Bug Time

By Spider Rybaak

Bass bugs and poppers

Summer’s end shifts life into overdrive. It’s now or never for seasonal plants and animals, including insects. And while big, creepy, crawling things are enough to keep average folks away from unsprayed waterfront, bass, and the guys who chase ‘em, head for the bank.

You see, September’s nights are longer and cooler than July’s and August’s, stirring comfortable temperatures into the shallows, luring the game fish that split for the deep to escape summer’s heat. Back in their old turf, it doesn’t take long for them to resume feeding on the menu of delights that falls into the drink from the grass, bushes, and branches lining shore.

The commotion that a crawling or flying terrestrial insect makes in its struggle to stay afloat is like a dinner bell. The louder and sloppier it is, the more it excites the emotions of the pillars of the aquatic community living below. Indeed, a splash that would have spooked a hawg bass a couple weeks ago now draws him in to investigate. And if the source of the racket is winged, or hairy with legs hanging all over the place, the game fish will suck it in like an hors d’oeuvre.

While some of the terrestrial animals which large game fish find tasty are pretty big (snakes, young waterfowl, baby muskrats come to mind), the vast majority are much smaller, ranging in size from a yellow jacket to a mouse. Over the years, a class of lures has been developed to imitate hapless terrestrials trapped in the drink: poppers.

They come in two styles: deer-hair- and cork-bodied.

The former is generally made of bucktail shaped to resemble anything from crayfish and sunfish to mice. Cork-bodied varieties are about the size and shape of the bottom of a Hi-liter in the front, with the body tapering towards the back, ending in a tail of feathers. Both have flat faces so they gurgle and spit when retrieved; cork models have rubber legs protruding enticingly from the sides.

Poppers range from over an ounce to 1/32 oz.–even smaller. Those running from 1/16 oz and less are too light to be cast with conventional fishing equipment. They’re designed to be worked with fly-fishing tackle.
Poppers are worked by retrieving the line in short (six inches to a foot), sharp jerks, stopping for a second or two every now and then to set their little legs in motion, giving reluctant followers a chance to change their minds.

Fishing with poppers is a very visual experience. Imagine jerking a spitting object over the surface. Suddenly, a swell appears behind the bug, followed by a mouth the size of a toy steam shovel sucking in the offering. Some fish are so enthusiastic, they jump clear out of the water when they hit, practically pulling the rod out of your hands.

Fly-fishing with large bass bugs requires a heavy line (at least 9 wt.) to carry the wind-resistant lure through the air. A classy Hardy fly- rod in excess of 8-feet long, with a matching Hardy fly-reel loaded with a Profile floating fly line makes long distance casting possible.

Good spots to wade and fly-fish with bugs include Oneida Lake’s Phillips Point (Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area), Fulton’s Lake Neahtahwanta, and the pool at the mouth of Deer Creek (Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area). If you have a boat, Sandy Pond, the Salmon River estuary and any shallow, weedy area on Oneida Lake will lead to your fishing satisfaction.

Bass bugs and poppers are available at all bait shops, mail order houses like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, and major dot.coms like Amazon.

Fat rock bass taken at Hoad Harbor; note the popper’s legs protruding from its gill plate
Hawg bucketmouth taken at Phillips Point, Oneida Lake
Pickerel taken at Cleveland Docks, Cleveland