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Tying Bass Bugs

Tricks & tips for spinning and trimming the ultimate hair popper fly.

Tying Bass Bugs

A properly tied deer-hair bass bug is one of the most satisfying accomplishments in fly tying. (Charlie Craven photo)

Hair-body bass bugs are a complete mystery to most fly tiers. We are all enamored with a tightly packed, beautifully trimmed hair bug, but unlike most trout flies, it often takes more than a casual glance to figure out the tying process.

What I’ll show here is a rather generic hair popper. Once you master this basic design you can modify the elements to create your own variations.

I use 20-pound-test Mason Hard monofilament for weedguards on all my bass bugs. This stiff mono is just the right diameter to fend off sticks and weeds, yet collapses when the bass takes the fly.

Tails on flies like this can be Super Floss, feathers, Zonker strips, Flashabou or any combination of the above. Over the years I have come to prefer mixed color strands of Super Floss as it is tough, and doesn’t break off or rot. Feather tails are pretty but not very durable.

While some tiers use cow elk hair for their bugs, I prefer deer hair, whether in dyed-over natural colors that give a more muted appearance, or dyed white deer belly hair, which is bright and vibrant. I look for hair patches that are long, straight, and thick, as hair like this flares much better and makes for a tighter bug. The tip shape of the hair does come into play on bugs like this because I often use the tips of the hair to form the collar at the back of the bug, so I also search for hair with unbroken, straight tips.

I tie my hair bugs on stainless steel saltwater hooks for durability. A well-tied hair bug lasts a long time, and freshwater hooks start to rust long before the fly is worn out.

Use double-edged razor blades to trim and shape the fly. Carefully break or snip them in half before you use them. These blades are much sharper than the single-edged paint-scraping blades found in hardware stores and they can be bent and flexed to help shape the bug.

You’ll also need a teakettle. After a preliminary rough shaping with the razor blade, hold the bug with forceps over the boiling kettle, allowing the steam to permeate the bug and open up the hair. The process of flaring and handling the hair flattens it, and the steaming process brings each hair back to its original thickness, packing it tighter on the hook while at the same time stiffening the hair. Steamed hair stands up better to the razor blade, allowing perfect shaping and a bug that won’t change shape when fished.

Bass Bug Fly Recipe

Tying the Bass Bug

Hook: #1/0 Tiemco 811S.
Thread: White 140-denier UTC for weedguard and tail, Kevlar or GSP 200 for spinning hair, and red 8/0 UNI-Thread for head.
WeedGuard: Mason Hard 20-pound-test monofilament.
Tail: Super Floss, mixed colors.
Body: Stacked, steamed, and trimmed deer hair.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 1.

Step 1. Start the 140-denier thread at the bend of the hook and make a smooth thread base just short of halfway down the curve of the hook. Return the thread to the starting point and tie in a length of hard mono for the weedgaurd. Wrap back over the mono to halfway down the bend, securing it along the top of the shank, and return the thread to the starting point.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 2.

Step 2. Select eight to ten strands of four different colors of Super Floss and tie them in at the center of their length with a tight band of stacked thread wraps. 

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 3.

Step 3. Pull the front ends of the Super Floss back along with the back ends and draw them all tight. Make another tight band of thread over the fold at the bend of the hook to sweep all the strands to the rear. Whip-finish and clip the thread. 


Tying the Bass Bug
Step 4.

Step 4. Spiral-wrap lead wire around the tail strands to keep them out of the way. Invert the hook in the vise and start the Kevlar or GSP thread behind the hook eye. Make a smooth thread base back to the bend, forward again to the hook eye, and back once more to the base of the tail.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 5.

Step 5. Cut, clean, and stack a large clump of deer hair in the color of your choice for the belly of your bug. Measure the tips so they extend just past the hook bend. Place three wraps of thread over the bunch of hair right at the hook bend. These wraps are taut but not yet tightened and should be right on top of one another.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 6.

Step 6. While holding the hair butts, pull straight down on the bobbin, flaring the hair in place on the underside of the shank. Your hand prevents the hair from spinning around the hook, keeping it positioned along the bottom of the hook shank. 

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 7.

Step 7. Turn the hook over so the point is on the bottom and cut, clean, and stack another, smaller clump of hair of the same color as the first. Measure the tips of this clump so they reach those of the first bunch.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 8.

Step 8. Make two turns of thread over the second bunch of hair directly on top of the first bunch. The thread should be working through the center of both the bottom and top bunches of hair. Hold the butt ends of the hair in place as you again tighten the thread by drawing it firmly downward, flaring the new bunch of hair on top of the first bunch.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 9.

Step 9. Cut, clean, and stack a third bunch of hair in a different (typically darker) color than the first. Measure the tips so they are even with the first two bunches and place two turns of thread over it, running straight through the center of all three clumps. Draw the thread down to flare it in place on the top of the second bunch. Make sure all the wraps are cinched down as tightly as possible.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 10.

Step 10. Draw all the hair back toward the bend and bring the thread up and around the shank as close to the front of the hair as possible.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 11.

Step 11. Repeat the previous procedure one more time, first flaring a clump on the bottom of the hook, then flaring another directly on top of it, and finally flaring the third, darker clump of hair on top of the shank. This second batch of hair clumps do not need their tips for the collar as the first clumps did, so there’s no need to stack any of the remaining bunches.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 12.

Step 12. To add a fourth color spot or band of color, cut and clean a smaller bunch of hair and lay it under and against the working thread with the tips toward the hook eye. Fold the tips back so the hair is folded around the thread and you have both the tips and the butts pinched tightly in the fingertips of your material hand. 

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 13.

Step 13. Bring the thread up through the center of the hair bunches, dragging the pinched clump of hair to the top of the hook as you bring the thread over the top of the hook and down again on the far side. 

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 14.

Step 14. Pull down on the thread and lower the bunch of hair into place in the center of the third bunch of hair (in this case, the rusty-brown hair is placed into the center of the tan bunch of hair). Bring one more wrap of thread through the center of all four bunches and tighten it down firmly.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 15.

Step 15. Sneak your fingertips in at the front and the back of the fly as close to the shank as you can and firmly pack the bunches of hair toward the bend of the hook.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 16.

Step 16. That was so much fun we’re going to do it all one more time. Repeat steps 5 through 15 once more to create another band of color and stripes.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 17.

Step 17. Bring the thread to the front and get ready to pack three more bunches of hair on this little bit of hook, only this time we are going to use all three bunches in the same light belly color to form the face of the bug. The procedure will be the same as it has been, flaring one bunch on the underside of the shank, another on the top of that one, and a third folded in on the top of that. 

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 18.

Step 18.  I know you didn’t think we could pack three more bunches in there, but we did it. Bring the thread tightly behind the hook eye and whip-finish it. Clip the heavy thread.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 19.

Step 19. Take the fly out of the vise. Break or clip a double-edged razor blade in half lengthwise and bend it slightly as you push it through the hair from the front of the hook to just short of the hair tip collar at the bend. These first cuts will be rough shaping, so trim the bug slightly larger than the desired finished shape and size.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 20.

Step 20. Drag the blade up from the hook eye through the hair to flatten the face of the bug.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 21.

Step 21. Bend the blade again to trim the top, pushing from the front to the back of the fly in an arc. (This photo shows this step with the fly in the vise, but I usually hold it in my hands for better control.)

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 22.

Step 22. This is a roughly shaped bug. I have purposely left some of the butt ends in front of the collar to ensure that I don’t accidentally trim the collar in the process. We can clean up these butts later with the blade and scissors.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 23.

Step 23. Hold the fly over steam from a teakettle. The steam enlarges the individual hairs and rounds them out again (they become flattened during handling and packing). The steam also stiffens the hair, making it stand up to the blade better to ensure cleaner cuts. As the hair expands, it also becomes more tightly packed onto the shank.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 24.

Step 24. Use a fresh blade to finish the trimming. There should be about a third of the bug diameter on the bottom of the shank, and the other two thirds on the top. Final shape is a matter of personal taste, but I like a bit of a taper toward the rear of the fly.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 25.

Step 25. To trim the face of the bug flat, slide the blade from the center to the edges of the face exposing the ends of the hair to form a hard surface. Use fine-tipped scissors to clean up stray hairs around the hook eye and face of the bug, as well as for the final shaping of the front of the fly.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 26.

Step 26. Place the hook back in the jaws of the vise with the mono coming down through the jaws. Measure the mono so it is within about a quarter inch of the hook point and flatten it where the end lines up with the hook eye. The large-diameter mono needs to pass through the hook eye to secure the weedguard, and flattening it leaves enough room to thread the tippet later.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 27.

Step 27. Take a sheet of plastic from a sandwich bag and poke a small hole in its center. Slide the hook eye through the hole and start the 8/0 thread right behind the hook eye, using the plastic to hold and force the hair back to make room for the thread work.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 28.

Step 28. Bring the flattened section of mono up through the hook eye and bind it in place under the shank right behind the eye with several tight turns of thread. Fold the top end of the mono back and bind it down tightly as well. Use the razor blade to trim the excess mono as close to the thread wraps as you can. Whip-finish and trim the 8/0 thread.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 29.

Step 29. Pop the sheet of plastic forward over the hook eye and make a scissor cut from the edge to the hole in its center to remove the plastic.

Tying the Bass Bug
Step 30.

Step 30. Remove the lead wraps from the tail strands and clean up any stray hairs as needed.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s FlyBox in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, Headwater Books, 2011).

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