Great Old Warmwater Patterns
Peck's Poppers
 
From Terry and Roxanne Wilson**
Over eight decades ago a Chattanooga, Tennessee contractor found that his business endeavors robbed him of many opportunities for fishing. He sought his relaxation after darkness by tossing his home-fashioned cork poppers at the local bass and panfish populations. His crude but effective lures were first tied on double hooks imported from England. As European sources dried up during the First World War, Ernest Peckinpaugh began to make his bugs on single hooks. "Peck's" fly rod popping bugs had remarkable success and began to attract attention from local fishermen and friends and guides throughout the eastern United States and Canada, "...inasmuch as they were developed for night fishing, I called them night bugs," wrote their creator. With the instant success of his bug, Ernest immediately began to improve it, and thus evolved the granddaddy of all the bass bugs in existence today.
   
"Peck" resisted the temptation to market his product, preferring instead to trade them for reels, line and hooks. "Peck" continued to modify his creations by paying close attention to shaping the cork body, adding feather wings and bucktail and making them truly bass size. Eventually several of the cork poppers came into the possession of Will H. Dilg, a well known outdoor writer from Chicago. Dilg, afraid that his meager supply of lures wouldn't last the season, contacted a local fly tier and together they developed a series of bugs known as the "Mississippi River Patterns". Fueled by spectacular success with the new cork poppers, Dilg began to spread the word about his bass catches in national outdoor publications.

Almost before "Peck" was aware of it, such a great demand developed for the fly rod poppers that out of motives of self protection he began to manufacture them commercially and the formation of the E.H. Peckinpaugh Company took place in 1920. The first commercially tied cork poppers were at last on the market and bass fly rodding was changed forever.
By 1940 the E.H. Peckinpaugh catalog listed 60 different bugs and flies with hundreds of color combinations. Popular poppers that found their way into the kits. of hundreds  

of warm water flyrodders of the 30's and 40's were: the "Flash Skitter Bug", "Special Popping Minnow", "Snake Doctor", mice, frogs, and "Peck's Floating Feather Minnow", At the peak of the business, Peck's Chattanooga company annually sold about 300,000 bass bugs and flies which were handmade by nearly 100 employees. Peckinpaugh catalogs included hints to anglers, handy knots and fishing advice as well as descriptions of products. '"Peck" attributed his great success to his adherence to true to nature idea and manufactured actual replicas of insects, minnows and other fish foods. His standard was the welfare of the angler and he believed that "they could not have good sport with lures made of cheap materials hastily put together, because they will not stand up to fishing for any length of time."

E.H. Peckinpaugh passed away in 1952 at the age of 68. His son John, took over the business, and eventually in 1980, the original company was purchased by Tony Accardo and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Accardo-Peckinpaugh Company still uses the same design and techniques "Peck" utilized and they still adhere to the same formula for success. High quality American workmanship and materials have produced reliable and durable bass-catching poppers since 1910. It is re-freshing to know that bass pursued by high-tech professionals into the twenty-first century are still as vulnerable to this old standard as ever before. Since bass fly rodding is an American tradition, it seems fitting that this great old favorite is tied right here in the U.S.A. by Ameri-can tiers.

All experienced warm water fly fishers are familiar with poppers, and know generally how to fish them, but the bugs are a lot more versatile than most anglers realize. To unlock the full potential of Peck's Poppers, start with selecting the right outfit. When fishing one of the two dozen color combinations in sizes 6 and 4, a seven weight rod is an excellent choice. Size 2, 1/0 and 2/0 are best cast with an eight or nine weight outfit. Choosing the right rod facilitates casting accuracy, which is a critically important aspect of bass bug fishing. Very often, a few inches will determine whether the presentation is accepted or rejected. Casting wind-resistant poppers with an underpowered rod is difficult and open loops even with a more powerful rod are generally not possible.

Choosing the correct popper size can be extremely important. While it is good advice to let the bass tell you their preference under the particular conditions you are fishing, there are some rules of thumb to help make the selection. Generally speaking, the smaller the water, the smaller the popper. A five acre farm pond would call for a size 6 or 4. The reason for this particular case has nothing to do with the size of the fish you expect to catch, but instead relates to the size of the splash-down created by the bug and the amount of commotion created when action is initiated. A more subtle presentation is necessary for smaller waters. The smaller sizes are also an appropriate selection when very calm conditions exist. In still waters big disturbances can scare the scales off the fish you're trying to catch. Smaller is also better when you have the potential of catching smallmouth bass which usually prefer a daintier offering. Sizes 1/0 and 2/0 are the best choices when prospecting for big bass in large lakes and rivers, especially with a little chop on the surface. Unquestionably, larger bass prefer a larger meal. It's simply a matter of energy expended vs. calories ingested.

A yearling bass feeds almost constantly, but the really big ones feed only once in several days. Large bass lay nearly dormant for long periods of time, digesting their previous meal. When the next meal is finally ambushed, it will probably be large enough to keep the bass for another long stretch. That ex-plains why we don't get the chance to catch lunkers very often, and also why our choice of popper size is so important.

Too many anglers think popper presentation only involves causing the lure to "pop" and that the action is imparted by sweeping the rod tip sideways. Both assumptions are incorrect. Inducing the "pop" should be caused by stripping line rapidly. When the rod tip is yanked to the side the angler creates slack. Even if a bass strikes, the chances of a positive hook-set isn't very good. It is far better to keep the rod tip low and pointed directly at the bug. The volume of the disturbance created by the popper depends on the speed and length of the strip. This should be controlled and matched to the conditions.GeneraHy calm, clear water calls for a gentle"pop", whereas broken water or stained water may need a more vigorous retrieve.

It is also a good idea to vary the pause between pops to stimulate the fish's interest. Sometimes long periods of stillness will be irresistible and the strike will come either during the rest period or upon the slightest twitch. At other times, an almost continuous action gives the impression of an escaping meal which cannot be ignored. Frequently, making the lure "quiver' can attract fish that can't be r?ised any other way. This technique must be accomplished on a relatively short line with all slack removed. By gently shaking the rod tip horizontally the lure will shake slightly causing small ripples to appear without moving the bug forward. When recasting, be certain to remove all slack from the line and lift your offering from the water. Those flyrodders who don't cause a disturbance that is sure to send any fish in the area scurrying for deep cover. It is a common mistake.

There have been a multitude of innovative new bass fly-lures over the past decades. Most fishermen are fascinated with each new concept and it is easy to get away from old standards that have stood the test of time and bass. The old cork popper can be as versatile as the modern angler's imagination. Getting acquainted or reacquainted with Peck's Poppers will put more fish on your line and more fun in your bass fishing. [An earlier version of this article originally appeared in the Summer, 1994 FFF Quill ]


Terry and Roxanne have had articles pertaining to fly fishing for bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and shortnose gar appearing in many national magazines including: Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Journal, Warmwater Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing Quarterly, Bassmaster, Ontario Out Doors, Popular Flyfishing and the Flyfisher. Their first book, Bluegill Fly Fishing & Flies, was published in 1999. Largemouth Bass Fly Fishing, Beyond the Basics, is their second book (both Amato Press) are destined to become classics. Terry and Roxanne are life members of the Federation of Fly Fishers. They live in Bolivar, Missouri.