work best for bream.

Bright colored poppers are often most productive in still-water areas. In ponds, it is best to cast around structure such as logs, or mats of grass, both of which attract fish. The strip should never be fast once the fly is placed. Every few seconds, give the fly a short strip, causing it to make a small commotion.

Fishing with Popping Bugs in Rivers for Smallmouth Bass

Although smallmouth bass are undoubtedly among the world's most aggressive freshwater fish, they are not enticed by poppers moving erratically along the surface. Instead, another retrieval technique proves successful in rivers. But first, poppers must be presented to the fish in the right places.

Usually, deep banks are ideal places to work poppers for smallmouth bass, as the fish will swim up from the depths to explode on the flies. However, the middle of rivers, where there are shallow, grassy areas of bottom are sometimes the best places to fish, because smallmouth in the middle of the rivers often sit in such areas, waiting for damselflies.

When smallmouth bass are seen leaping from the water for damselflies, working a popper over that stretch of water may be successful. Although smallmouth may sometimes be picky, using large poppers, that represent mice or frogs sometimes works along the shore.

These bass also prefer brown and black poppers, but when the fish are feeding on damselflies, red, yellow, blue, and chartreuse poppers also work. For the retrieve, after the fly is cast, a single strip should be made, after which the fly should be left alone for at least twenty seconds. This is an extremely successful retrieve in slow water near the shore.

Popper Problems

Because most poppers have rubber legs, they are prone to tangle. It is important to inspect the fly every few casts when fishing a popping bug, to make sure it is not tangled, as a tangle will decrease the fly's productivity, and it may cause the line to twist. Also, poppers may not work for wary fish.

Bright colored flies that make commotion are not what bass that have seen their share of lures and flies are looking for. Instead of using poppers on fish that are readily refusing them, terrestrials, such as grasshopper and cricket imitations may perform better. And when fishing in areas of heavy algae or grass, poppers may snag too much, making them difficult to use.

Poppers work wonders for hungry fish that are actively feeding on the surface. Just keep in mind that when using these flies, it is best to work them slow, as doing so covers more area, and does not frighten fish as easily.

Donald S. Cochran
 

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