When I decided to take up fly fishing I knew, with no exaggeration, almost nothing about it. No one who knows me will be surprised to learn that I started with the gear: rod lengths, weights and flex, reels, lines, nets, flies, packs… I learned the knots, I learned about hatches, and creeks vs rivers, dry flies vs wet flies vs nymphs. Strangely, I never really thought about the fish. I assumed that fly fishing = trout fishing (and hey! there are a lot of kinds of trout!).
Friends posted photos of fly fishing for steelhead, but it turns out those are also trout that spend some time in the salt water before heading back up the river to spawn.
Salt water fly fishing is obviously not trout fishing, but I figured that is a whole different thing that requires salt water gear.
But what do you know? People fly fish for all kinds of fish! And not just at the bottom of reservoirs and rivers, they are fishing the top water of rivers. My latest obsession is smallmouth bass (“smallies”), and more specifically, a type of fly used to catch them called poppers. Discovering poppers is like learning that there is a candy store in the back of the library.
Trout flies are cool: carefully constructed using deer hair, feather, foam, thread and other bits of detritus, and made to look like may flies, midges, caddis flies, stone flies, salmon flies, ants, grasshoppers, mice and other things that may land on the surface of the water. It’s a fun game picking out what the fickle trout might be interested in eating each day. They are fascinating in their insect-ness, but for the most part, they are not super fanciful. Poppers, though, even the name is fun!
Recently, I sat through a discussion about different types of bass flies and how to use them (probably you will not be surprised to learn that I was the only woman in the room). We watched videos of how to move the flies through the water. They swim, pop, zig, zag, dive and wiggle. Poppers are big, brightly colored, feathered, rubber-legged, cone-headed and absolutely adorable. There are frog poppers that look like cartoon frogs, and a bunch that don’t look like anything at all that I have ever seen. Apparently the smallies love them. Do they love them as much as I love them? I’ve discovered old school deer hair poppers, middle school wood and cork poppers, and new school shiny shellacked poppers. My frenzy of popper lust has brought me dozens of poppers. I justify them as supplies for a summer fishing trip but mostly I buy them because they are so darn cute.
In a rather weak attempt to try out bass fishing, RK and I drove out to one of Utah’s many reservoirs that is well stocked with both large and small mouthed bass. As a child, I spent many summer days at reservoirs and most of my memories of those days involve sunburn, mosquitos, murky water, sub-par beaches, and the Steve Miller Band. I’ve generally made it a rule to avoid them as an adult. But we wanted to test out poppers, so we waded up to our knees in standing water, muck sucking our shoes to the lake bed. The dogs feet made slurping sounds with every step, they ate grass and sniffed at garbage. An old guy floated around on a small rubber boat, trading off casts between his several rods. Another guy was stalking the shallows with a bow and arrow and shooting at fish (and got one!). We tied on a Sneaky Pete and a Boogle Popper and chucked them towards some sticks and weeds, because we thought smallies might hang out near sticks and weeds.
I cast my Boogle Popper through the air, laughing as it made a splat and splash when it hit the water. Pulling the line towards me, it popped, it dove! It was a popper in action! But it didn’t take very long for us to admit we had no idea what we were doing. And that we were practically stuck in the mud and worrying about leeches. The reservoir wasn’t really our scene.
In fact, I do have a river trip booked for the summer where I will reportedly catch as many as 75 smallies a day, according to the internet. I will be floating down a river in the “Grand Canyon of Oregon” by day, in the wilderness, surrounded by basalt rock walls, and camping by the river. I will put my poppers to the test, from old school to new school. If I don’t catch any fish, or if bass fishing isn’t my thing, at least we can use these cuties to decorate the Christmas tree.