Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fly Profiles: Poppers, Sliders, & the Quest For The Perfect Top Water Fly

The first fly I ever owned was a 'hula popper' from my grandfather. It was too light to throw on a spinning rod so I never knew what to do with it. It just sat in the back of my tackle box. As I type this I have no idea where those old tackle boxes are. His rods are hanging up in the garage but the tackle is probably long gone.

This all started with my quest to find the best top water fly. It all goes back to high school graduation. I spent that week at home, fly fishing. Everyone else was at beach week. I decided to use my graduation money to buy an Orivs fly rod outfit and a pile of flies. One of those flies was a Sneaky Pete. The fly was made of balsa wood with a chartreuse coating of paint, some painted on eyes, rubber legs, and some feathers in the back.

The fly was tied with the narrow side forward, or convex. This is known as a Slider. The fly goes through the water with a gentle motion and the rubber legs twitch when the fly is retrieved.

I tied on the slider to my 7' 5wt rod and took my first cast with the new rod onto Lake Audubon. I threw the fly about 10' off the dock and felt an immediate tug and saw a huge splash. A big largemouth bass took the fly and the fight was on. I fought that fish to the dock and ended up putting it in a sailboat that was full of rain water. I ran home to get my mom and camera and got a picture of the biggest bass I had pulled out of the lake.

I fished that fly for four years on the Rappahannock River where I went to college. I caught all sorts of smallies and sunfish on it. It was all sorts of beat up with rubber legs missing, chips in the paint, and pieces of wood missing. I had been tying flies for several years but was unable to make a fly to match this fish producing machine. THW will tell you that I don't throw out a thing, and I think she is correct in several instances-the fact that I wear t-shirts that are over 20 years old, ticket stubs from concerts, old magazines, and flower pots with dead plants (I store them under the condo stairs) etc. I still have that slider from 1995!







Skipping ahead after graduation I started to work at the local Orvis store. I began fishing for smallies in the middle section of the Potomac. I asked the fishing manager what was the best top water fly for this section and I thought he would say the Sneaky Pete. He said it was the 'Mr Bob's Lucky Day Popper'. This fly was smaller than the Sneaky Pete, had a concave face, and was referred to as a popper because it had the flat face. That meant the fly would pop and push the water upon retrieve rather than slide through it.

I purchased a handful of these flies. They were different than any fly I had ever previously fished. The fly was locally made by a dude in Dumpfries, Va. It was made from dye injected rubber which would not crack, chip, or break. It had stuck on eyes, rubber legs, and a tail that were all securely attached. The fly could be tossed against rocks, docks, trees, bounced off structure etc and not fall apart. The flies came in lime green, yellow, red, black, and white. I started off fishing the black ones to give more contrast against the bright sky. I caught all sorts of fish on that fly. Largemouth on Audubon, google eye bass in the mountains, smallies in Fredericksburg and D.C, and all sorts of bluegill in between.

That was a drought year. The Potomac was super low. I went out to Riverbend to fish the Mr. Bob. I caught a small bluegill in a pool that had been mostly cut off from the rest of the river due to low water. A huge bass came out of the weeds and tried to eat the bluegill off my line! The fish were destroying the flies. The rubber legs were getting ripped off, the eyes were being bitten off, yet the body remained in tact. I began a morgue of destroyed poppers on the lining of my car's trunk. Just a rubber body on a hook.

The following summer the Mr. Bob was still my go to fly. Tom and I fished Lake Audubon one night after work. There was a flying ant hatch going on and the fish were feeding out in the middle of the lake. I had never seen this. We kicked our float tubes out to the center and began to cast our 3wt rods into the mayhem of rising fish. We were throwing the black poppers and with a minimal twitch a huge bluegill would take the popper and start pulling us around. A few weeks later I walked down to one of the docks at dusk and crept out onto the wood with ninja like stealth. I tossed the popper to the edge of the dock and was immediately into a fish. Probably the biggest splash from a fish ever on that lake in 30 years. I was into a strong fish and before I knew it the fish broke me off on a 4x leader.

A few weeks later in the summer I began to tie the damsel nymph on as a dropper and started to catch some huge pumpkinseed. I now began my dry-dropper set up for bass. By the end of the summer of 2000 the quantity of Mr. Bobs poppers started to dwindle. We were not receiving any new shipments in. I began to buy up what ever poppers we had in stock. At the quantity ran out I began to fish Mr. Bob's sliders. We had plenty of those in stock. This fly is pretty much the same as the popper but in reverse.

I took the fly to the Low Water Bridge on the South Fork of the Shenandoah river. I remember that day well. There were so many blue winged olives coming off the river I could here them cracking out of their nymphal shucks. I was covered in emerging mayflies. A storm started to roll in and I began to fish my way back to the car. I threw out the slider to the deep hole above the bridge. A few titches and I was into a big smallies. It was the biggest smallie I had caught on a fly. I took a piece of tippet from a spool and cut it to the length of the fish. It later measured 16".

I was learning the key to fishing these top water flies was a slow retrieve. Just enough to make the rubber legs twitch and for that cone nose to push the water. I was now leaning more toward sliders as I had started in 1995.

So now its 2001 and there Bob has gone out of business. I was told that no company other than our store wanted to keep is flies in stock. He stopped selling them. I had my surplus and was fishing the bajesus out of them in the summer. I took the mangled flies and tied on tails to keep them alive for just a bit longer. I fished them for half a dozen or so more years. They were my go to top water fly when I worked at the Mountain Lake Lodge (before the locals torched it to the ground).

I had to find an alternative fly to replace these magical sliders. I was running out and I wanted to save some for future occasions. I set out to my fly tying table and thought of all the properties I wanted in a new fly.
  • Krystal flash tail like Mr. Bobs which gives it balance and creates illusion of size
  • Foam body to keep it afloat and durable (to bounce off rocks etc)
  • Rubber legs to laterally extend the size of the fly to make it look bigger and to enhance movement
  • Dorso-ventrally flattened to eliminate weight and to splat
I set out with my foam, rubber legs, and saltwater krystal flash for the tail.Version 1.0 -->

This is what I came up with. I called it the Scorpion Bug as it looked to me like a scorpion. It floated on the water, was flat so there was not the extra material involved to make it tall -look a the side profile of the poppers and sliders above, they all have height. Height adds material and material adds weight. There are no eyes on it because frankly, a fish never sees eyes. The eyes just add more weight anyway. The broad and flat body lands with a splat and gets their attention. The rubber legs twitch and entice them to eat. Dead drift it on a river for fierce strikes.

I began to field test the fly out on Lake Audubon. It was working.

The first problem was the foam was rotating on the hook. I had to solve that problem and an underbody of chenille did that. Round two of the scorpion was field tested and the improved body worked. I then changed out the tail material to super hair.

The other issue with the fly was the time it took to tie it. I figured I could get my mis en place ready with cut rubber legs, cut foam, cut chenille, and get the hooks ready to go. All of that could be done while watching T.V. I was now able to cut the time in half to crank out a dozen or so scorpions. I experimented with several colors and have settled on lime green and chartreuse. I had to stock up tail and leg material at the Somerset show last winter as they are hard to find in these parts.

Last summer I began my career as a full time fly fishing guide. I began putting the scorpion bug on my clients rods immediately (with a damsel nymph dropper of course) and we started to get results. Its the fly I use when I get time to go fly fishing for warm-water species. I'm still waiting to get a snakehead on this fly. Scorpion fly 3.0 now has a weed guard for this purpose. We're hoping to toss it up on the spatterdock to entice out a snakehead.

Shoot me an e-mail if you want some custom tied scorpions for yourself. rob@robsnowhite.com. Each fly sells for $3












1 comments:

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