The Free-Balling Diver, a perfectly weedless popper

Dave Hartman

Strip'n Flywear
As my local haunts start filling in with some nasty-ass weeds, I've been looking for the most weedless flies I can tie. I came across Simon Graham's use of counterweighted flies on his pike fly fishing blog, and I thought, that should work for poppers, too!
So here's my version of the Dahlberg Diver.

As you can see, the hook rides up because the fly is counter-weighted by two brass beads ("balls") on a strip of Larvae Lace ("jock strap"). The hook is semi-protected by the flared collar. There's nothing to catch weeds. I've stripped this fly over thick mats of weed, lillypads, and stayed clean.

I should start by saying that this isn't as much a tutorial about tying with deerhair. There's a lot of good youtube videos out there if you want to learn, and you should start there.
Step 1:

Start with a good, sharp popper hook. I like the TMC 8089NP size 2 for divers. Tie in a 5" strip of small larvae lace, the tag end pointing forward towards the hook of the eye; the Lace is what you will later use to secure your "balls". (I use Larvae Lace because it is so flexy. You could use mono, but because it is rigid, there's more of a chance that it will prevent hook-ups as the fish "bounces" the fly away from its mouth as it goes to inhale it.)
Build up some thread in front of the lace so that it bends upwards. Pay attention to where on the bend of the hook I placed this. Much of the fly, everything but the deerhair, is tied onto the bend. It tends to point down as you're tying it, but remember, this fly floats hook up, and so the hackles/flashes really point upwards. Glue it.

Step 2:

Add your crystal flash. Glue it.


Add your grizzly hackles. Glue it.

Step 4:

Add your hackles and/or schlappens. Remember, when you're tying in these hackles, they should flare outwards, which will create more movement in the water. Also add more crystal flashes. Glue it.

Step 5:

Add contrasting colors of marabou to top and bottom. Glue it. Alright, you should now be at the flat of the shank.

Step 6:

FLIP THE HOOK UPSIDE DOWN, we're doing it missionary from here on. . .
We're now gonna add the first collar. You will NOT later trim this collar. Apply one pencil (a pencil's diameter) of deer hair and spin it. The deer hair should extend half way down the length of the marabou. Trim as much of the buttends of this deerhair away, space becomes precious here on out. Give it a half-hitch and glue it.

Step 7:

One pencil of a light colored deer hair, spin it to the bottom.

Step 8:

Add a pencil of a darker color.

Step 9:

Add another pencil on top of this. These two pencils together will become the "flared collar". The flare is what you will trim, but trim taller than the main deerhair body, and it is what creates the "gurgle" of a good diver as it throws water up and over its back as you strip it. Half-hitch and glue it.

Step 10:

Add another pencil of light and spin to the bottom. Add two more pencils to the top. You can use contrasting colors to add great affects. Half-hitch and glue it.

Step 11

Same as Step 10.

Step 12

Same as Steps 10 and 11, except I also add a 1/4 pencil of red on both sides of the fly. Later, when I trim the fly up, these will become the "eye sockets". You'll see. Hitch and glue.
You should be on your second beer by now, and way high from all the glue.

Step 13

Add one more bunch of deer hair, as much as needed to fill the gap. But remember, you will need at least a little space left behind the eye because we still need to tie in our jock-strap.
Whip finish, glue it.

Step 14

Trim it up. You really can't go too wrong as long as you have the basic shape of a Dahlberg head/body. But there are some subtleties that you learn through trial and error that lead to better swimming actions. You definitely want the belly trimmed short, and you want to make sure there is a decent gap between the main body and the point of the hook. Otherwise, hook-up ratios will decrease. Remember to also leave the flared collar.

Step 15

Put it back in the vise upside down. Tie in your tread. Then add two large size beads to the Larvae Lace, bring it forward and tie it down. There should be about a 1/2 inch between the belly of the fly and the balls. After you tie it down, tie it down again by U-turning the lace over on itself where you tied it in, and tie it down again. Whip finish. And then whip finish it again because twice is nice. Glue it and then glue it again. Afterall, you just spent a half-hour on this thing, get it right.

Step 16

Gotta add eyeballs. For divers, I use the eyes that have the posts on them because it adds more surface area for the glue to adhere to. You have to trim the posts. Also, trim away at the eye sockets so that the eyes sit flush with the hair, (which also creates more surface area for the glue on the sides of the eyes).
You're done.

Some last thoughts:
Don't use Gink or Loon or any of those pasty waxes on large deer hair flies. You have to use a ton of it, which is expensive, and it's heavy. Eventually, your fly will waterlog no matter what and now it's got the weight of the wax and the water sinking it. I use NikWax, the stuff you use on hiking boots. Just soak the fly in it after you are done tying it. It'll be dry and ready to go in the morning; works great and doesn't add weight.

A Dahlberg should sit low in the water anyways, so keeping it dry isn't the goal. But when they get thoroughly soaked, I use a chamois cloth or, better yet, a ShamWow thingy.

Pike, my favorite, destroy flies eventually. But what destroys flies faster is forceps and pliers. DON'T remove the fly from a fish by grabbing onto the fly's body with your pliers. Find the bend of the hook, and grab onto that. And fish barbless to make it even easier on yourself.

Also, try fishing this fly on a sinktip line tossing it into the lilly pads where you can strip/gurgle it on the surface for a few strips calling attention to the area it's swimming. By the time it is swimming underwater, you should be out of the lillies and into the open water. If there's a fish in the area, he's already moving towards your fly's vicinity and now he can see it, because it's below the water's surface and the pads and in view. Hold on tight!
That inspired me, perhaps I will post one of my favorite pike flies tonight, sans the detailed photos as I do not have them! I can not understand all of the angst against Pike. I have yet to introduce a fly fisherman to Pike, who after a day of fishing for them, does not have them in their blood! Being from the Midwest, I never really did the Trout thing, except for lake run Browns that reached into the high teens in weight. The thrill of fly fishing for me is big flies and big fish; Muskies on topwater, Bass on crayfish patterns and jig patterns, King Salmon on streamers, etc.

Awesome Post!
That is a freak of an awesome tie! Makes me want to hit some weedy lakes after spinning deer hair and drinking home brew the night before. Thanks for the great instructions and thoughts!!

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