Be Successful while Fishing Poppers for Bass

A mans hand holding the mouth of a fish slightly out of the water, caught while fishing poppers for bass.

Fishing Poppers for Bass in the Adirondacks

One thing the Adirondack region does not lack is an abundance of some of the best lakes, ponds, streams and rivers inhabited by largemouth and smallmouth bass that New York State has to offer.  No matter where within the Adirondack park the fly fisherman decides to head, he or she will not have to travel far to locate a body of water containing bass and other various species.  The odds are these hefty members of the sunfish family will be more than willing to inhale a well-placed popper.

Popper Placement

Being able to accurately place a cork, wood, or deer-hair popper alongside a half-submerged tree trunk or in the center of a tiny opening within a thick mat of lily pads and pickerel weed is a key factor for hooking up with a North Country bass in your fly fishing adventures. These bass bugs work well on both stocky bronze backs and lunker bucket mouths.

Peckinpough’s “Night Bugs”

Though most fly fishermen today are apt to try fishing poppers for bass at dawn or dusk when summer sun rays are weakest, its modern day progenitor, the late Ernest H. Peckinpough of Chattanooga, Tennessee, originally christened them “Night Bugs.”

Peckinpough’s contracting career simply did not allow him to get on the water until dark when he preferred to fish with bucktail flies for bream.  He reasoned that by keeping the bucktail floating on the water surface longer he would catch more bream.  This eventually led him to affix a hook on a piece of cork which he embellished with bucktail hair that bream as well as bass could not resist.   Peckinpough began to market his innovation around 1913 to J. Hilderbrandt Company under the name of “Night Bugs” and they became popular.  They eventually came to be called bass bugs, and are highly regarded as some of the best poppers for bass.

Modern Popper Composition

Today, cork bass bugs can still be found, however you’re more likely to come across poppers that are constructed of wood, deer hair, foam or plastic when you are fishing poppers for bass in the Adirondacks.  Whatever the material, quality bass bugs usually have small, bright feathers or some kind of man-made material attached to the body extending over the hook which helps give it additional buoyancy.  Some also have four to six thin white rubbery legs extending from the body that wiggle enticingly thus animating the popper when slightly twitched. 

Contrasting Color Schemes

Most poppers or bass bugs come painted in bright solid colors of white, yellow, orange, green and black, or in a combination of those colors.  Some are painted two-tone with white or yellow on the belly and darker colors on their backs. Many anglers choose poppers that have contrasting stripes or even polka dots when they are fishing poppers for bass.

Whatever combination a fly fisherman chooses, popping for bass continues to be a fun method for catching bass in summer.  An angler can effectively use poppers while walking a shoreline, quietly wading in the shallows, or while sitting in a kayak, canoe, or other type of boat. 

How to Begin Fishing Poppers for Bass

One day last summer I carefully stalked around the perimeter of a small pond shortly at mid day with my fly rod in hand and a fly case full of colorful fingernail-sized balsa wood poppers.  By keeping the sun to my back, I carefully approached within fifteen feet of the shore, made a few false casts and then allowed my yellow popper to quietly land on the still water surface within an inch of a patch of lily pads.  Keeping my rod-tip high, I let the popper sit there until the ever-expanding ringlets on the water surface disappeared.  Then I gave it a light twitch or two.  

Reeling in Fly Fishing Successes

Almost instantly the water exploded sending spray everywhere as the bass savagely inhaled the tiny fake offering. Once the fish felt resistance it made a run for deeper water.  However the five-weight rod was resilient enough to keep the fish away from its deep water hideout.   Finally, I began to slowly strip line in while enjoying the constant tugging at the rod tip as the pound and a half size bass fought for its freedom.  In no time I had my catch, a small fish, in hand admiring his plump profile and brilliant colors before releasing him.  

Shoreline Fishing

The key to shoreline fly fishing for bass with poppers, especially when the summer sun is high and bright in a cloud-free sky, is for anglers to keep their silhouetted form and shadow from spooking fish, which is why many anglers prefer to wait for times of low light rather than fish all day long.  This tactic becomes much more important to the fly-fisherman’s success as water clarity improves.  Keeping a low profile and wearing light colored clothing are key elements for anglers when it comes to shoreline fishing on bright, sunny days for shallow water bass and various species.

Avoiding Obstacles

Trees can be a major problem for anglers, whenever fly-fishing along a shoreline while attempting to cast a bass bug.  One way to solve this problem is to play line out by hand then use a roll-cast to get your popper out where you expect bass to be holding.  If the cover along the shoreline is too restricting, then the bow and arrow cast works well in tight quarters. Or, you can simply don an old pair of sneakers to go wading after your bass while casting parallel to the shoreline.  

Careful Wading Techniques

Sometimes all it takes is to wade in up to your knees to get far enough away from hindering shoreline vegetation while other times you may have to wade in up to your waist to get enough clearance for casting.  Wading requires slow, careful movements such as taking small deliberate steps while being careful not to step on rocks or sunken debris that would create unnatural noises that spook fish into seeking cover.  

Using a Wading Staff

However, when it comes to wading fast flowing, boulder-strewn Adirondack rivers where smallmouth bass abound, it’s a good idea for anglers to use a wading staff.  This tool helps steady the angler as he or she maneuvers across slippery rocks and boulders to get to choice pools.  It also helps warn the fisherman of sudden drop offs or deep hidden holes when fly fishing for bass with poppers.   

Location, Location, Location

Whenever fly fishing for bass with poppers on an unfamiliar pond or lake, one of the best ways to locate bass hiding in the shallows is to slowly and quietly troll or drift a popper twenty-five to thirty feet behind a canoe, kayak or rowboat.  Anglers should pick their site carefully. Drift where water depths range anywhere from three to five feet deep along likely structure that attracts bass.  If a bass suddenly strikes the trailing popper, continue drifting downwind a bit then make a wide swing upwind in order to make another silent drift over the same site again.

Think Like a Bass

While drifting along you’ll also want to stop and anchor every now and then at likely looking bass hangouts to twitch a popper just enough to make tiny ripples on the water imitating prey struggling on surface.  Oftentimes this tactic will tempt a skulking bass into viciously striking your animated bass bug, so stay alert and keep your rod tip high when you are fishing poppers for bass.

Have Fun

Using bass bugs on the surface not only is an effective way to catch bass, it is a lot of fun. Be sure to give fishing poppers for bass a try this summer. New York State’s Adirondack region offers great bass fishing, beautiful scenery and so much more for all outdoor enthusiasts.

Original Article By John M. DeLisle Sr.

About The Author

John M. DeLisle enjoys many aspects of outdoor sports in the Adirondacks.  He is a freelance writer and contributor to “New York Outdoor News.”  He is a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association.

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