Smallie Popper
 
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  • Hook:  Eagle Claw 214 Aberdeen, # 6
  • Thread:  Danville's Prewaxed 6/0, black
  • Tail:  pearl Krystal Flash, badger variant saddle hackle
  • Collar:  saddle hackle, badger variant
  • Body:  deer hair, natural and red
  • Eyes:  4mm doll eyes

     Other items:

  • Ball point pen (the clear body kind) with the ink/ball assembly removed.
  • Toothpicks
  • Loctite Stick-n-Seal Waterproof Adhesive
  • Scotch Guard or other waterproofing spray
"But Rob," you say, "this is just a regular ol' deer hair bass bug!"  Well, yes and no.  This particular fellow is easily cast with a six-weight rod and a standard weight forward floating fly line.  That means you don't have to buy a special line just to throw poppers at smallmouth bass, or change spools.  You could be fishing streamers, then turn right around and switch to one of these if conditions change.  Using a six-weight rod as opposed to an eight-weight may seem like a small difference, but it's a difference you can feel both when fighting a fish, and at the end of a long day of busting the bank. 

What's more, is that you can tie these without using thread that's strong enough to stop bullets.  No need to buy expensive special threads or "packers," or expensive hooks and a special vise just to tie a deer hair bug.  With a few special tricks, you can tie a nicely packed deer hair popper with standard 6/0 tying thread.  By leaving off the rubber legs, keeping the tail short and sparse, and slimming down the body, you can have a bug that is as comfortable to cast on your favorite trout rod as a standard featherwing streamer.

"But Rob," you say, "why not just use a thinner foam popper?"  Well, you can, and I use those too... they have their place.  But deer hair poppers have just the right "smack" when hitting the water... something like a baitfish or big bug slapping down.  If you pack it right up to the eye, the cupped face formed by the flaring deer hair produces a rich, "throaty" pop, and a "chug" that leaves a nice bubble trail.  They're durable, too.  No smashing of epoxy if you want to bounce it off a boulder, no splitting or twisting of the body (unless it's not tied quite right). Often it's just about the only thing that'll bring the big guys up from the rocks to explode the water under your popper! (nice visual, eh?)

I generally tie these with simple color schemes.  One or two body colors tied "in-the-round" with no fancy spots or circles, in several colors preferred by the local smallies such as black, natural, yellow, red/white, and chartreuse.  These are meant as easy, quick flies tied for the purpose, and they do very well.

Tying Instructions:

1)  The Mustad Aberdeen is a light wire hook used by bait fishermen for crappie and such.  It's very flexible, meaning it'll get bent out of shape with a nice bass, but can be easily bent back with a pair of needle nose pliers.  A dozen or so episodes of this and the hook will eventually break, but unless big bruiser bronzebacks are the norm in your area, this will be after many, many fish.

Secure the thread to the hook about half way between the hook point and barb.  Wrap back tightly to the bend.  This is the area reserved for the tail portion.  When completing the tail, try not to go beyond the hook point.

2)  Take six strands of pearl Krystal Flash and measure them against the hook.  Tie them in at the bend so they are equal in length to the hook shank.  Spiral the thread over the entire "tail tie-in area" keeping the strands on top of the hook shank.  Don't trim the excess.
3)  Now fold the excess back and lash the strands down directly on top of the first wraps.  Wind the thread tightly all the way to the bend.  Trim the excess to match the length of the strands underneath.
4)  "Badger variant" is just what I call the feathers that come on badger saddle hackle patches (or strung) that aren't badger, but are darker throughout and instead of all the webbing black, they have mottled patches.  These are nice match for natural deer hair.

Select four, very wide saddle hackle feathers with little web.  These would be similar to what you'd select for a large bass bug, only with less web along the stem.  The idea is to have long fibers for lots of movement, and less web to hold water (= better float and easier to cast).  Using the tips of these large feathers, it isn't usually necessary to match pairs according to the curve of the feather... just get some feathers about the same width.

Trim these so they are slightly longer than the entire hook (about one or two hooks eyes).  Then trim the last four or five fibers from either side of each feather, leaving tiny barbs along the base of the stem (as opposed to stripping the fibers off).

 

Tie the feathers in by pairs on either side of the hook:  place one on top of another, hold the feathers on the side so they curve out away from the shank (the "bottom" of the feather out, the top on the inside of the tail), then lash along the side by spiraling the thread over the clipped-fiber portion.   close up   You may have some trouble with the feathers wanting to twist out of position... I don't worry about this much on these small poppers, but you can often remedy this by ensuring the stem of the inside feather of the pair lies above the stem of the outside one, or vice versa depending on the nature of the individual feathers (see close up).  Spiral the thread back and repeat for the other side.  Cement the wraps with a good, thin, cement, such as lacquer.

 

5)  For the collar, you need to be a little more selective.  Badger variant again, but this time find one that is sized for the hook- the fibers are 1 to 2 times the hook gap.  It also needs to be long enough to provide several wraps.  If length becomes an issue, you can use two feathers. 

Trim the feather where the fibers are about twice the hook gap in length.  Trim off a few of the fibers at the base as we did for the tail feathers.  Tie this in at an angle at the bend (the far rear end of the "tail tie-in area") as you would for a dry fly.  Bring the thread forward to in front of the tie-in area.

 

Attach hackle pliers and wrap the collar hackle forward in tight, touching turns.  Stroke the fibers back and down on each turn, to help lay the fibers back.  Seven to ten wraps should bring you to the tying thread.  When you get to the tying thread, tie off the feathers with three tight turns and clip the excess.

Now we want to build a small mound of the tying thread to lay back the collar and as a base against which the first bundle of deer hair will be packed.  To help get the collar fibers out of the way, I use my fancy packing tool.  This is simply a clear, cheap ballpoint pen with the pen cartridge removed.  Slide this over the hook and gently push back the fibers, then take several wraps of the thread around, letting it slide between the fibers and the edge of the "tool."  Since the tool is clear, you can see where the thread wraps are and that no fibers are trapped out of place.

When the fibers lean back on their own, remove the tool and finish building up a small mound of the tying thread.  Tie a whip finish knot (don't clip the thread) and cement the thread wraps well... three large drops around the base of the collar.  This lets some of the cement soak into the collar wraps for added durability. 

The mound of thread should be just behind the hook point.  Bring the tying thread in front of this onto the bare shank and take a couple turns.  Allow a moment or two for the cement to dry as you prepare the first clump of deer hair.

 

There are two essential details necessary for building a deer hair body with 6/0 thread.  One, is the hair itself.  It needs to be very soft, not brittle, and thick in diameter.  The thickness fills in the body better and has more of the hollow chambers which float the body.  Very soft means less torque is needed to cinch down the hairs.  Deer hair of this sort is usually longer, and that portion of the hair closer to the skin is best.  For this fly, I'm using deer I tanned given to me by a friend.  This hair came from the side of the animal just above the belly white.  The second thing to pay close attention to: spin the thread.  As the tying thread becomes unwound in the natural course of tying the fly, it becomes weaker as the individual strands break one by one.  Spin the thread so it becomes twisted again, gaining strength.  This is a concept similar to sticks... you can break one easily, but a handful of sticks is difficult to break all at once.  When the thread is twisted, the individual strands all pull on each other, distributing the force.  If unwound, more force is applied to individual strands of the thread and they break easily, then more force is applied to the strands that remain, and eventually you're left with reattaching the thread.  Reattaching the thread on this fly is not hard, but if you can avoid it, that's a lot less stress.

 

6)  Clip a bundle of hair, about half as thick as a pencil, from the hide and remove the underfur.  Make sure the butt ends are somewhat even, then "push" this end of the bundle onto and around the hook shank.

Huh?  Yep, right from the first bundle we break from the traditional "clump, spin, and let fly, shove" method.  Normally, you'd use as large a bundle of hair as possible, here we're striving for adequate... enough to fill in and surround the shank.  Too much hair will require more torque on the thread than the 6/0 can manage.

So... push the butt ends of the deer hair onto the shank, surrounding it, for about half the length of the hackle collar fibers.  Take two loose wraps of the thread, one right over the other.

 

On the third loose turn of thread, the hair will begin to flare as the loop of thread around cinches closed.  Pull down lightly on the thread and flare the hair some more.  Push the hair bundle back a bit to keep it right at the hook point (or just in front of the mound of thread we built earlier), and pull down lightly on the thread again while pinching the bundle of hair at the thread.  Let the bobbin hang and pinch a couple more times, on the sides, then on the top/bottom.  Essentially, you're helping the thread compact the deer hair. 

Now, take one more turn of thread, the fourth, precisely over the previous ones, only this time make it tight.  As it comes around, slowly release your hold on the bundle of hair.  It will spin a little, but let it spin no more than one full turn around.  Any more than this and a domino effect kicks in, spinning the whole bundle right off the hook and up into the air... neat to watch but not what we're after here!

Keep in mind that on a regular bass bug, the hair is spun to distribute it around the shank.  Here, we have already positioned the hair around the shank, so all we need to do is tighten up the loop of thread around it.

 

After the fourth turn and one spin, pinch the bundle and pull down on the thread just a little to cinch it up a bit tighter.  Stroke back the tips of the deer hair a little and place the home-made packer over the hook shank.  Use it to push the tips back and hold it in place tightly.  Make several soft tugs on the tying thread, again, further closing up the thread wraps.  As you're doing this, alternate between pushing with the tool, and easing up... a bouncing motion.  This "wiggles" things into place.

While the tool has the tips forced back, run your fingers off the edge of the tool and gather the hair tips.  Remove the tool and keep a hold on the tips not far back from the thread wraps.  This not only keeps the tips back out of the way, but maintains the thread wraps underneath.  Lift the bobbin (no need to keep it tight as you hold onto the hair) and position it above the hook shank.  Slowly pull straight up.  You will see the thread slide between the deer hair fiber.  Continue pulling until it is tight, then immediately take three tight turns of thread, right in front of the deer hair.  If some of the hairs free themselves of your grip, you can replace the tool to hold the hair back and slide the thread off the edge as we did for the hackle collar.

Use your fingernails to push the thread wraps back along the shank "into" the deer hair.  Then use the edge of the tool to slide them back even further.  The concept is this: instead of shoving the deer hair back to pack it, we're sliding the anchoring thread wraps back, for a narrower tie-in area.  This will give us more room to add more bundles of hair, plus it tightens up the body for security.

Place a good-size drop of cement or two at the base of the deer hair on the thread.  Use enough that some soaks into the hair a little.

The second bundle of hair is tied in the same as the first, only position the hair so the butt ends are further back. (Compare this photo with the one above showing the first bundle.)  To make your thread wraps, push the bundle into position and drape the tying thread over your fingers.  Slide the thread off your fingernails as you make the turn.  Then slide the thread between your fingers and the bundle of hair into position.

Apply a couple of good, penetrating drops of cement to every other bundle.  Remember to push the thread back along the shank to "pack" the hair, and before taking your wraps around the bundles, spin the thread clockwise to keep it strong.

7)  After a couple bundles, you can either proceed all the way up to the hook eye, covering the shank, or you can switch techniques.  For some reason I like the butt ends of the bundle facing forward, particularly at the eye, so the bundle will have to go on opposite of what we've just done.

To do this, hold the bundle by the butt ends, tips toward the rear of the fly.  Divide the bundle into two equal ones as shown in the photo.  Straddle the shank with the bundles, one on top, the other on the bottom, and take you first two thread wraps.  The rest is the same for the other method.

8)  When it looks like you have just enough room left on the shank for two or three more bundles, add a bundle of red deer hair.  Then continue with the natural or keep on with the red for a red face popper.

The last bundle goes right behind the eye.  I mean, right behind.  You should find yourself sliding the anchoring wraps off the hook... use fingernails to do this.  When complete, take several more turns of thread, sliding them off the hook eye down onto the shank as necessary, then tie a whip finish knot.  Clip the thread and cement the wraps well.

The finished, untrimmed body should look something like this.  Here be lots o' comments from little ones comin' ta see what papa is doin'! *G*

The result of the tight packing (sliding the thread back along the shank for each bundle) and going right up to the eye is an immense flare out over the hook eye.  This is exactly what we want and will help make a nice "pop" when the fly is fished.
9)  I find it best to trim a lot off the fly in a general shape, then fine tune it.  Since I know the bottom of the fly will be close to the hook shank the whole way back, I use a razor blade and slice away the fibers on the bottom of the fly so they are about as long as the hook eye width.  You can cut these a little longer and trim them down later until you get a good feel for where in all that hair the shank is... you don't want to accidentally slice through the tying thread!

Now use scissors to make a general square shape, trimming each of the sides and top about as wide as the hook gap.

 

Now all you need to do is round off the corners, thin the body, and taper it toward the rear.  This may take some practice, but with good sharp scissors, the soft deer hair is easily trimmed.

The finished body on the popper is very thin.  If you look at it head-on, at its thickest point across it is equal in width to one and a half times the hook gap (you can use a spare hook as a gauge).  From top to bottom it's less... about one hook gap plus a hook eye in height.

 

By tying in the first bundle as we did, it will be easy to trim near the collar... simply pull the long tips forward and trim flush with the body.  You can push the hackle fibers back and slide the scissors blade down to trim the butt ends of the first clump if necessary.  Just be careful not trim any of the hackle fibers.

For the front of the fly, place a fingertip on the eye of the hook to push the flaring hairs back.  Trim these flush with the body.

10)  Eyes are optional but I have found they add to the fly's effectiveness.  Looks nicer, too.  To add the 4mm doll eyes, first trim a socket in the side of the fly.  Make this right on the side (not the top), and less than the eye's width from the front when you push the hair back with a finger.  This usually places it right over the strip or beginning of the front color.  It's hard to explain just how I do this.  Basically, the tips of the scissors go at the edge of the socket from the other side.  So if you look the photo here, if I hold the scissors so the handle is near the tail and the tips are pointing forward, the resulting cut would deepest at the forward-most edge of the eye socket.  Trim once this way, then the next in the opposite direction.  Then work in an ever-widening circle until you get a socket that is just barely large enough to place the eye in without pushing away very many longer hairs.   close up  Do the same for the other side.  If you work at the eye sockets a little at a time, it's easy to get them even.

 

The materials list names Loctite Stick-N-Seal.  This is a waterproof adhesive found at many hardware stores, usually in the plumbing or adhesives area.  It is inexpensive, waterproof, and strong.  It has a consistency that reminds me of model airplane glue, maybe a little thicker.  It's perfect for adding eyes to deer hair bugs.

Use a toothpick to get a drop of the Loctite.  It tends to be "stringy" so roll the toothpick to gather it.  Roll some of the drop off the toothpick into the eye socket.  Roll the rest onto the back of one of the 4mm doll eyes.  Now simply place the eye in the eye socket and push down gently.

 

The Loctite is not super-fast to dry, so you can take your time to position each eye, taking care not to get glue on anything else.  The thickness of the glue is ideal... the drop you place in the eye socket squeezes down into the deer hair, the drop on the back of the eye bonds with it.  When it cures (overnight), it's very strong.  I've never lost eye glued in with it, while I've lost quite a few with other popular super glues.

The red eyes?  I used a red permanent marker to color over white 4mm doll eyes.  It's pretty neat!  You can do all sorts of neat colors that way!  Stick the eyes to double-sided tape, and color.  The more "coats" you apply, the darker the eye will be.  You can also use one color, then another, for different shades... try brown, then green or yellow over top of it (you'll have to clean up the latter colors when you're done).

Deer hair is naturally buoyant, but after a while it starts to soak up water, especially after a couple of nice bass.  To combat this, spray your finished Smallie poppers with a waterproofing spray like Scotch Guard.  I use one called Silicone Water-Guard made for tents and such.  Follow the directions on the can, and don't overdue it.  Initially the tail feathers will matt from the moisture, but once dry, they can be fluffed back up.

 

Smallie Popper in all black.  Be sure to try other effective colors.

 

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This site was last updated 10/13/05