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Adventures in Fly Tying... October 2006


Tap's Bug

Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Photography and Video Production by Jim Stuard




From September, 1950 until 1986 H. G. Tapply was a busy man.   A featured columnist in Field and Stream magazine, Mr. Tapply wrote "The Sportsman's Notebook," which was two or three “how-to” articles of 400 to 500 words each.  He did this more than 400 times.  The entire time he also committed himself to publishing six little thoughts about the outdoors – six tips he could write in 50 words or less.  There were 1008 “Tap’s Tips” over the length of that career.  Add to that the books, feature articles, seminars and other responsibilities and you begin to see the drive inherent in this modern American icon.


H.G. ‘Tap’ Tapply was a self-taught fly tier.  He was a well-rounded angler and wrote about his experiences fishing for trout, bass, panfish and saltwater superstars.  He also wrote extensively about hunting, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.  But somehow I recall that Tap Tapply always had something to say about bass.  I’ve been a bass fanatic almost since I can remember.  I have been a fan of Mr. Tapply for just as long.


Tapply’s bass bugs are pragmatic creations; something that instinctively appeals to the last vestiges of Puritanism implanted in any New England native at birth.  His deer-hair bass bugs cast easily on a medium weight fly rod, they float like corks, and they can kick up a ruckus when a noisy retrieve is needed.  His bugs are the very model of simplicity, both geometrically and in the way in which they are constructed.   Initially unnamed, it was the users of Tap’s creations who provided the eponymous monikers.   Can there be a greater vote of confidence than that?  This is a great pattern to start tying spun deer hair bugs if you’re new to this – and it’s a great pattern to revisit if you’re an old hand.  Tie up a few and see what you can catch!


Hook – Mustad 3366, Size 6 to 2/0.  Alternatives include Stinger or Aberdeen hooks.
Thread – Flymaster A+ or gel-spun, white or yellow

Tail – Bucktail tied twice the length of the hook shank. 
Body –  Spun and trimmed deer body fur, any color you'd like.  Black, white, natural and yellow are favorites. You can tie a solid color or tie in bands.  The traditional tie was natural with a red band sandwiched between thinner black bands at the head.

Cement - Flexement

Windows Media  QuickTime



Click on individual images for a larger view.

Start the thread over the hook barb.  Keep most of the hook shank bare.  It is a little easier to spin deer hair on a bare metal shank than on a thread covered shank if you are trying this for the first time.  Make your locking wraps about 1/8 inch long.  A  drop of cement can help lock the thread in place if you're worried about a solid anchor to tie the fly.

Select and clean a bunch of bucktail that is fine, straight and only slightly tapered. The best bucktail for this application comes from the end of the tall about a third of the way from the tip. The bucktail should be about twice the hook shank length off the tie-in point.  Trim the but ends and make tight covering wraps.

Select a good sample of deer body hair. The best hair for bass bugs comes from a winter harvested whitetail, if you have hunting friends.  The pure white fur from the belly is the best.  The hair should be full, firm and hollow.  It is the act of the thread crushing the hollow hair that causes it to flare, just like a straw would flare if you crimped its center.  Tie in a bunch of deer hair about the thickness of a pencil.  Use three loose wraps and tighten slowly.

Allow the thread to spin the hair around the shank of the hook as you slowly cinch it up.  The hair should spin around twice and flare as it goes.  Work a couple of thread wraps to the front of the flared hair.  Tie in a half-hitch or two.  I drop of Flexement will guarantee the fly stays together for toothy or tough fish.  As a bonus, the Flexement will act as a lubricant for the next bunch of body hair.  Clip the fine ends off the hair before you spin - the tapered ends look nice but don't flare or float and need to be cut.

Holding a "pencil sized" bunch of cleaned deer body hair at the proper angle.  The hair should angle down at about 45 degrees.  Take three wraps of thread over the center of the bunch of hair.  Pull the thread slowly while releasing the hair from the left hand.  The deer hair will roll around the hook shank (spin) and flare under the pressure.

Repeat the steps above until you've tied in enough hair to cover all the shank except the space for the front band (about 1/4 inch).  Half hitch the thread and use a drop of glue to secure the work to this point.  Select a contrasting color of deer body hair.  For a white tail and body, yellow or red are a great choice.
Spin on the contrasting deer body hair using the same steps and techniques explained above. 
Pack the hair tightly and tie a neat small head behind the hook eye.  Use a drop of glue to  secure the thread.  The fly will now look like a big puff ball. This is where the fun starts.  Remember to work slowly while you trim the bug. You can always take some off, but you can't put any on if you cut too much!
I like to use a double edged razor blade for trimming deer hair.  WARNING!  Razor blades are really, really sharp and you'll bleed all over your materials if you aren't careful.  Don't come crying to us if you do something stupid or horrible.  Use scissors.  Rounded tip ones if necessary.  We use razor blades because we are outlaw rule-breakers.  We occasionally run with scissors, too.
The first cut is flat and perpendicular to the bend of the hook.  This cut should remove enough material to open the gape of the hook and allow it to effectively hook the fish.  Take it easy - you may need to make two or three cuts to get exactly the right flat plane from which to star trimming the fly. 
Continue to work the fly in the round, making small and fine cuts with the razor.  Each side of a double-edged razor will trim one fly.  Throw the razor away the minute it starts to snag hair.  For the best results you really need to use sharp razors and sharp scissors.  Trim the body to a conical shape and use scissors to trim around the tail and face of the fly.
Spread a little Flexement on the face of the fly.  This will help to stiffen and stabilize the deer hair face.  A bit of cement really helps this fly to "Pop" and make a bit of noise when you want it to.  A bit of cement on the flat bottom of the fly will improve its floating characteristics quite a bit, too!
The finished Tap's Bug.  This is a classic smallmouth bass bug.  It has been catching fish for well over half a century and three time that from now it will still work.  If you only carry one deer hair bug, make it this one.


Till next time, tight lines and gentle breezes…