Skip to main content

The BULKhead Deceiver

Bob Popovic's latest all-bucktail saltwater fly, the BULKhead Deceiver.

The BULKhead Deceiver
Bob Popovics's BULKhead Deceiver uses the "throw away" base of bucktail fibers to build a spun-hair head with a naturally tapered baitfish profile. Jonny King photo

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.

Fly Tying The BULKhead Deciever

A 10 step, step-by-step process.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 1 of 10

Attach a long, sparse tail of bucktail to the rear of the hook. Trap the fibers in a loose noose of two or three thread wraps and, by tightening and loosening the noose, manipulate the fibers so that they surround the shank 360 degrees.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 2 of 10

Using the same technique as the tail, attach two or three more collars of bucktail along the shank. Make each collar progressively shorter and denser as you build the midsection and shoulders of the fly, and fill the shank to about the two-thirds point.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 3 of 10

Snip a fairly sizable bundle of hair from the base fibers near the bottom of the bucktail. This hair is more hollow and thicker than the material used earlier. Trap the hair in a noose of thread wraps, leaving about an inch of the butt fibers facing forward. Distribute the hair around the shank and pull down hard, flaring the butt fibers as you would when spinning deer body hair, but hold the bundle in place so that it does not spin on the shank.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 4 of 10

Shorten some of the innermost fibers with a handful of scissor snips in the center of the forward-facing butt fibers. The goal is to have a well-proportioned cone when the butt fibers are forced back toward the rear of the fly.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 5 of 10

Using a straw, hair-packing tool, bullethead tool, or even an empty pen casing, push the forward-facing butt fibers back to the rear of the shank, and build a dam of thread in front to keep them angled backward. The technique is similar to Popovics's Hollow Fleye method, except you reverse the direction of the short, hollow butts rather than the tapered ends of the bucktail.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 6 of 10

Using the same technique as above, tie in a shorter, dense collar of bucktail base fibers, trim the inner butt fibers, and post them back with another conical dam of thread wraps. Using a contrasting pink color helps establish a subtle cheek hue for the fly.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 7 of 10

Repeat the same process with a final collar of base fibers trapped with thread right at the hook eye. There is no need to leave room for the thread wraps at the eye when cinching down this final collar. The process of posting back the butt fibers will locate all the necessary wraps immediately behind the eye for a neat head with no unsightly 'beak. '

BULKhead Deceiver Step 8 of 10

Dip the fly in water and then tightly hold down the tapered ends of the front three collars, exposing the errant butts. Trim these fibers to angle gently down to the eye of the hook, creating an even, rounded, or conical head, depending upon what shape you want.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 9 of 10

When the fibers dry, snip out any errant hairs to complete tapering the head. The process is similar to trimming a spun-hair bug, but since the hair at the head of the fly includes both tapered and butt ends, take care to trim mostly the butts, leaving the tapered ends to complete the smooth profile of the fly.

BULKhead Deceiver Step 10 of 10

The finished fly has a rounded head and a deep top-to-bottom profile, and transitions smoothly to the back of the fly with no interruption. This particular fly is flared widely, similar to a bunker or other wide-bodied baitfish, but posting the butt fibers back at a sharper angle or trimming more radically can yield a slimmer mullet shape.

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 Why

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 hair—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 How

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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Orvis Presents “School of Fish” Full Film

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Orvis Presents “School of Fish”

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Hilary Hutcheson's videos of Hurricane Ian aftermath

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Bronze Statue of Lefty Kreh Unveiled in Moving Ceremony

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Costa Marlin Fly Project

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Rio Dorado Trailer

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

How to Tie the Harrop Ant

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Rio Dorado

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Building the Perfect Fly Rod with Mud Hole Components From Blank to Casting

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

South Platte River Flooding, July 31, 2023

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

Simms Wader Makers

On newsstands July 4th! Available in both print and digital.

FF Mag Promo Aug-Sep 2023

Fly Fisherman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Fly Fisherman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Fly Fisherman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Fly Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now