The BULKhead Deceiver
January 29, 2016
The BULKhead Deceiver—recently named and unveiled to fly tiers—is yet another one of those brilliantly simple ideas that has rattled around Bob Popovics's fertile fly-tying imagination for years.
It builds on the Bucktail Deceiver by lending it a different, fuller profile, and revamped attitude in the water.
It also manages to exploit some neglected material—the bucktail base fibers that most of us typically discard.
Best of all, it has a remarkably lifelike action in the water; it breathes, undulates, and suspends like few other flies. And it's so simple, it has many fly tiers scratching their heads, wondering "Why didn't I think of that?"
The BULKhead springs from two design principles, one based on the pattern's tapered profile, and the other on its intended behavior in the water. It is well worth heeding both principles when learning to tie this particular pattern and tailoring it to imitate the various baitfish we encounter in salt water.
I learned about this fly by presenting Popovics with a fly-tying problem that had puzzled me for years. Like many tiers, I love flies with spun deer-hair heads and bodies, and have spent countless hours spinning, trimming, and carving elaborate color schemes and shapes, creating everything from poppers to divers to sliders.
As effective as all these shapes are, they are not imitative of the smooth profile of a baitfish. Most conspicuously, flies spun with standard deer belly hair inevitably have an interruption in their profile where the spun head meets some kind of collar or tail.
The Muddler is a great fly, but its shape does not resemble a pilchard, mullet, or peanut bunker, because the head is unnaturally separate and distinct from the body.
I asked Popovics if he'd developed a way to create the unbroken lines of a baitfish with spun hair, and he responded enthusiastically with: "Don't use the belly hairâ€”use the fibers from the base of a bucktail."
Near the bottom of most bucktails is an inch or two of comparatively hollow hair that flares when tied to a hook shank. It's typically longer than belly hair, only hollow from the base of the fibers about halfway up, and it flares less radically than belly hair.
I spun a few bugs with these otherwise unused bucktail fibers, laying the tapered ends back and spinning the hollow butts, and basically ended up with the same problem I'd always had—an untidy separation between the spun and trimmed head and the body of the fly. The BULKhead Deceiver can be tied in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes to imitate a host of baitfish types.
Popovics overcomes this problem by building the fly from back to front. Once he reaches the front third of the hook shank, he uses the hollow hair from the base of the bucktail and layers the hollow, spun butts of those hairs under each succeeding collar of tapered fibers.
The technique is more easily illustrated than described in words, but the key is creating an uninterrupted taper from head to tail while still realizing the benefits of a spun head.
The second design principle at play is the interaction between a sparse, tapered tail and a bulky, dense spun-hair head. The bulk at the head of the fly creates currents and turbulence that cause the wispy tail to kick in a lifelike manner.
A properly tied BULKhead nails this action like few other flies, because the rear collars of bucktail—already mobile on their own—are swished from side to side, like a fishtail, from the turbulence washing over the uneven butts near the wide front of the fly.
Moreover, the hollow butts in the low-density head gives the fly neutral buoyancy. The fly hovers in the surf just where you want it, near the surface with a kicking tail and breathing body. Stripers can't resist it, and no doubt a mangrove snook, laid-up tarpon, pike, or bucketmouth waiting in ambush will find it equally irresistible.
The BULKhead is a simple pattern, comprised of only one material, but it does require a little practice and, more important, an understanding of the purposes of the technique. The goal is to layer spun butt fibers under tapered fibers, creating an inner mass of irregularly trimmed butts under a smooth outer shell of tapered bucktail.
It helps to evenly trim the innermost fibers of the butts before posting them back with thread wraps. Doing so pre-tapers the butts and avoids having a distinct, uniform line of butt fibers showing through the outer skin of tapered fibers.
Once you are done tying the fly, dip it in water, squeeze the tapered ends of the bucktail down to expose the inner spun butts, and trim some more. This helps you isolate those errant hairs that can spoil the profile.
Finally, take Bob's advice and don't make the fly "too perfect," as he admonished me, because the irregularity of the variously trimmed butts only improves the BULKhead's action.
You're not aiming for the tightly spun outer surface of a bass bug, but rather some deliberately imperfect density inside the tapered bucktail.
Since the technique and materials differ from the norm, your first effort may look a little frightening—one friend complained that he'd just created his worst monstrosity in a decade of tying.
But, after a few attempts, the taper improves, and you'll have a fly that swims and suspends and mimics the smooth lines of a natural baitfish.
Jonny King is a fly fisher, jazz pianist, and attorney. He lives in New York City.