turned off the outboard engine and quietly eased the trolling motor
into the cool springtime water of the big oxbow lake. As our boat
glided into the pocket of calm water by the cypress trees, I spotted
some movement by a partially exposed cluster of downed branches.
I made a couple of false casts and dropped the "Clay's Hopper"
and Tussle Bug dropper combination at the outer edge of the area
of movement. The hopper was pulled under so swiftly that I almost
couldn't keep up with it. I was happy to discover when I pulled
the slack out of the fly line that the fish was still on, and after
a couple of mini tarpon-like jumps, I landed the big bluegill. We
caught bluegill on almost every cast for the next ten minutes. Several
times we each had doubles. Jack and I worked the hopper- dropper
rigs from the outside edges inward until we finally got to the middle
of the bed.
fished for several more hours in the morning, finding more bedding
fish, until we were ready for lunch and then headed back to the
lodge. Except for the flies we lost on underwater stumps and other
cover, the ones we had used all morning were ready to be used again
in the afternoon. Unlike many of the other commonly used flies for
panfish which tend to fall apart after ten or twenty good fish,
these woven flies are so durable; they can catch up to 100 fish
and still look like new.
are many weaving techniques utilized by fly tiers. There is the
shuttle weave, commonly used in Polish nymphs, the Potts weave,
the half hitch weave which produces nice vertical stripes, and the
checker weave sometimes used for insect bodies. I am sure I am leaving
out a few others. My favorite for simplicity, durability, and overall
appearance is the overhand knot weave.
overhand knot weave is just a series of overhand knots using two
strands of material. The finished body of a fly done with this type
of weave has a dark top section, two lateral stripes running the
length of the body on each side, and a light colored belly. I first
saw the overhand knot weaving technique demonstrated by Mike Verduin.
It impressed me so much that I went home the very evening I watched
him tie, and practiced the weave over and over until I was able
to tie a reasonable replica of his Catalpa Worm. Soon I began to
formulate some original ideas for flies using the overhand knot
weave. The Tussle Bug was the culmination of several prototypes
that all caught fish.
first problem was that the resulting flies coming from of some of
those early experiments in weaving were
just plain unattractive. I thought that I might have to thread a
worm on the end of the hook to get the fish to eat them, but amazingly,
that old cliché proved to be right about ugly flies catching
fish- which led to a second problem. If tied correctly woven flies
don't wear out. You have to lose them to get rid of them.
I settled for a cross between a Clouser minnow, a Charlie, and a
jig. I call the little fly a Tussle Bug. Not only is it attractive
to the fish, but it is also attractive to the fisherman. It probably
works best in the spring and fall for bedding bream and crappie,
although I am told that a friend caught a speckled trout on one
about a year ago. It can be fished by simply letting it fall nearly
to the bottom and then stripping it back in, or it can be fished
under the Clay's Hopper for a slower presentation. The Tussle Bug
was originally tied with micro dumbbell eyes, however later versions
were tied with bead chain eyes, or with melted mono eyes for varying
rates of descent.
one trip to the lake, Jack and I caught about as many bluegill and
Chinquapin (red ears) as we were interested in cleaning -all on
Tussle Bugs. We let them fall nearly to the bottom and used a short,
strip style retrieve. We released probably as many fish as we kept.
Two weeks later, we returned to the same area and the results were
abysmal. I decided to try to come up with a pattern that dropped
more slowly through the water column and had some wiggle to it.
The result was the "Cajun Tickler". This fly has a bead
head, six legs, a thorax that is palmered with peacock herl, and
a woven abdomen section.
next trip to the lake proved to be as action packed as the first.
The "tickler's" legs slowed the drop and created movement.
The peacock herl provided just a bit of flash that wouldn't spook
a more wary bream. The "Cajun Tickler" is probably even
better suited for fishing under the "Clay's Hopper".
"Clay's Hopper" is probably one of the happiest accidents
I have ever encountered. I needed a hopper that would be able to
float and suspend a Tussle Bug with dumbbell eyes. Those made me
look to craft foam because of its high buoyancy. A lot of the foam
patterns out there look two dimensional to me. I thought I could
incorporate the woven butt section and make a really nice looking
hopper that would be more realistic. As it turned out, this fly
exceeded my expectations. I love to fish with just the hopper alone.
Bass love it, bream love it, and I think it is one of the most "realistic-
attractor" patterns that I have had the pleasure of fishing
with. My five year old son Clay loves it too, for obvious reasons.
He keeps one clamped in his vise on his desk" just for show".
you desire to fish the Clay's Hopper with a dropper, I would suggest
connecting the dropper fly to the eye of the hopper with about 12
inches of lighter line in between. That way if you get hung up,
you may be able to break the dropper off and save your hopper. I
like connecting the dropper to the eye of the hopper as opposed
to the hook bend because I think it gives both flies' better actions.
In summary I believe that bream, like bass, sometimes desire a top
water fly, sometimes they want one near the bottom almost stirring
up mud, at other times they prefer a suspended fly, and still other
times they will aggressively strike a fly that descends slowly through
the water column. Of course, fly color and, or hue is also a factor
here. The fly fisherman needs to be able to determine which type
of presentation their quarry will be most receptive to. Sometimes
it may be just a single fly, and at other times a combination of
two types, like the dropper sequence described, will work best.
Always work from the outside of a bream bed inward. That way you
stand a better chance of not spooking the other bream in the area.
The larger males are generally hanging around the middle of the
bed and if you cast there first, the resulting battle will likely
scatter the rest of the fish.
experimentation mixed in with some woven flies can't help but produce
frequent successful fishing trips and many great memories.
patterns for the Tussle Bug, Cajun Tickler and Clay's Hopper can
be found in the Bluegill Jar of Flies.