Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fighting Winter Madness with the Orange Bass Popper

It's been a few days since I last posted, and I have to say, winter madness has officially set it. Today I sat in my cubicle and stared at my wall calender for at least 30 minutes straight trying to figure out when would be the absolute soonest I could get out on the stream. I'm writing this post on March 4, which means the trout streams in Missouri have been open for four whole days now. Usually, I am not one of those who gets suckered into opening weekend. I find that I would much rather watch 60 idiots stand on the Bennett Spring dam on their trout cam than be out there with them. However, I have the itch bad this year. Trying to balance my work life, my married life, my bank account, and my desire to go fishing is prooving to be difficult. Plus, now I'm writing about it and sharing those feelings with the entire internet, and that's just exasperating the problem.

Fishing will come soon. Fishing must come soon. Who knows. I might hit up Blue Springs Creek on Good Friday. The best thing about Blue Springs Creek is that if the fishing's lousy, it's only about 20 minutes from Maramec Spring.

Anyway, this post is about a big, orange bass fly I tied. This past week, I had an unexpected learning experience. It snowed in Saint Louis again so I was working from home. My rear-wheel drive Ford Rangers will spin out with a light breeze, never mind a quarter inch of snow. I popped onto the Ozark Fly Fishers' Yahoo! page and saw a post about a last minute get together to tie some bass flies. I checked and this was happening just across the highway over in Maplewood. I had been staring at my Outlook inbox for the past eight hours, so the idea of getting out of the house and tying some new flies really struck a chord with me. The winter madness was already beginning to creep in at that point.

The Orange Bass Popper
The Bass Popper

The fly we were learning (myself and two other OFF members) was a bass hopper. We were using a neon orange pattern on a size #2 hook. I have to tell you, after tying size #16 hooks for the past month of so, this size #2 felt giant in my vice. To be perfectly honest, I was in a bit over my head with this fly. My one month or so of experience was perfectly insufficient. Our teacher was former OFF president, Mike, and he was teaching us in the office of his auto body shop. Pretty sure my chest is about 200% hairier than this time yesterday from this last week.

Pictured above is the finished product, and I'll try my best to remember all of the steps and materials that went into making it. Staring at the fly now a few days later, I remember that we first used some flat wax thread to tie in a piece of mono-filament at the hook bend. This mono wouldn't come into play until the very finish of the fly, so you might as well forget about it. On top of the mono, we tied some tinsel-like golden "angel hair" on top of the hook shank. Next came the hackle.

The Fly-Tiers of the Long Table
Mike, making a cameo in the background.

We used neon orange hackle. I've never used flies this obnoxiously colored, but if it gets the fish on the hook, who am I to judge. We used two, curved outer feathers per side of the hook, pointing out, to create the "legs." Additionally, we tied on two center section pieces of hackle to form the body collar. We tied down this center collar so it wouldn't get in the way when we tied on the deer hair.

Stacked Deer Hair
Pulled deer hair.

Now, my father-in-law is a butcher, so out of all of the fly-tying material there is, I can probably get my hands on some deer fur the easiest. (Count into effect the fact that I am deathly terrified of birds. You're not going to see me chasing down turkeys or peacocks to pluck their feathers.) However, I learned that it's a lot more difficult to harvest deer hair than I originally thought. Everything from bugs to cowlicks effects how the hair lies on the hook shank. I found out from Mike it's probably just easiest to buy some from a fly shop. Oh well. Even with Mike's florescent dyed deer hair, I had a helluva time getting it on the hook.

First, you have to find the right bit of hair to clip off of the patch. Not too long. Not with too much under-coat. And you scissors need to be extra sharp. Mine weren't. Then you have to pinch it just right, trim the tips, gently place it on the hook, and do two loose wraps of thread. On the third wrap, you pull the hairs tight, and they'll wrap around the hook shank and spread out like a dandelion. It really shouldn't work as well as it does. Watching someone as experienced as tying as Mike do it is truly impressive.

More layers of stacked deer hair
More pulled deer hair.

After I stumbled through getting my first pinch of hair onto the hook, it was time to add the rubber legs. These went on with a knot tied in the middle of the rubber string, slung over the eye, and tied in with thread, ensuring your legs stuck out the sides, and not the bottom. Once they were in, it was time to add another pinch of deer hair. Once this second pinch is pulled on, and you haven't completely over-crowded your hook-eye, you can trim it down using a razor blade. Using the hook eye as a reference, you slice the deer hair back, avoiding you rubber legs. First you slice the top, then each side creating a uniform square around the eye. Then round your corners with the blade to give a round, cigar shape. Trim with scissors as necessary.

Finally the mono-filament was brought up under the fly and tied at the hook eye. This creates a shield to keep the hook point from dragging through the muck at the bottom of the stream. We tied off with a whip finish, and cut the thread holding our early body collar hackle down. Fluff that hack back up to give the fly more body. Once again, here's the finished product.

A completed bass popper
The finished fly.

Thanks again to Mike for the tying lesson, and for letting a couple of dudes hang out in his shop and tie flies on a weekday afternoon. If you need any auto-body work done, make sure you check out Shur-Way Auto Body, Mike's shop.

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