Category Archives: Poppers

….and Novacane Runs Through it.

Dental surgery – it needs a silver lining.

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I go to a dentist about 2 hours from my house. He’s based in the town I grew up in, and where my parents live. He’s very good, and I like him, which is why I drive the two hours. Naturally,  I scheduled the appointment in such a way that I could fish the Brandywine while I was in town.

After an hour of fly shop chatter over at Marblehead, I waded into the cool river. I’d planned on wet wading in shorts, but the guys at the shop had told me it was running cool this year. Too cold after a couple of hours wet wading. Thankfully I’d prepared, and so the waders tucked into the back of my truck tightened against my legs as the water got deeper. The entire right side of my head was numb. I’d had an absurd adventure trying to eat a sandwich with the novacane still working it’s magic, and now I was standing in a river realizing how much I relied on my mouth for tying knots in small tippet. There I am, gumming away at the line with no feelings in my lips or tongue to indicate where to bite.

Only my third trip to the river, I’d yet to catch what anglers come here for – smallmouth. I’d caught a ton of panfish here, including one beautiful, vivid rock bass – caught them on streamers, but mostly on poppers – fishing the surface of the river, casting against the bank and letting the bug ride the rip or bounce off the tree branches, or stripping it back while bluegills and redears slapped and swiped at it.

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It was Wednesday, and I had the river to myself. When you round the bend south of the parking lot, you are standing in a canyon of old trees. There are a pile of boulders in the center of the river – this is where I caught the rock bass. Nothing in view is man made. You could be in Colorado, or Wyoming. But you’re 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, where this very river will run besides a park, and in the shadow of buildings, bridges and old factories before meeting the Christina, and out to Delaware Bay, where I fish the flats.

Today, the Bluegill provided endless fun, and a little smallmouth ended the drought. Just a tiny fish, but I put the slider in the right place – just before that branch on the falling tree – just where it would ride the current around the obstruction. That would be a good place for a fish, I’d thought. And it turned out it was. I caught a few smallies in this spot, and a ton of brightly colored, hard fighting little gills. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t feel his face.

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Filed under Bluegill, Brandywine, Bug, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Poppers, Smallmouth Bass

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.



Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

On the Brandywine.

I’d planned to creep into the Brandywine River a week earlier, but rain had seen to that. A storm moved across the state from the south-west, plodding it’s way out to sea and leaving behind buckets of rain. It would be a near two hour drive north an an overnight with my parents who live nearby, the river would be high and cloudy, and I wanted better conditions. A week would do it, and by the following Tuesday I was winding through the  back roads of Chadd’s Ford on my way to  rendezvous with Terry at A Marblehead FlyFisher, the best place to pick up word from the river, and to my knowledge, the only surviving fly shop in the state of Delaware. Terry had just returned from a trip up north to cast at False Albacore. He had fished for three days, casting a two-handed rod and hooking up with several Albies on just one baitfish imitation which he now kept in a Ziploc bag to show curious customers, it’s hook shank bent and dressing crumpled and abused – a spent fly.

After a round of fishing talk and an examination of his terminally damaged waders, Terry was digging through shelves of flies and pointing out what had been working on the Smallmouth Bass I had come to chase. From streamers to poppers, the only common theme was rubber legs. Anything with rubber legs. I loaded up on crayfish imitations, poppers with enough rubber legs to strangle themselves, bait fish imitations, and woolly buggers with……rubber legs. Armed with tips, directions, information and ammunition, I thanked Terry and promised to send saltwater reports from down south, and set out for river.

After parking in the wooded lot and throwing on my waders and sling pack, I picked up the trail Terry suggested I follow to a good drop-in point on the steep banks of a low running Brandywine. I found the narrow confluence I was looking for and stepped down onto the rocky creek bed. Only a few feet in, the river reached in to the alcove and I waded in ankle deep water as juvenile panfish scattered in every direction in the gin clear water. Targeting smallmouth, I started on the surface. A blue heron was at rest on the far bank, and, taking him as a good omen – not to mention an indication of fish – I cast a sneaky pete popper onto the faster moving water along the bank – a process I was to repeat in several pools and runs along the banks for the next 30 minutes without so much as an indication of feeding bass.

I waded downstream and, looking ahead, noticed an area of light ripples on the otherwise glassy river surface. The glare prevented me from identifying what structure lay ahead – it turned out to be several large boulders – but casting the popper just before the ripples and letting it drift over the turbulence prompted a soft, slurping take.  The rod bent and I thought I’d hooked into a smallmouth. Yet to catch one on the fly, and having never tried, I was anxious to hook up early, but as the fish came to hand I could see I hadn’t hit my target. None the less, I had a Rock Bass on the line. I’d also somehow managed to avoid catching one of those before, too.

I walked a good length of the river that afternoon – casting to downed trees, rock piles and rips, and still haven’t managed to check the smallmouth bass off of my list. I know they are there. I usually walk away from such an event with some inclination, or excuse, if you like, about why I didn’t catch what I was fishing for. Usually there is a condition to consider, a case of inappropriate equipment, an unavoidable obstacle. On this day, I was out of ideas. It is my inclination to blame user error, or just one of those days, but in hindsight I can’t think of anything I’d have done differently. I cast floaters, slider, poppers, streamers and bugs. I fished deep and high, fast and slow. I exhausted my options, and eventually, my time on the river.  I burned the remaining light of day casting poppers to a stack of bluegills I’d found while probing for bass earlier in the afternoon. I caught plenty of fish, but the smallmouth remains unchecked. A matter of time.

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Panfish, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

Disorganized Chaos, Tying, Bugs.

This is ridiculous.

Yes, I was up until the wee hours last night fooling with flies and maybe enjoying a drink or so. But what the heck are   …are those channel locks?

My problem, besides the fact that I’m just messy, is that I keep everything stored on hooks or nails in the wall. This means I usually have to remove some other things to get the things I want. White deer hair? behind the red, black, and yellow deer hair. So now, all the deer hair is lying on the desk. Size 8 hooks? Behind the size 12,……you get the drift.

Containers, through which I can sort, and in which I can store materials, seemed the obvious choice, and also a portable one, which will come in handy when the garage gets too damn cold to sit in over winter. I commandeered an old tackle box and stole some tupperware, and before long things were looking a little more orderly.

I am, by no measure, a great, nor prolific fly tier. In fact, I’m still pretty new to it. I only try to keep the materials I regularly need for the flies I tie most often, and I don’t require a lot of space to do this, so being such a slob is just a simple case of poor form. I’ve seen people on the internet and in magazines who have built entire additions to their houses to accommodate the metric ton of hair and hackle they have at hand; every stretch of flash and marabou they could get their hands on. Certainly, if making flies is your business, that makes sense, but if you tie out of habit, enjoyment or necessity, I just find myself wondering if you ever get the time to go fishing. But they somehow manage to keep it clean and tidy, although it probably wasn’t until the guy with the camera showed up.

So, I cleaned up my space for the cameras, too. I don’t think I’ll be building an addition on my home any time soon. No, for me, just a simple, orderly space and enough of the materials I use most to make the flies I use most often. And now that my little corner of the garage is in a better state of organization and I’ve had some sleep, I might as well sit here and tie myself a poppin’ frog and a big ugly woolly.

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Filed under Booze, Bug, Fly, Fly Tying, Gear, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

Toothy Critter.

On a crisp October day with a stiff, variable wind, I’m atop a spillway hunting Largemouth Bass. The Action on surface poppers, my favorite of all the bass baits, appears to be slowing as the lake collects Fall’s leaves and other debris. But, having fashioned some cork and deer hair into new poppers at my tying desk, I’m eager to see if my latest concoctions can draw a strike.

Like many bass waters, there are also Chain Pickerel haunting the hollow logs and weed beds where I toss my bugs and streamers. On the occasion that they choose to take a fly I intended for a bass, there is no mistaking them. They strike with a suddenness and ferocity that the largemouth cannot quite match, and their sharp teeth can lay waste to a fly. It’s because of this, and other telling clues, that I know I’ve been hit by a pickerel, even when I don’t land the fish.

I shared a photograph in this space just last week; a black popper, small enough to take Sunfish, but excellent at luring bass, that I was swimming beneath the surface before my line was violently yanked at my feet, and, just as quickly, released, to lay limp on the surface.  A brief inspection at the smashed fly confirmed my suspicion. I had found a pickerel.

The following day, while fishing a red streamer around the same location, I had again been yanked, but this time only to retrieve a frayed and spliced line, absent my newly tied Red Squirrel.

Days passed, and I fished other waters for trout, unsuccessfully. A day of poor weather here and there allowed me time in the garage, where I replaced my lost flies, including a selection of newly tied poppers of all sizes and descriptions, some designed for pan fish, others for bass and trout.

I returned to the spillway yesterday morning, eager to launch a black deer hair popper to the far bank, to fish around a fallen branch where I believed I would find rising bass. My cast was slightly short, but I let the bait sit until the concentric circles dissipated, and longer. After what passed as a satisfactory period of time, I gave the bug a quick tug, causing the cupped nose to gurgle, and again, let it rest. I repeated this process across the front of the spillway as I retrieved the bait slowly to my feet, where it met with the jaws of a pickerel. This time, I saw the offending fish. It was surprisingly small, but moved like a torpedo and was gone as soon as I was able to process it’s explosive arrival.

I put the headless bug in the streamer box instead of the bug box. I located a wire leader.

On a crisp October day with a stiff, variable wind, I’m atop a spillway hunting Pickerel…….

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Filed under Bluegill, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Poppers