Fly Rod Plugs and Big Bass Bugs
Outers’ Recreation Magazine
By Sheridan R. Jones
There are two classes of anglers to whom this article will have little appeal. One is the ultra-artistic, simon-pure connoisseur of tufted terminals; the other, the dyed in-the-wool heaver of wooden blocks-the plug artisan. These two extremes we can never hope to interest in anything other than their own hobbies and we shall, of necessity, anticipate the flood of anathemas customarily poured upon the heads of those who dare to tread a path midway between. Having thus announced our willingness to accept rebuke we shall proceed, with the assurance that by far the larger numbers of anglers are interested in all phases of the art of taking ﬁsh rather than in the perfection of some special branch.
Fly-rod plugs are not exactly new, being on the market now for several years, and yet they may be considered as new offerings for the rank and ﬁle of the angling fraternity. Many of us have tried them out as occasion offered, yet few have given the little fellows a thorough testing. This has, in part, been due to the fact that we have been fed on ﬂy and plug dope until we have become purists unintentionally. However that may be, the little bugs have kept coming and have kept pushing their way into the tackle store show-cases, and not a few tackle kits, until they present a reality with which the angler must reckon.
Fly-rod plugs have evolved from the ordinary bass plug. For many years bait-casters have been demanding lighter and smaller offerings as the fact developed that miniature lures were as successful as, if not more so than, the larger styles, could carry less points effectively, could be cast with a more responsive rod, and were in many other ways more satisfactory. Compare the modern “baby” casting plug with the old dreadnaught of former years. What more natural result than the development of a plug sufficiently small to be handled with the fairy wand! Fly-rod plugs just had to come—there was no way to keep them off the market. And now the question arises in the mind of the angler—is a plug of this size too small to make good on large fish? What is the testimony? Unquestionably they will make good, for they already have shown themselves capable of turning the trick with regularity.
We have been amused at one criticism. A brother writer dared to include some mention of the little fellows in a preachment on fly-fishing and was held up to scorn because the ﬂy-rod plugs caught “only the large trout.” We wonder if that is not a sufficient recommendation in itself. From practically all quarters as well as from our own experience, we hear nothing but praise for these little offerings as takers of large ﬁsh, both trout and bass as well as others. Our largest small-mouth of last season could not resist a tiny plug— aluminum color with red head—and the way he hit it gave evidence that he very much desired said tiny plug.~ Another, nearly as large, tried to get, away with a little fellow—all red—_ that steps in imitation of his dancing big brother; while still a third, a large mouth of some worthy weight,‘ played “keeps” with a miniature wiggler—the first ﬂy-rod plug put on the market. Unquestionably they will make good on large fish.
In design these little plugs resemble regulation bass lures that have had wide and successful use during the past six or eight years. They retain much of the action of their parents, when used with a gut leader. and are very attractive at times when the larger bait-casting offerings fail to connect with regularity. In fact, the fly-man will shift to twelves and often make a killing when eights and tens draw a blank and this when using the same pattern of fly. The bait will often have success by using a very small minnow when the regular large bass sizes do not attract much attention. It is just so with these little plugs. Sometimes the large ﬁsh seem to want them and nothing else—then if the angler will present a ﬁy-rod plug via the ﬂy-rod, he is in for the time of his life.
We prefer a nine and one-half foot, rather stiff rod for this work. Weighing in the neighborhood of five and one-half or six ounces. A light, high quality steel tool is ideal, though the lures may be cast from a split stick or solid wood rod without danger of injuring its action in the least—due to their light weight and the case with which they can be picked up from the water. In fact, they can be handled with practically if not quite the same ease as an ordinary fly, since they bob quickly to the surface when given a bit of slack and can be picked up from the surface of the water for the back cast.
At least a three foot leader should be used. We prefer a six foot leader and have used leaders practically the length of the rod, though we can see no reason for going beyond six feet. The line may well be tapered—(What ﬂy-casting line is not bettered by having a taper?)—-yet the level line will do nicely for all work with the tiny plugs and one who is not a ﬂy-caster will not need to go for the extra expense which a single or double taper makes necessary. Of course it goes without saying that the line must be of the enameled variety as is the case in all ﬂy-casting work. And let us warn you right here, brother angler, if you undertake the casting of the ﬂy-rod plugs you are doomed. The next step will be bass bugs and then—regulation flies. So you might as well purchase with a thought for the future.
We will mention the reel simply because it rounds out our discussion of tackle. Mention, mind you, for we know better than to suggest what reel the fly-caster should use. There is only one requirement, and that will not be important when single, double and quadruple multipliers are all made in small, light sizes, the reel should be single action to get it small, out of the way, of proper balance for your rod, and as a place to store the extra line when not in use. On the proper rod we like an automatic—wait a minute, ye sportsmanship, self-elected critics —because it takes up the spare line so cleanly and quickly. We like an automatic, though we play our ﬁsh from the line and not from the reel even though this is an automatic pattern. When we hear some of these “expert” critics talk about an angler who “hooks his ﬁsh, presses a button and lets the reel wind in the luckless ﬁsh” it is amusing to say the least. But then the woods are full of critics who get their experience from the printed page of a catalog, and whose sole ambition is to see their names at the top or bottom of a screed on sportsmanship or a code of ethics for the other boys whose feet have sought out the wilderness trails or who take educated ﬁsh from streams close in.
When one reads the advertisement of a certain ﬂy-rod plugs the idea forms that this is the only pattern that will take ﬁsh. Turn another page and another plug is the only successful offering. And yet again, another. How shall we select the proper pattern? Our own feeling is that we must have all of them. When we ﬁnd any lure that takes ﬁsh with reasonable regularity—we are ready for some other pattern, for our hobby is testing out lures of all kinds. For the angler who desires a ﬂy-rod plug just to catch ﬁsh, we would recommend that he purchase the pattern that corresponds to the large sized plug he prefers for bait-casting. Of course we have a favorite bass plug—what angler hasn’t—but we also have an angling friend who says it isn’t worth a tinker’s damn. So, to be satisﬁed, get a ﬁy-rod plug like your favorite bass plug. You will know that this type catches ﬁsh for you and this fact will breed confidence. If you have no favorite—then, of course, you are a beginner at the casting game—get two or three kinds and go to it. They are all good, no doubt about it.
The bass bugs are really little surface plugs dolled up with fancy feathers and buck-tail. The ﬂy-rod plugs are the under waters of this class and imitate minnows. The bass bugs are, as we have said, the tiny surface lures that are made to imitate real bugs and “things” that fall and struggle upon the surface of the water. The tackle may be the same for both types of lures, though we would recommend strongly that the rod be split bamboo, the line tapered and the leader either tapered or very fine. The idea is to cast these bugs so that they will ﬂutter down upon the surface—a point that is not important in the case of the tiny plug. Will you break the fine leader? Sure! Break a heavy one just as quickly, too, for when a bass hits a “bug” and gets the right kind of a snap, he is no respecter of leaders, hooks or men‘s fondest hopes!
hooks or men‘s fondest hopes! When we say has “bugs” at the present time, we mean any and all of a number of types of heavy-bodied floating flies. Some of these have been made in imitation of old favorite bass flies such as Professor, Silver Doctor, et al. This is especially true of bugs that have been made smaller for trout. At least one type, an old one not really a modern “bug” but a good lure at that, is tied after the pattern of a surface bass fly that walked off with the big end of a fishing contest a few years back. One group has a body of hair or buck-tail with colored decorations, while still others have cork bodies plus feathers, hair and buck-tail in a variety of patterns that have stood the test of taking ﬁsh, though not strictly patterned after existing flies of standard design. They all have bugs but, usually, when an angler speaks of a “bug” he has in mind the latter group.
We agree heartily with Mr. Dilg, who wrote so entertainingly on the subject in the May issue, that anglers should keep in mind the fact that a few patterns of the cork bodied bass bugs have been standardized, that is, named as are the regular flies for trout and bass. These standard patterns should always be tied in the same way by every manufacturer putting out “bugs.” If any maker thinks he has a better pattern, or a good pattern we should say, let him give it a name and everyone else should “lay off” that bug or else call it by the same name. In time we will then have a selection of named bugs that we will know by name and, should an angler desire a St. John‘s Pal or a Munson’s Moonbeam, he can call for it and get it just as easily as a Coachman or a Black Gnat. The manufacturers owe this to the anglers and we believe that anglers generally will see to it that this comes to pass by purchasing their bugs from ﬁrms that adopt a standard series of patterns. Why not? A yellow body with black stripes, red tail, blue and yellow legs and peacock wings will not take any more bass or sell any quicker if called a Munson‘s Moonbeam than if called by its right name —-Chadwick’s Sunbeam! Let’s have a standard for all patterns and stick to it. No manufacturer can get a patent on a combination of colored feathers to be used as a fishing ﬂy, or on the color of a bug‘s body. Let them protect the shape of the body, the fastening of the hook, and so on, but why mess things up by trying to rename a bug that is already being used and is already named. Let’s see that this thing is done.
We hope that no bug will be standardized, however, unless it has distinct merit, for we certainly do not need the vast collection of patterns in bass bugs that confronts the trait angler—far from it. We are getting a good start in that direction just now and a timely word to slow up is not out of place.
Bug fishing is more artistic than ﬂy-rod plugging. This is because the tiny plugs are wobblers or wigglers and, in a measure, will work a well for one angler as another. The bass bugs, being surface lures, must be tip handled to give them life and the angler who can put more real life into the bug will catch more ﬁsh. Our own belief is that a bass bug, to be properly handled, requires more artistic skill than that employed in casting the dry ﬂy successfully. The angler can put more individuality into a bug than into the dry ﬂy, for it will respond better to tip manipulation than the ﬂy due to its construction. Of course we do not class trout “bugs” with the regular ﬂoaters. It is easier to lay a bug successfully than a dry ﬂy but to properly handle one so as to pull a strike from a sulker is an art that is not surpassed in any branch of the casting game, bar none. More than once we have heard an angler remark that the “bugs” were only good on the Upper Mississippi. This is a great mistake and is due, no doubt, to the fact that this water furnishes ideal conditions for bass to feed on the surface and that it was on the Upper Mississippi where the lures were really developed. But, while there are many waters where surface feeding is practically unknown, there are still some spots in practically every locality where the ﬂoaters will do excellent work. Where the bass are to be found chasing minnows in shallow areas, breaking water occasionally in their mad dashing to and fro, there is the spot to cast the bass bug. Where a creek joins a stream or lake is, perhaps, the most fruitful water unless it be a river which closely emulates the Upper Mississippi conditions—clay banks, rising abruptly from the water‘s edge, miniature or real wing dams or points that reach out and break the current, overhanging grassy banks commanding quiet water close to the current areas, and other like situations that the ordinary fly-caster would select.
One cannot try out the merits of bugging with one or two of the lures. Bass seem to be mighty particular, often turning down a formerly successful offering completely for days at a time yet smashing away at another that carries a slightly different color combination only. It is best, therefore, to carry and try out several different styles in order to make sure of a proper selection. It is our opinion, also, that the bug should always be presented on the surface, not submerged with a spinner or spoon attached. Where the latter type of fishing is indicated that the regular bass ﬂy is to be preferred since the cork-bodied ﬂy does not give as good a presentation for spinner work. It has been designed for surface work and there it should stay. It is not a spoon lure, but a struggling, surface-riding bug. We have not endeavored, in this article, to give directions on the casting and play of either ﬂy-rod plugs or bass bugs. Rather it has been our purpose to direct the attention of the brotherhood to these two, practically new, lure fields wherein an opportunity to enjoy the great sport abounds. We might summarize the regularly accepted styles of fishing 3 follows: Still-fishing, trolling, skittering, bait-casting, spinner-casting, ﬂy rod plug-casting, bug-casting, nymph-fishing, wet ﬂy-casting and the dry-ﬂy proper. One is just as sportsmanlike as another, but some are the more artistic. But, during the coming summer and fall, do not fail to try out the ﬂy-rod plugs and the bass bugs.