Bob Petti's Bass bugs

By Bob Petti

By far, the most common bug is a hard foam popper. It seems that every mail order catalog sells these popper bodies and the kinked shank popper hooks to use with them. Making one is pretty simple.
You just glue it onto the hook, paint it, coat it, then tie some stuff behind it. Except for a few details, that's about all there is to it.

Cupped face, hard foam popper with splayed tail and rubber legs
There are typically two kinds of hard foam popper heads - pencil poppers and the more traditional "cupped face" poppers. Pencil poppers, as the name suggests, are long and thin and have a flat face. These are usually fished in the "walk the dog" manner and represent a struggling baitfish (if they really represent anything at all). Cupped face poppers are used to kick up water and make a ton of noise to attract fish in rough, deep, or discolored water.
Whenever you want to make a big commotion on the surface, the cupped face popper is the fly of choice as it will "bloop" it's way across the water's surface. Pencil poppers are better suited for calmer and clearer waters were the loud sounds of a cupped face can spook the fish. You can also turn the cupped face popper around so that the "point" is in the front and you'll have a slider, another good design for calm water conditions. Sliders are particularly effective on smallmouth bass.

Pencil popper - no reason foolin' too much around.
Hard foam isn't the only kind of hard headed popper. Cork and Balsa wood are also commonly used. Although you can find some cork shaped to the typical cupped popper shape, more often than not you will have to shape the raw material yourself. Cork floats and casts well, but it's sort of a pain to work with. It tends to break apart if you're not careful when shaping it, and you really need to treat it prior to painting if you don't want your paint to soak in and look dull (who wants dull bass bugs). If you want a smooth surface, you need to fill in the pits in the cork with some sort of putty or homemade filler (cork dust and wood glue work well). On the whole, I've found that cork usually isn't worth the aggrevation that comes with it.

Balsa is a fantastic material in that it is quite easy to shape and will take paint much better than cork. All you need is a fine toothed saw and a few different grits of sandpaper and you can make a popper head to any shape you want. A primer coat of white paint is always a good idea, especially if you're striving for bright colors.

I attach hard popper bodies to the hook with a slow curing epoxy like Devcon. After wrapping the hook shank with thread, coat both the hook shank and the slot in the body with epoxy, then slide the body into place and hold it until the epoxy begins to set. Let the bug sit overnight to make sure the epoxy is fully cured. For the hard foam bugs, I dribble a little extra epoxy along the slot so that there's a slight ridge of epoxy raised above the body (I let it cure upside down). Once fully hardened, I sand this ridge flat, thus hiding the slot in the body completely. For balsa or cork bodies, I leave the slot "open", filling it later with a wood filler which I let harden before sanding it flat.

Green and yellow version of the traditional popper
You can brush paint poppers using lacquers or acrylic paints, you can use canned spray paint, or you can even use an air brush if you really want to be fancy. You can use old pieces of "overhead projector plastic" to make cutouts to spray shapes on your bugs, like stripes and spots, and you can use a variety of lace and netting to offer the impression of scales. This is where you can have all sorts of fun. It is much like model building. One word of caution - you need to be careful about the paints you select to paint the hard foam popper bodies. Many lacquers and enamels will cause the foam to "melt" and will destory the popper body. When working with the hard foam (the white stuff), stick with paints made for plastics (like model building paints) or acryclics. Neither will damage the hard foam.

Once the bug has been glued onto the hook and painted, it should be given a final coat of something thick and glossy to protect it as it is being fished. Not all "gloss coats" are compatible with all paints, so be careful here. Lately, I've been using a few coats of a spray polyurethane to coat my bugs. It is compatible with all of the paints I have used and provides a smooth, glossy, durable coat with a minimum of fuss.

Once the head is complete, all you need to do is add the tail and a weedguard if you want, and the fly is ready to be fished.

Read more about bass bugs

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