Summer heat, deer hair and lily pads share one thing in common - Bugs. Deer hair ones, built for the jaws of hungry bass and the trials of being ripped through a lily pad jungle. They range from spectacular works of art in sizes built to entice ten pound bass and pike into a feeding frenzy; to plain colored variations tied small enough to bring a decent sized bluegill to the top. They are the soup-de-jour of summer. I have an affinity for them and have since a very young age. At 10 years of age my first fly rod came along with a handful of wet flies. Parmachene Belles, Cowdungs, Royal Coachman Wets and Black Gnats just to name a few. Bluegills loved them. And since most of my fishing at the time was a farm pond that was within a 5 minute walk away, I was living in my own little fly fishing utopia. But all the magazines would talk about top-water fishing. The "rise" was not something in my repertoire at that point of life. But I wanted it to be.
However, not being a fly tyer at the time and knowing no other fly fisherman who could help a young fisherman out, I had to take matters into my own hands; literally. The next weekend of the summer found me shoveling out horse and calving stalls at the local farm, tossing bales of hay down into the barnyard and schlepping milk cans from the stanchions to the bulk tanks. That following Monday found me on my bike, two miles down the road at the Black Crow bait shop and staring once more at the wall cards of Gaines poppers as usual. Only this visit I had come armed with hard earned cash. I was the only patron in the place at 10 am on a Monday. The owner's wife had opened for me as was normal, since he didn't open himself on weekdays until after working his normal day job. She stood patiently at the register waiting for me to make my very difficult decision, with the sound of the minnow tank aerators the only sound in the small shop. It was tough. Although I knew nothing about anything I was looking at and there were so many danged colors! In the end, I went all out. Copying something I had seen in an article of Field–and-Stream magazine I chose a clear plastic 10 compartment box, and then put 2 of each of my 10 selections in in each compartment. I remember her looking at everything as I placed it on the counter. Her questionable eye was obvious. I had seen it before in my Mom at times of trouble which scared me a bit, but I held my ground stoically as she asked me if I wanted "all" of it. A firm nod and a "Yes ma'am" confirmed it. I was already holding out my hard-earned twenty dollar bill as she totaled things to $15 and looked up. She laughed at me as she took my money and asked, "Birthday or chores?"
"Neither" I replied, "I'm working at Dents Farm."
Her eyebrows lifted a tad bit and she smiled. "Good for you" she said and handed me my small bag of gear. I threw a "thank you" over my shoulder as I ran out the door. The sound of the screen door slamming on its spring was the last sound I heard before I was peddling down the gravel road. I was ready.
Within 10 minutes of arriving home everything was neatly aligned in the box and tucked safely in my shoulder creel. At the pond, things went surprisingly well. Casting had come fairly easy to that point now, so all I had to do was keep my poppers out of the weeds. With my very first cast things began to click. As I had read in the articles, you cast it out, wait for the rings to dissipate on the surface, and then give your popper a quick twitch. The cycle is repeated until your fly is either taken, or you reach the bank. Well, for the next 2 hours my little poppers never made it to the bank without at least a strike. The return trip home found me lugging a stringer of fat bluegills over my shoulder. I had experienced the "rise" and I was hooked from that point forward. Bluegill filets were my treat for dinner.
That moment in time occurred 41 summers ago. Yet it is a vividly clear memory for me, and I am thankful for that. Last weekend I took my youngest son, who had just turned 11, to a local pond. He's still working on his casting, and though he had caught some fish on a fly they had all been with a nymph/indicator rig. We tied on a small deer hair popper that I now tie at my own bench and within moments he was smiling over a ten inch bass that had sucked in his offering. I had watched in anticipation as he listened to my instructions, and felt an involuntary flinch as the swirl appeared beneath his popper. It was as if I was willing him to set the hook. By the end of the evening he had landed a half dozen fish and he was securely hooked on fishing poppers. "These flies are so cool Dad" was his comment each time he would look into my fly box to change patterns. I could see the wonderment in his eyes as he tried to make a decision on which popper to choose next. "Let's use this yellow and black one".
"Yellow works Bud", I replied with a smile. And with that I was right back in the Black Crow bait shop staring up at those cardboard popper cards.