Like many others, in my formative years my dad took me fishing every chance he could. It wasn't often enough, but he had to somehow pluck out a living too, which I would understand better as time passed. I remember those super early mornings stopping for breakfast while it was still dark and I was only half awake. After breakfast we would head to one of the lakes near our hometown of Plainwell, Michigan. I remember the early morning fog was usually so thick I was sometimes unsure of which lake we were on until it started to burned off and I could see familiar shapes.
My parents didn't have much money, but somehow we always had a pretty killer bass boat. My dad sure loved sparkly bass boats, and they had to be fast. To this day I'm not sure how he afforded it and I still wonder sometimes if his priorities were wrong, or right on because if it weren't for those special times on the water with my dad I don't think my career today would be so fishy.
We were bass fishermen. My dad was the best bass fishermen I knew and it seemed like he could pull a bass out of a mud puddle if he wanted to. In high school I spent many hours in study hall reading bass magazines and books by guys like Doug Hannon, The Bass Professor. In those days, we lived a short bike ride from (private) Lake Doster and I would spend many evenings along the banks casting my jig and pig landing bass after bass.
I was in my early twenties before I picked up a flyrod for the first time, and I don't even recall why I did but that moment changed my life. Within a few weeks of holding that flyrod, I had all my spin and bait casting gear for sale so I could pursue my new love. It was nearing fall and I expressed my interest in flyfishing to my newlywed wife and she bought me my first flyrod and reel as a Christmas gift... likely having no idea what she had gotten herself into. Over the next few years I poured myself into the sport with reckless abandon. If only I would have been that committed to learning in my school years who knows, I may have been a doctor or lawyer... but then maybe that was for the best after all.
In those early years of flyfishing it was still about bass for me. I really had no interest in trout, steelhead or even rivers at that time... this would all come later and with its own reckless abandonment. Anyway, in my pursuit of being a warmwater flyrodder, I started tying bass bugs in deer hair... I'm sure I would be embarrassed to show anyone today some of my early bass bugs, but they did catch their share of bass.
(photo: Gerbubble Bug, tied by author)
Back then I subscribed to every flyfishing magazine offered, my favorite was Warmwater Fly Fishing. At one point, author C. Boyd Pfeiffer had written an article about the Gerbubble Bug, an early 20th century pattern by Tom Loving. Being a person who loved vintage things I took to the Gerbubble Bug like a duck to water. For quite a while, that fly consumed my vise and it caught bass better than any of my other efforts. My passion for both woodworking and painting helped too because the Gerbubble Bug involved both. They were pretty time consuming to make, especially in comparison to most of my guide patterns of today and they were fun for quite a while, but eventually the luster of bass wore off and I became enamored with other facets of fly fishing... like trout.
After a few years of being obsessed with trout fishing, I found myself once again chasing the bass of my flyfishing youth. By this time I was doing some guiding as well, and I began carving popper heads out of cylinder foam, I even had a website for a number of years offering many of my original popper patterns. While they did work well and sold well too, they just never seemed to have the right sound like the old Gerbubble Bug did. It seems like that rectangular head had something special about it, but I just didn't have it in me to carve the balsa heads anymore, so for quite a few years I relied on the round foam heads. The cylinder foam was so much easier to work with and held up much better than the balsa.
One day I found myself walking through Home Depot and I came across one of those special deals they have in the middle of the isle, it was a pack of foam floor mats in assorted colors… you've probably seen them, the one's that connect together like puzzle pieces They were about two feet square and the same thickness as the balsa I used to tie the GB's out of.... it was one of those "lightbulb" moments. I bought the pack and started cutting heads that day. It was easy to cut, didn't need to be painted and I soon discovered it had the same great popping sound as the GB. Instead of the traditional side hackle I used on the GB's I opted for some creepy rubber legs since no bass can resist those. The "Zudbubbler" was born.
(Photo: Zudbubbler, tied by author)
As I write this, I'm on my 4th season using the Zudbubbler exclusively as my "go to" surface bug. I've probably tied a thousand or more at this point and I still enjoy every aspect of the tying process... and the bass haven't seemed to grow tired of them either. What's the point of all this? Well, I guess it's just my way of saying that I'm really thankful for the anglers that have gone before me and generously shared their knowledge which then influenced me, allowing me to create something I could call my own as well.
Boy, writing this sure makes me want to go bass fishing... this could be a long winter!
Wishing you a Happy New Year!