The idea that you could catch silver salmon on the surface was already in the wind when the guides and some guests at Painter Creek Lodge began experimenting with different types of surface poppers and waking style spun deer fly patterns. The silvers on the surface idea picked up momentum when word got around that guides in other parts of Alaska were catching silvers with a fly pattern called the “wog” which is short for pollywog. The wog was a flattened oval-shaped fly made of spun pink dyed deer hair.
Guides at Painter Creek Lodge were introduced to a similar spun deer hair pattern when a writer showed up at the lodge with spun pink dyed deer hair patterns that had been trimmed into a popper shape that was very similar to a bass popper. The pink popper was a success when it came to catching silvers on top, but it quickly got waterlogged and was pretty useless after you caught a fish or two.
That first popper style fly led to several incarnations that were more resistant. The first was a standard slotted cork popper body glued to a hook and then painted hot pink. A pink marabou or feather tail with some Krystal Flash was added for good measure. This popper was an improvement, but it still only lasted for a few fish before it was destroyed when attacked by the salmon or when the salmon was being played. Eventually the cork body was replaced by a slotted hard Styrofoam body that was glued to the hook and painted pink. This variation held up better, but still eventually broke apart.
Meanwhile another problem with the poppers surfaced. The silvers attacked it voraciously and in the process sucked it down into their gills which killed them. Bob Peters, a regular guest at Painter Creek Lodge, solved this problem plus the problem of the popper bodies not holding up well when he came up with a tube fly style popper. He simply heated a needle and punched a hole through the hard foam popper body and came up with a pink marabou fly.
You rig the Peters Popper by threading the pink popper body on your tippet before you tie the fly on. When you tie the fly on the popper body freely slides up and down the leader, but when you’re retrieving the popper it seats right up against the fly portion of the rig. When silver attacks the popper it’s hooked by the fly and the popper body is pushed up the leader and out of the way so it doesn’t get mauled by the strike or when the fish is played. The sliding popper body also allows for quicker, more positive hook ups that rarely results in the salmon taking the fly deep enough to cause death.
I like casting the popper across-and-down and then waking it a bit on a slow swing. When the fly gets toward the end of the swing I retrieve it by popping it back upstream. It’s the most exciting way I know to catch a silver salmon.