The Electric Seagull
An article on this fly was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Gulf Coast Fisherman magazine. The gist of it was that the fly appeals to all three popular Gulf-coast species – specks, reds, and flounder and is effective in some pretty grungy water. The name is derived from the colors – “electric chicken” – and seems to be more appropriate for a saltwater pattern than the original.
It is created almost identially to the Purple Pleasure and the Golden Rule. However, the materials are different, as is the creation of the fly’s body. It’s still pretty basic, though.
Hook – Size 1 Orvis Pre-sharpened Saltwater Hook or equivalent.
Body – Pink and chartreuse ice chenille.
Wing – Pink/Pearl and Yellow/pearl Sparkle Hair.
Eyes – “Medium” (3/16) brass hourglass.
Thread – Chartreuse Size A.
(Note: In size 1 the finished fly should be around 3″ long. However, the length can vary with the size of the hook, should you choose to tie the fly on size 2 or size 1/0 hooks. Also, “neon chartreuse” and pink “Holo Fusion” make good substitutes for the Sparkle Hair. Your choice.
With the hook in the vise point-down, wrap a base layer of thread from the hook’s eye to the start of the bend. Tie in both colors of ice chenille at that point and compactly twist them together around 20 times. Apply a drop of Super Glue to the tie-in point, then quickly advance the thread to a point around 3/8 of an inch from the hook’s eye. Now advance the twisted chenille to that point, tie it off, and trim it. Tie in the eyes (Use smaller or lighter eyes for applications in shallow water.).
Invert the hook in the vise. Tie in a clump of pink hair (Or Holo Fusion) topped by a clump of the same material in chartreuse. Trim the thread and add a drop of Super Glue to the final wraps as well as to the thread between the fly’s eyes.
I have mentioned before that I rely on three patterns for almost all of my saltwater fly fishing, varying those patterns only in size and color. And basically that holds true with the “Purple Pleasure” (For lack of a more imaginative name.). With the exception of the materials that create it, it is a ringer for “The Golden Rule”. It originated on a lark, but I never used one as long as the Golden Rule was producing. One day that very reliable fly wasn’t.
The reason, I presume, was that the water was rather cloudy, and in my experiences, darker flies work better in darker conditions. So I speculated one, and now I fish with it more than I do with the GR, even in clearer water. Reds and flounder love it! And it is much easier and quicker to tie than “The Ugly Fly”!
The tying procedure is identical to that of the GR. However, the materials are quite different. So…
Hook – Size 1 Orvis Presharpened Saltwater Hook or equivalent.
Body – Medium purple Pearl Chenille (White River Fly Shop).
Wing – Holographic purple Flashabou (Cabela’s).
Eyes – 4mm Hematite beads threaded onto 60-pound fluorocarbon (Burn the ends to lock them in place.
Thread – Any Size A metallic purple rod-winding thread you can find. And since Gudebrod went belly up, good luck!
The Size 1 when tied around three inches long gives plenty of sparkle and presence – really important when the Bay gets as dirty as it has been this Spring!
The Bent-back Bucktail
I’ve caught somewhere around a kazillion specks and reds on Clouser Minnows, mainly because I was quite fortunate in having the opportunity to fish often and because I had great confidence in the pattern. Therefore it was tied to my tippet more often than the others – well, except maybe for poppers. Still, every now and then the Clouser Minnow disappointed me. Perhaps that’s because the fish simply weren’t hungry at the time I showed them one, and occasionally I am sure that was the case. Sometimes, however, I wasn’t so certain.
The doubts began one lovely winter day while redfishing. Early on I could not buy a strike with my trusty chartreuse and white version, but I stoically accepted the lack of action because the fish I cast to were laid up and seemed very lethargic. Then, a bit after noon, I cast to a pair that were tailing actively in the shoreline shallows. One never acknowledged the fly’s presence – even after three decent presentations to it, the other followed it briefly before turning away. A while later and after a little thought, I would have bet a croaker both of those fish would have crawled all over a spinnerbait – a lure I’ve caught a tad more than a kazillion redfish on. However, I wasn’t showing them a spinnerbait at the time.
Spinnerbaits are great lures for a variety of species, saltwater and freshwater alike. That is because they have three things going for them: they have large silhouettes, they are very flashy, and they emit vibrations – pulses through the water – which fish detect through their lateral lines. A Clouser Minnow – at least those I tie – also has ample silhouette and lots of flash material within it, but it “moves” very little water while being retrieved. Most often in water of decent clarity the first two attributes are enough to generate strikes, but on days when the fish are not especially active, that third element can mean the difference between casting practice and bent rods.
An apparent solution would be a fly with a water-pushing hackle collar like a Seaducer, and that pattern is indeed effective on tight-lipped redfish in shallow, grassy areas. In being so, it does not sink very fast, but that’s a drawback if it was being used for semi-comatose specks holding over oysters in depths of four to five feet and refusing to rise very far to strike – a common scenario along the Gulf coast in winter. Then there are the oysters – and any other benthic structure – which can easily foul a fly whose hook points down. Therefore, besides generating pulses in the water, the new creation had to ride point-up like the Clouser Minnow does – and like a bend-back does. Ah ha!
By combining a few of the basic characteristics of those two excellent patterns – and adding an element that neither possesses (At least, back then I never heard of one that did.) – the “Bent-back Bucktail” evolved. The hook’s point rode up, the fly could be weighted with various-size eyes for coping with different depths and bottom types, its large bucktail wing provided good silhouette, plenty of Krystal Flash ™ made it sparkle nicely, and its body – created along the straight part of the hook’s shank with tightly-compacted crystal chenille – pushed water as well as added flash. And it proved to be a great pattern for specks and reds (and flounders and a sheepshead or two), both shallow and deep and over grass and shells. But in order for it to result in hooked fish rather than missed strikes, the first step in its construction must be done precisely.
That step – properly bending the hook’s shank – can be facilitated by using hooks with dropped points; in other words, the point is not parallel to the shank but bent very slightly toward it. The Dai-Riki “930” and the Orvis “Pre-Sharpened Saltwater Hook” are good examples. The reason this is important is that after the shank is bent, the hook’s point will be closer to being parallel to the direction of the retrieve and subsequently the hook-set than it would be with hooks without dropped points. Therefore, when you “set” it the hook will puncture rather than just scrape, as it will if the point is at an angle to the line of the hook-set.
Still, a dropped point is of little help if the bend you create in the hook’s shank is too severe. It doesn’t take much for the best results. Here’s how I do it.
A personal preference is to place the hook in the vise with its point up and then bend the shank down. I feel I have better control that way, but if it trips your trigger you can put the hook in the vise point-down and bend the shank upwards. Then I take a pair of long-nosed pliers and grasp the shank just behind the eye; for sizes 1 and 1/0 I position the pliers so that they cover about a quarter of an inch of the shank. Then I bend the shank down, ensuring that this bend is in the same plane as that which forms the hook’s gape, and like I said, it doesn’t take much! Now remove the hook from the vise and hold it so that the bent part of the shank is horizontal. If the point is close to being parallel to the horizontal part of the shank, that’s good; if the point is angled noticeably upwards, throw it away and try another hook. And never, ever, try to re-bend a bent bend-back hook! Doing so is lifetime guaranteed to cause metal fatigue in the shank which will break when you stick an outsized redfish. I know that through experience! Oh, do you know what experience is? It’s something you acquire over time which enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again!
That was just a little lagniappe, though once you make a good bend, you will be able to easily recognize those that are faulty. It may take a few tries – and a few hooks relegated to the trash basket – but that creates experience, doesn’t it?
For sure, the experiences I had with the Bent-back Bucktail were enlightening. Fact is, on several speck-trips one February I never missed with it, no matter if I was comfortably wearing insulated coveralls or just jeans and a supplex casting shirt. And redfish simply love it. In truth, though, I do not know if the fly inspires lethargic fish, because every one I have seen and cast it to attacked it with a vengeance. Perhaps none of them have been lethargic lately. Whatever, it’s a great fly. Try it – you’ll see!
Hook: Dai-Riki “930”, Orvis “Pre-Sharpened Saltwater Hook”, or equivalent with
standard-length shank and dropped point, in sizes 2 to 1/0.
Thread: Danville Flymaster Plus.
Eyes: Plastic beads, bead-chain, or brass hour-glass types, sizes and weight depending on
your desired sink-rate.
Bucktail, crystal chenille, Krystal Flash, and peacock herl.
Once the hook is properly bent, place it in the vise point-down. Start the thread in the shank’s bend, and wrap a base back into the beginning of the gape’s bend. Tie in the crystal chenille and advance the thread forward to where the bobbin hangs just in front of the hook’s point.
Apply a drop of super glue to the chenille’s tie-in point, then quickly wrap the chenille compactly and in the opposite manner as the thread-wraps (i.e. counter-clockwise vs. clockwise) to the hanging thread. Make a thread-wrap around the chenille at that point, then advance the thread to the beginning of the shank’s bend. Advance the chenille to that point, secure it with 5 or 6 tight thread-wraps, and cut off the remainder. Create a base of thread to the eye, then back to the bend, and tie in the eyes. Apply a drop of super glue to the eyes’ thread-wraps, then invert the hook in the vise.
Tie in the bucktail wing – which should be about the thickness of a pencil and between 2 and 2 ½ times the length of the un-bent hook – ahead of the eyes on top of the shank (as it is in its present position) so that it covers the hook’s point. Personally, I like to make 4 or 5 thread-wraps around the bucktail, trim any that extends over the hook’s eye, add a drop of super glue to those wraps and the butt-ends of the bucktail, and then quickly secure the bucktail; that appears to enhance the durability of the fly. Now add 8 to 10 strands of Krystal Flash on each side of the fly, making sure the tips reach or extend just past the end of the bucktail, and finish it off with a half-dozen peacock herls on top.
Show it to a speck or redfish for instant gratification.
While chartreuse Bent-back Bucktails have proven to be best along my part of the Gulf coast, I have also caught fish on purple and orange versions. Whatever you choice is, make sure the pattern is color-coordinated – the thread, crystal chenille, bucktail, and Krystal Flash are all the same color.
(Note: This pattern became my “go-to” fly between several years of preference for the Clouser Minnow and the evolution of “The Really Good One”. The reason for its fall from grace was that I finally realized I did not have to bend the hook’s shank to get almost everything I wanted out of the fly – and, I must admit, I did feel a little more secure with an un-bent hook-shank! Nevertheless, the B-b B just might be a little less prone to fouling than its successor.)
The Golden Rule
I’ve mentioned this fly a time or two – the last one in conjunction with the Great Rockefeller Flounder Stomp of May 2011 – and never related its particulars. So…
Basically the fly is created in the same fashion as the “really good one” except for its body (Gold chenille “stems”) and its wing (Gold “icicles” from the Christmas Shoppe). Those components were purchased from Hobby Lobby and, comparatively speaking, were dirt cheap!
I make the eyes out of either black hematite beads for deeper water or glass beads for the skinny stuff. Size 1 about 2 1/2 inches long is about right for reds and flounder. As a last note, the wire that carries the chenille may be subject to corrosion, so be aware. I toss them after a trip, just to be on the safe side.
The Perch-float Popper
This one evolved out of pure aggravation! I simply got fed up with having to shape my popper-bodies out of wine-bottle corks and crab-trap floats. The perch-floats came ready-shaped, they hold up well, and considering the costs of fly-shop popper bodies, they are CHEAP!
And they are quite effective on both reds and specks (And one particular tripletail!).
Bodies: Small cylindrical foam perch-floats (Use those from Comal Tackle Company about 1 1/2 inches long for the smaller sizes and Bett’s “Billy Boy Bobbers” that are roughly the same length but thicker for the larger sizes.).
Hooks: Orvis Pre-sharpened Saltwater hooks, or equivalent, in size 4 to 1/0.
Thread: Danville “Flymaster Plus”.
Testor’s Model Enamel
Pipe Cleaners (The white soft and absorbable type)
Single-edge razor blade
Cut a perch-float to match the size of the particular hook. The resulting “face” should be beveled slightly, resulting in one side (The bottom) being shorter than the other (The top).
Make two longitudinal cuts across the body’s bottom and no further apart than the diameter of the intended hook’s shank, creating a slot in it. Save the “slot material” and trim it to allow for the diameter of the hook’s shank.
Cut a piece of pipe cleaner to fit the length of the hole through the body (On the larger sizes you may have to double the pipe cleaner to fill the hole.).
Tightly wrap the shank of the hook with thread from the eye about 2 /3 of the way to the start of the bend. This thread and the pipe cleaner will form a fairly solid bond between the hook and the popper’s body.
Now, insert the pipe cleaner part-way into the hole in the body, place a drop or two of Super Glue on it, and push it the remainder of the way into the body. Then quickly place another drop of glue onto the hook’s thread-wraps and slide the shank into the slot on the bottom of the body. Finally, take the piece of “slot-material” and replace it into the slot to cover the hook’s shank. Allow a few minutes for the Super Glue to dry and then trim the rough edges with the razor.
The bodies can now be dressed with the bucktail and other materials and painted with the enamel paint. On that note, I suggest cutting a pipe cleaner into three equal lengths and using them to apply the paint. When you are done, simply throw them away.
No clean-up mess that way.
The Evolution of a Really Good One!
Sometime around 1990 I began to fly fish with a purpose for creatures other than reds. Although I had taken several varieties of saltwater species on flies prior to that time, in most cases they were “incidental”. Whatever, it didn’t take long for me to discover that the poppers I used almost exclusively for reds were often not the best choices for the others.
The first step into a scientific solution was a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow – a very effective all-round “sinking” fly. At one time that fly in size 2/0 was responsible for the top speck and the top red in the fly fishing division of the state’s fishing records. In smaller sizes it wreaked havoc with skillet material, and I could have very well continued along, firmly adhering to the quite appropriate adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!”
However, being of the mind that virtually everything could be “improved”, I decided to add a body to that fly in order for it to displace – or “push” – more water during its retrieve, that property supposedly making it easier for the fish to detect it. The “body” seemed to be added most easily by creating the fly in a “bendback” pattern, and for a year or so I stuck with those in lieu of Clouser Minnows.
And they did okay, though not noticeably better than the plain-vanilla Clouser. And no matter how minor the bend was in the hook’s shank, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the bend created a weak point in the shank. So, eventually I headed back to the drawing board.
The solution to everything was simply to tie a “Bend-back” without bending its back! Nowdays, with the exception of poppers, that type – in various sizes and color combinations – is literally all I use while fishing inshore. It’s a really good one – take heed.
Hooks: Sizes 4 to 4/0, x-strong, standard to 1x-long, stainless, forged, and with a micro barb and a helluva sharp point!
Thread: G in color to match the rest of the fly.
Body: Ice chenille sized to match the hook and same general color as the fly.
Wing: Bucktail in the same color and 2 to 2 1/2 times the length of the hook’s shank (A bit longer on the largest flies. A size 3/0 or 4/0 fly some 5 inches long is just right.).
Krystal Flash in the same color.
Brass hourglass eyes sized for the particular-sized hook.
Place the hook into the vise with the point down, and wrap a thread-base from just behind the eye to the start of the bend. At that point tie in the body material (ice chenille) and advance the thread about half-way back up the shank.
Apply a drop of Super Glue to the thread-wraps that secure the body-material, then compactly wrap the chenille to the hanging thread. Over-wrap the chenille one time there, then advance the thread to a point just far enough behind the hook’s eye to allow placing the eyes and tying in the bucktail. Advance the body-material to the hanging thread, tie it off there and trim it. Tie in the hour-glass eyes on the outside of the shank there and add a drop of Super Glue to the wraps across the eyes.
Invert the hook in the vise (Now point-up). Secure the bucktail “wing” with a half-dozen thread-wraps, add a drop of Super Glue to them, and then secure the wing tightly. Tie 6 to 8 pieces of Krystal Flash to each side of the fly and the same amount of herl (Or maybe a bit more) to the top, ensuring that all reach to or near the ends of the bucktail. Whip finish and add a drop of Super Glue to the final thread-wraps.
(Note: Solid chartreuse, olive, and purple are effective on specks, reds, and flounder. Use sizes 2 to 1/0 in general, and 2/0 in the surf and other big-fish spots. Big jacks, bull dolphin, king mackerel, and bull redfish seem to appreciate the larger sizes best.)
Redfish DO Eat Poppers!
Once upon a time a buddy – who was not then a fly fisherman but who soon saw the light – and I were chunking spinnerbaits along the edge of a big bay near my old home in the Mississippi River Delta. At the back of a broad pocket in the grass, a redfish suddenly made a rowdy pass at a minnow, then began moving slowly along the shoreline with its back exposed.
“I think I’ll catch that one on a fly”, I muttered. Then after stowing the casting rod, I took up my 8-weight outfit – which was already strung up and armed with a popper in its ever-present combo-case, stripped out 50 feet or so of line, and while doing so noticed that the red had changed course and was swimming toward the boat. At around 40 feet I dropped the popper a little short of the oncoming fish, gave it a couple of soft bloops, and the red surged ahead and crashed it like an alligator eating an egret!
A short while after I had released the fish and re-cased the fly rod, my buddy – who had been silent for some time – softly stated
“Man, that was fine art!”
Well, I don’t know about that, though I did feel fairly flattered by the comment. Still, the truth is poppers are simply excellent flies for redfish!
And if you have some previously-acquired negative conditioning about that because of what some philistines have long proclaimed to be the fish’s “inferior mouth”, I suggest you try to lose it ASAP! They do quite nicely when feeding on top, thank you very much!
I am certain that well over half of the 1000-plus reds that I have caught on fly fell to poppers. The first red I caught on fly in Louisiana waters ate one in size 4 that I was speculating for largemouth bass. Poppers also contributed to the best fly-fishing butt-kicking I ever put on these fish – 23 in one morning! No matter whether one is sight-fishing or blind-casting, these flies work!
And the strikes they generate are guaranteed to add some fine entertainment to your day on the water! However, to enjoy that entertainment to the max, there are some parameters that should be met for the best use of this fly. First of all, poppers should only be used in water less than three feet or so deep (Less than two feet is much better!) or when the fish are feeding near the surface of deeper water.
Generally speaking, as the water’s depth decreases or its clarity increases, the size of the popper should decrease. For instance, when prospecting oysters or other forms of benthic structure in 2 to 3-foot depths, I prefer a size 1/0 version some 3 inches long. In water shallow enough to allow tails and backs to become apparent, a size 1 between 2 and 2 ½ inches long has proven to be better. And in areas where the water is a LOT clearer than in those where I have mostly fished, a size 4 around 1 1/2 inches long is often preferred. Those extremes will probably vary with different areas, so simply use the first sentence in this paragraph as a rule of thumb.
The weather also plays an important role in the best use of poppers. Cloudy days have never been as productive as bright ones, and calm bright days always seem to be the best. Use smaller-sized poppers on those and slightly larger ones on the days when the surface is a bit ruffled. And if it’s choppy, chunk a spinnerbait! Also, falling or low tides have been most productive in the areas I’ve fished, but that may differ in other places. The point here is to use a popper in the proper conditions rather than a “sinking something” in the waters you normally fly fish for reds!
While prospecting with a popper – and that can be around grassy points and pockets along a shoreline as well as atop benthic structure in more open water – the best retrieve seems to consist of steady, moderately-paced soft pops. Create it with line-strips and the rod’s tip held low and pointed directly at the fly. And if a sudden and rather unexpected watery explosion doesn’t shatter your concentration (i.e. “Blow your skull!”), set the hook with a single firm line-strip.
That’s all pretty plain-vanilla stuff, but it changes rather radically when you are sight-fishing. Then you get to watch the fish’s entire attack unfurl before you. Here’s where it gets really easy to snatch the fly away from the eager fish (Been there/done that a bunch!).
My only explanation on why it’s so much easier to do that with a popper than with a “sinking something” is that when using one of the latter types, most folks wait for a tug before yanking. On the other hand, folks accustomed to fly fishing for freshwater creatures with floating flies yank at the first sign of a strike – at least I do. Whatever, strive to control your reactions as the fish turns to the popper and attacks it. Keep up the retrieve, and only yank – again with a line-strip – after you feel the tell-tale tug! Sound easy? Just wait!
While prospecting, there is no way of telling how your popper is moving along in relation to the fish’s position. Conversely, you can tell it easily when you can see the fish, and the importance of the fly NOT approaching a red seems to be much greater with poppers than with sinking flies. This is especially critical in very shallow water.
If possible, try to place the fly about two feet ahead of and on or slightly – slightly! – beyond the line of the fish’s movement. A little further ahead – but not too much – is better than a little less!
Unlike specks, redfish seldom attempt to “stun” a popper before they eat it – a strike is almost always 100% business! However, there are times when a red will follow a popper for a short distance and then turn away from it. And if I suggested what to do to convince any such fish to eat, the odds are pretty good that I’d be wrong!
Continuing the retrieve at the same pace usually – usually! – doesn’t work. Sometimes a brief pause followed by the resumption of the same retrieve does, but an overall slowing of the retrieve doesn’t. Usually! And it seems that speeding up the retrieve never does! Not for me, anyway! Hopefully, you won’t encounter many of these tentative fish, but you will probably run across some of them. When you do – well, good luck! But try the brief pause.
Poppers that are effective for reds can be found in many shapes, colors, and sizes in coastal fly shops as well as in mail-order catalogs. I would avoid pencil-poppers, since their focal points – the eyes – are so far from the hook’s point, and that could result in missed strikes. Whatever, a recipe for creating one that has accounted for most of my popper-caught reds can be found in “Fly Fishing the Louisiana Coast” (Countryman Press, 2004 – Come on, man, I’ve gotta plug my book occasionally!). Anyway, try ‘em the next time you are in a suitable setting – you’ll be well entertained!
(Fly Fish America 9-2007)