Today we pay tribute to one of the best popper patterns ever developed – Lefty’s Popping Bug. Any fly designed and refined by Lefty Kreh deserves the attention of all fly fisherman, but this fly pattern does not enjoy the notoriety of many of Kreh’s other patterns such as the Deceiver, the Half & Half, and others.
Lefty Kreh is the most respected name in fishing. He is considered the greatest fly fisherman of all time. (This is not because he’s some loudmouth with a TV show and gonzo sponsors trying to make money off any Tom-Dick & Harry who’s got a boat and an attitude.)
Just the opposite.
Bernard “Lefty” Kreh started out as a dirt poor kid in Maryland who started fishing smallmouth on his home waters. He worked his way into a writer and columnist and has fished everywhere. His approach has always been that of a educator. His books and videos are full of more practical and little known tips and tactics than any writer anywhere. He’s also a super cool guy with the perfect mix of humor to temper his seemingly limitless knowledge in a number of subjects.
He moved to Florida in the mid 1960′s and met a number of the big name saltwater fly fisherman. He literally wrote the book on saltwater called “Fly Fishing in Salt Water“. If you have not read Lefty’s books, you are not a complete fly fisherman. If you were to read only one, this would be it regardless if you ever saltwater fly fish or not. (Beware! Once you read this book, you’ll be so stoked to try saltwater, you’re IRA may see some premature withdrawals).
Among other books, he wrote a library of around twenty mini-tomes (c. 1992) on various aspects of fly fishing called “Lefty’s Little Library of Fly Fishing“. The entire set now goes for around $450 bucks, if you can find it. This is without question the most complete collection of fly fishing information contained anywhere and presented in bite-sized portions that are easily digestible – always leaving you to want for more. The information is as timeless as any sporting instruction ever done.
Lefty created the Lefty’s Popping Bug for both saltwater and freshwater. The fusiform popper bodies come in Large (1 1/8″ x 1/2″) for saltwater and larger freshwater gamefish, Medium (7/8′ x 3/8″) perfect for bass, and Small (1/2″ x 1/4″) for panfish and trout.
Lefty’s Popping Bug shares the traits of other great popper designs. These critical traits are:
- Light weight and easy to cast
- Extremely bouyant
- Simple to tie
- Flat bottom on the ventral or underside
- Large hook gap
- Plenty of hook length behind the body
- Angled front face provides a gentle pop when stripped
- Easy to pick up off the water, with little disturbance
- Fly lays angled on the water with the back (hook-end) slightly lower.
- Stiff tail material that will not foul around the hook shank
- Sparse dressing materials.
If the poppers you are currently using popper bodies that do not contain some or all or these traits, consider getting some popper bodies and creating your own, more effective poppers.
Most Common Popper Problems
Without question the biggest problems surround the popper hook gap. Many body shapes actually militate against a solid hook-up. I have used conical-shaped poppers where the bottom portion of the body extends below the hook eye, cutting down on the hook gap and making it tough for the fish to bite and solidly get hooked. See the fly to the right to see the other problem – the hook shank is too short.
Lefty’s Popping Bug Design
When Lefty Kreh designed his popper, he did it by incorporating all of the elements covered above. The fly is lightweight with plenty of hook behind and below to offer a great hook set. The angled front face provides for a mid-level pop, but is also very easy to wrest from the water surface without making a commotion – so common with cupped or concave faced poppers.
The body is longer than most designs requiring an elongated 3XL or more commonly a 4XL hook shank. This ensures there’s plenty of room aft and below for the fish to solidly bite. The heavier hooks used also make the fly tilt back in the water with the back (hook end) riding lower in the water than the front. This makes it even easier for fish to suck in the popper since they are always coming from below.
Scant Tail Material
This is one of my pet peeves. Marabou and other light bulky tail material always foul around the hook shank, causing major issues with any popper. I avoid marabou and other soft materials for my tails. I stick with bucktail, squirrel tail and synthetics like Super Hair and other stout materials. Flash when used, should also be relatively stiff such as Krystal Flash instead of the softer Flashabou.
While some will argue that marabou (and the like) add action to a popper, remember it is the “pop” that is providing most of the attention getting. Rubber legs can be added to add extra action to a popper body if you want to impart extra action at rest. Most rubber legs maintain there shape and will not foul the hook if you’re often looking for subtle popper action.
Other Superior Popper Body Designs
There are other body styles you can employ with similar traits. If you want a body that is shorter and will house a light wire hook in a shorter length, consider the blockhead popper. These light foam bodies may not be the prettiest in your flybox, but they will be the deadliest. The shorter body allows for a shorter light wire hook (in freshwater). They share the flat bottom, but the front face is more blunt than the Lefty’s. You will get more of a “pop” from the blockheads. They ride flat on the surface and sport the much needed flat bottom to optimize the hook gap and fish hooking potential.
Not all flies or fly fisherman are created equal. You can level the playing field somewhat by incorporating flies in your arsenal that are at once practical and effective. Why fight using flies that you are constantly untangling from the hook shank?
The more time your fly is in the water, moving the way you want it to, the more fish you will hook. Lefty’s Popping Bug is engineered with the critical elements to elevate it above most other popper patterns and put more fish on the end of your line.
I’m staring out the window dumbfounded by the 1 1/2 feet of snow and high winds. This time last week, we were spanking tarpon in Campeche, Mexico. The baby and juvenile tarpon fishing of Campeche is not a complete secret in the fly fishing world, but it deserves more recognition.
I heard about Campeche six years ago at a fly fishing show and vowed to visit one day. That trip happened last week beginning 6 December, not exactly prime time for the flocks of northern snowbirds, but it turned out to be well timed. We experienced the coldest early December ever in the Midwest and there we were, basking in 80 plus degrees and hammering fish. Further, the weather was excellent with light winds during our fishing time.
We booked through Tarpon Town Anglers and Raul Castaneda. This was the best guiding/outfitting service I’ve ever used – anywhere! Raul did everything in his power to ensure we had a pleasant stay and great fishing. The prices were reasonable and fishing was awesome. We stayed at the Ocean View Hotel and were dropped off right infront of the hotel each afternoon when done fishing.
The mornings would find us close to shore and the endless coastal mangroves, creeks and rivers, to sight fish for tailing/rolling baby tarpon in the 5 – 10 pound range. It was very much like bonefishing, visibly seeing moving fish and trying to intercept them with the fly rod. We hooked a bunch and landed a few – pretty typical with tarpon of any size. These fish required an eight weight fly rod with floating line since they were in 2 – 3 feet of water.
At midday we would move off shore if the winds were light (which they were 3 out of 4 days) and search for schools of larger juvenile fish. Our guide Juan was excellent at spotting fish and we found lots of moving fish each day. There fish required a nine or ten weight. I used a 10 NuCast Smokin’ Hot Fly Rod coupled with a new Blue Crush Saltwater Fly Reel (from NuCast). I found the ten very handy when trying to land these juveniles in a prompt fashion.
These off-shore fish go about 10 – 30 pounds and were extremely powerful. Just like their big brothers off the Florida coast, juveniles hit, jump and run like the big boys, but you can land them in 10 – 15 minutes and go back for more! Did I say land? We probably landed one our of every five fish we hooked in four days of fishing.
We probably averaged (my wife and I) hooking 15 – 20 fish per day and lost most of them. Raul says the months of January through May are best for big numbers, but we thought the fishing action was superb in the beginning of December. Flies were somewhat standard, including Red/White Deceiver, Black/Purple Death, Cockroach, Weighted Toad Flies (weighted w/barbell eyes), and Gurglers in Tan and White.
I can’t wait to go back again and many of my friends are licking their chops after hearing stories and watching some of our videos.
Fly Fishing for Baby Tarpon
Fishing’s Juvenile Delinquents – Hell Raising Misguided Youth
As your thoughts drift to a warm weather get-away this season remember this: There’s a good chance you can find and battle baby tarpon during your tropical sojourn. If you look hard enough and ask the right questions you can be in for some heart-stopping action in and around the Gulf or Caribbean on a shoe string budget.
For the price of a rental car you can search and find hidden coverts teeming with the greatest fly fishing quarry there is – in a size you can handle with bass equipment!
I encountered my first baby tarpon nearly 25 years ago while visiting Grand Cayman Island. I found the only fly fishing guide – a refugee from Wales who was catering to a scant number of fly fisherman (masquerading as scuba divers) who happen to visit this popular diving location. Somehow we found each other.
Our guide Clive drove my wife and I back into the scrubby desert-like habitat very common in this part of the Caribbean. The beauty is in the water, not the land. The inland canals or dykes are bordered with mangroves. There is a maze of backroads with canals on either side, harboring these goggle-eyed demons – ready to blast a well placed fly.
We tried wading some shallow flats for bonefish without success and then headed inland to the myriad of man-made canals, built for mosquito control and swamp drainage on Grand Cayman and many other locales in the tropics.
We threw Lefty’s Popping Bugs against the mangroves, sometimes blindly and other times near a tarpon rise or roll. The strikes were always explosive, shocking and very exciting – especially in tight quarters.
Such is the case in tarpon fishing of any kind – you will lose at least five for every one you land. But, no matter – the hook up and subsequent aerial circus is the essence of tarpon fishing.
Both my wife and I hooked a bunch and landed a few baby tarpon and it was the highlight of our trip, which included scuba diving, snorkeling and lesser pursuits.
We subsequently returned many times for “do-it-yourself” baby tarpon, mixed in with other tropical fun and relaxation. Because let’s face it people: You can only lay on the beach for so long without wanting to go fishing somewhere.
Baby tarpon generally weigh between five and thirty pounds. The smaller fish, which live in creeks and canals, are five to ten pounds and pack the same manic attitude as their 100 pound behemoth relatives. The larger versions weigh 15 to 40 pounds are referred to as juveniles. These fish are typically found in adjacent shallow bays where schools of them can be spotted rolling on calm days.
Tarpon hate hooks. No fish abhors containment more than a tarpon! They will do anything to separate themselves from you. This includes jumping repeatedly, often into the trees, and generally just going berserk. Every hookup is breathtaking with the ensuing battles often short in duration.
The Cold Hard Truth:
If you have not fished tarpon, you need to; baby tarpon is a great way to get started!
Equipment for Baby Tarpon
The very same gear you use for bass works great for baby tarpon. An 8 weight fly rod and 7/8 reel with 20# backing will do the trick. Leaders are very simple: Butt section 40lb (flouro – 4 feet), Class tipped 10 -15lb (hard mono - 2 – 3 feet), Shock tippet 30 – 50 lb (2 feet).
Travel rods are great for this situation. Your wife may not even notice you packed a rod “just in case”.
If you’re going after larger juvenile “bay” fish, they can and will execute spirited runs, but you’ll rarely need more than 100 yards of backing, which you may already have on the reel. Some anglers will go to a 9 weight rod in this setting where longer casts and wind may require more backbone.
When fishing in shallow bays, you may need a guide. Your guide will typically fire up the outboard to catch up with running fish allowing you to take up line and fight them once you’re back on the flyline. This is much more common with giant tarpon than babies.
Mangrove fishing among creeks and canals is close quarters combat. Basically you’re trying to horse the fish away from the mangrove roots where trouble always awaits. Landing a fish here is even more difficult because of all the hazards. But who cares, right?
You are going to lose fish so:
- be prepared,
- learn from your mishaps, and
- look forward to the next hook-up.
Best Time and Places to Pursue Baby Tarpon
While the experts claim the best months are from April to October for hard hitting surface action, let’s be real. Most of us go to the tropics to escape the cold, if only for a week or two. I’ve had solid baby tarpon fishing in January through March, including surface action (which is supposed to peak in May to June, just like the big ones).
Don’t let a lack of in-depth fishing information stop you from searching for these fish in any tropical environment. Nearly every favored winter getaway from Florida to Honduras, including islands in the Caribbean, have tarpon nursery habitat that you can exploit. When in doubt, rent a car and take a few back roads. Ask questions at the fishing shops or marine dealers. Find out if there are canal systems anywhere in the area. If there are – they’ll be fish in them!
Care of Equipment
If you use freshwater equipment, remember to take time after each outing and thoroughly rinse off your rod, reel and line with freshwater. I like to set the rods/reels in the shower and just let it run for about 15 minutes. This typically does the trick. You can also consider reels made for saltwater with waterproof drag systems impervious to saltwater incursion. We sell a super cross-over (fresh/salt) called the Blue Crush.
Flies for Baby Tarpon
Here’s a short list. Check YouTube for tying instructions.
Seaducer ( three strands of flashabou on each side. Red/White, Red/Yellow, Red head/body
- Lefty’s Poppin’ Bug (Lg size in Yellow, White & Chartreuse)
Cockroach (Orange or Red Grizzly. same flash)
Gurgler ( Black, Tan, Red, Chartreuse – foam, white body and tail, raibowflash on the tail)
Black Death (either common feather ones or bunny)
Purple Death (either common feather ones or bunny)
Clouser Minnow (White/Red, White/Chartreuse)
*All hooks stainless steel – in 1/0 or 2/0… for clouser minnows i would tie a few extras on #2 for snook.
Click to Enlarge Photo
This box is ready to rumble for a baby tarpon excursion in early December. Stay tuned!