Ska-opper Steelhead Fly

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Ska-opper Steelhead Fly
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Ska-opper (Skater/Popper) Steelhead Popper
Black Ska-opper Brown & White Ska-opper
I experimented with popping bugs for steelhead back in the 1980's when we had small rivers full of steelhead around our store. At that point I hadn't heard of anyone else using this approach for steelhead. It is obvious now that other anglers, such as Scott Howell were on the same track. I didn't stick with it, but Scott did. My first success with a popping bug for steelhead was in the late evening with my wife sitting on the opposite bank of Salmon River. I worked my way down stream through a long flat pool. Near the center of the pool a very large steelhead made a wash tub sized boil as he took my #8 hard body bass popper from the end of my #8 Maxima tippet on the strike. MB
Read Scott Howell's article below and get in on the Ska-opper action.


This dark fly is totally opaque and easily seen from below.


Item Description Size Price To Top
ST255BK04 SKA-OPPER, Black 4 3 for $7.50 SALE ENDED

SKA-OPPER, Brown and White

This fly has the natural colors of fall caddis and or might be mistaken as a female stonefly.

SKA-OPPER, Brown and White

Item Description Size Price To Top
ST25504 SKA-OPPER, Brown and White 4 3 for $7.50 SALE ENDED

SKA-OPPER Steelhead Popper

“The Steelhead Popper”
By: Scott Howell

The Ska-opper is a skating/popping pattern that probably more than any other fly defines who I am as a steelhead fisherman.  Firstly, I grew up on the Rogue River where at one time, twitching flies from the front of a drift boat was synonymous with summer steelhead fishing.  The “Rogue River Twitch” was just something ingrained in me as a boy.  When you combine that with the fact that as a teenager I was certain I was destined for the Bass Master Circuit, you are sure to get somebody who loves to fish poppers for steelhead.

My first experience with adding action to a skated dry fly was fishing mouse patterns for rainbows when guiding in Alaska.  There we would fish for trout with large clumps of hair spun on a hook that only slightly resembled mice.  After casting these patterns into likely spots, we would skitter and pop them across the surface.  By looking at the simplicity of the fly, it was obvious to see that it was not the pattern that was important.  It was the surface disturbance the fish were after.  It seemed to be an action that no trout could resist.  This was an important learning experience that still influences how I fish to this day. 

It was at that same lodge in Alaska that I was first introduced to foam skating/popping flies.  One of the most innovative tiers at the lodge was a dutch guide named Frans Jansen.  He introduced some fresh ideas into many of the proven concepts already being used up North.  Frans incorporated a foam back and bill into the popular Mouse and Wog patterns and is recognized for creating his Techno series of these flies.  It was the design of his flies that is the framework of my Ska-opper.

I first started experimenting with poppers for steelhead while fishing a remote stream on one of the islands off the BC coast.  There my curiosity was sparked when I watched  anglers successfully practicing some of the most peculiar methods.  The first of these anglers had just beat me to my favorite spot and was drifting bait below a dink-style float.  Not surprisingly, I observed him almost immediately catch a fish.  So, I walked upstream of the man and continued to watch as I fished the run above.  After covering the pool thoroughly, he pulled a trick out of the bag that I had never seen before.  He cast his float and bait out into the slot and began chugging it back across the surface.  I initially thought he was just hung on the bottom and was jerking his line to free it.  It was when he cast back out and starting jerking again that I knew he was up to something.  On that cast I saw a fish explode on his float.  Shortly after, the man was hooked up.  I really couldn’t believe my eyes.  But it wasn’t until I saw him catch his second fish chugging his float that I had to wade down and ask him what he was up to.  The angler told me he always chugs his float across the pool before leaving.  He explained to me that the chugging action of his float would often attract fish that were unwilling to take his bait drifted naturally.  I found it interesting that the fish would often chase and even take his float before they found the bait a couple feet behind.

Even after watching that angler's float get crushed, it never crossed my mind to throw a dry fly.  These were winter steelhead after all.  It just never occurred to me I could take these fish on the surface.  It was after I talked to another island bait angler I knew, that I broke out the popper.  I was telling him about what I had witnessed the day before.  He was not remotely surprised with my story of the float being taken off the top.  A matter of fact, he responded by saying a good percentage of the fish he catches show themselves on his float first.  He said there was nothing unusual about fish chasing his float down as he retrieved it back across the surface to cast again.  Well, that was enough to get the wheels turning even in a thick skulled steelheader like myself.

That night I went back to my trailer and tried creating a fly to match the orange headed black dink float hatch.  My fly began by taking shape around Frans’s foam popping head concept.  At the end of the night, my creation basically ended up being a three inch long black intruder with an orange foam popping head.  I couldn’t wait for the next morning to give my new concoction a try. 

At first light I was back at my favorite stretch with my dry fly and an unwarranted amount of confidence.  Even though these were winter steelhead, for some reason, I just new it would work.  It didn’t hurt that I had been haunted  for two days by visions of that guys float being engulfed in the same pool.  I began casting near the head of the run stripping my fly back as it chased across the surface.   Stripping the fly as it skated created a popping action similar to a bass popper.  Even though I had never heard of such a method for steelhead, it looked incredibly fishy and my confidence only grew.  However, it wasn’t until my fly chugged across the shallow boulder filled tailout that the dorsal fin of a large chrome buck chased my imitation float down.  That was one of three fish I rose to my fly over the next two days.  Unfortunately, shortly after my success it rained and those were the last days I ever spent on the river with reasonably clear water conditions.

A week later, I was back to where I lived in Terrace BC and incredibly anxious to give my new popping fly a try for the Skeena River’s winter steelhead.  I knew just the spot.  A large tail out that regularly held fish in relatively shallow water.  Considering that these northern Steelhead spend their winters in 32 degree water, I figured they would raise to the surface better if they only had to come a few feet.  Whether that was the case or not, it wasn’t long before we were renaming that run the Dry Fly Spot - for good reason.  It was here that we started playing around with different actions on the fly that at the time we called the Steelhead Popper.  It was so cold, stripping the fly as it swung was not an option.  Aside from the fact that my hands couldn’t take handling the wet line, the guides would freeze up after only one cast of stripping.  So, we simply fished a set length of line on our two-handers and popped the fly with our rod tip as it chased across the current on a tight line.  This soon became our preferred method of fishing the fly in all fishing conditions.

It wasn’t until years later when I made my way back home to Oregon that the Ska-opper completed it’s evolution.  While guiding on the North Umpqua, I noticed fellow guide Tony Wratney and a group of his friends had developed a skating fly that they were twitching.  After my experiences up North, it instantly caught my attention and it wasn’t long before I was fishing a scaled down version of my popper.  Success came immediately with this pattern and it wasn’t long before it became an integral part of my fishing program.

As with any secret weapon in fishing, it wasn’t long before other anglers caught-on and were having success with their own poppers.  I knew it was time to market my fly.  When I first introduced my Steelhead Popper to fly fishing rep extraordinaire George Cook, he was concerned with how well the consumer would respond to a steelhead popper.  Popping simply wasn't a concept that most steelheaders were familiar with.  So, he combined the terms “skater” and “popper” and advised that we rename it the Ska-opper before marketing the pattern.  In hind sight it was a very smart call.   The Ska-opper has proven to be equally affective as a traditional skater as well as popper.

I have now had success with the Ska-opper on many different rivers from Northern California to the north coast of BC.  I also know fellow guides fishing this pattern on the Deschutes, Rogue, Klamath, Trinity, and North Umpqua.  I have even had clients report back on having success with this pattern as far as away Tierra del Fuego for sea run browns, and in western Russia for Atlantics.  However, it is the stories from closer to home of anglers popping for steelhead that I enjoy the most. The best of these had to be from a client/friend fishing the lower Deschutes several years ago.  This was on an annual trip that he had been doing for some time.  His first year fishing the Ska-opper was his best trip ever.  He rose 19 fish to the fly during his two day stay.  If his first success with me on the North Umpqua was not enough, he certainly shares my confidence in the Ska-opper now since that Deschutes trip.

Pictures Of the Week
I started out the last ten day stay on the Deschutes with Dr. Art Zbinden in camp. Art is one of the most gifted non-professional fly tiers I have ever met. We were faced with water that had less than eighteen inches of visibility and some very strong winds the first two days of the camp-out. We were able to catch a few steelhead using sinking tip lines and large flies. By the end of Art's stay, the water was clearing a little and the steelhead started hitting the normal flies fished with a floating line. Fishing really picked up, even though the river remained cloudy.
Art Zbinden
Doc Zbinden beat the odds and the White river mud.
Charlie Schillinsky and Fred Evans came in as Art left. By then the river had cleared a lot and this pair of anglers banged them hard using dark purple flies, using both floating and sinking tip lines. Charlie supplied Fred and I with his new magic bullet that he tied by the dozen in camp. After they each suffered a few Deschutes freight trains, they understood why I suggested 02X tippet. Fred and I took turns with the video camera and shot a lot of footage of fish being landed.
Fred Evans
This twelve pound native chose to eat Fred's fly right behind the boat.
Doc Zbindens's flies
Doc Zbinden's steelhead flies are beautiful.
This one fell for a purple wooly bugger...
Wooly Buggers beat the odds in murky water.
Charlie Schillinsky
Charlie Schillinsky landed lots of steelhead on his first trip to the Deschutes River.

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