Tag Archives: Bluegill

IMG_0996

Loading Up The Float Tube

I used to head out on my float tube with a single outfit and one or two spare spools.  It was great in theory but I think I actually changed spools twice in about ten years.  It just seemed like way too much effort on a float tube in the middle of a lake.

These days I head out with two or three complete outfits instead. I realize that the minimalists are now groaning, but maybe the gear junkies are intrigued?  The rods get rigged on shore and whatever isn’t in my hand is lashed to the tube with a couple of Velcro ties.  Swapping one for another takes about a minute and I have no qualms about changing things up whenever the need arises.  The last trip I took for bluegills is a great example…

011It was a July evening and I launched my tube at about 6 PM.  I had a moderate action 3 weight in my hand; a clear intermediate line ran through the guides.  This is my “go to” rod for sunfish. I can’t keep piles of running line from tangling on my stripping apron, so most casts are short and the moderate action rod lends a good feel to this.   The intermediate line is effective because the sunfish are often quite shallow.

I also had a 2 weight with a floating line on board.  If the ‘gills started rising later in the evening, this stick could lay out small dries for them. My last rod was another 3 weight set up to pick off suspended fish in deep water.

That last statement might strike some people as being a bit of a contradiction.  Generally speaking, 3 weights and deep water aren’t mentioned in the same breath.  Neverthess, you can use a fast action 3 weight to deliver a home-made shooting head capable of dropping flies to depths of 10 or 12 feet. To make a shooting head like this, cut off the first 30 feet of a 5 weight sinking line (Type 3) and then attach it to 60 or 70 feet of 20 pound Amnesia with an Albright knot.  The Amnesia, naturally, is the running line and gets attached to your backing.

IMG_0494I found some fish after only about 10 minutes of prospecting.  They were in scattered submerged weeds between a couple docks.  The water was only about 4 feet deep and the intermediate line – with a scud pattern attached – worked like magic.   Jeepers, can a 9 or 10 inch bluegill pull!  They don’t run or jump, but they put an amazing bend in a light rod.  After about half a dozen tussles like that, I decided to try another spot.

I paddled up to a line of reeds growing right beside some thick, sunken cabbage.  The intermediate line had no Mojo in this location; it didn’t seem to be getting the fly deep enough into the weeds, so I pulled out the shooting head, and did my best imitation of a Bassmaster flipping a heavy jig to penetrate cover.

I had about ten feet of the sinking line outside the rod tip.   I paddled along the reeds, lobbing a micro-leech into reedy, weedy pockets.   I wouldn’t strip the fly in but simply dance it around with the rod tip before picking up and lobbing it into the next pocket.   The bluegill seemed to like this approach and several sucked in the leech.  Although usually reserved for deeper water, the shooting head proved it had a place in the shallow jungle.

IMG_0514Eventually, darkness crept in; I kept an eye open for rising fish, hoping to pull the 2 weight off the bench. Although this didn’t materialize, it was still an incredibly fun and satisfying evening….

*    *     *     *     *     *     *

Here’s the outfits I carry when I’m not going after sunfish:

Perch LakeSmallmouth or largemouth bass…  I carry a Sage bass rod and a couple of 8 weights – one with a type 2 sinking line and one with a shooting head.   The bass rod, naturally, gets used for poppers around shallow cover.  The type 2 line helps me hit deeper weed beds and the shooting head – either a type 3 or type 6 – is handy for dredging.

Stillwater trout…  A 6 weight with a floating line lets me throw dries to rising fish or dangle chironomids under an indicator.  For the bulk of my stillwater trouting, I wield a  different 6 weight with an intermediate line.  Lastly, I carry the same shooting head system that I would for smallies and LMB’s.

IMG_0484Crappies… I use the same outfits that I do for bluegill.  However, I swap the 2 weight for a specialized 4 weight that delivers small poppers and gurlers.  More details about this rod are in my Pisciaphilia article called, “Canadian Fall Fishing:  Topwater Crappie Action.”

Pike…  I am often throwing BIG flies for pike.  The outfits I use are like the bass selection above but I trade a couple of 10 weights for the 8 weights.

One final note!  Be careful if you’re paddling your tube around with a couple rods hanging off the side and extending behind you.  Don’t back into anything!

IMG_1384

Canadian Fall Fishing: Topwater Crappie Action

I’ve come to realize that crappie take top-water flies with incredible enthusiasm. Although not a “classic” fly rod target, their surface-slurping tendencies – especially in the fall – deserve your attention…

13 inch Minnewasta CrappieAlthough the spring crappie bite can be awesome, late summer and early fall can be even better.  At my latitude in southern Manitoba – just north of the U.S. border – this time period typically runs from the last week in August through the first two weeks of September.

When the weather is pleasant and settled, crappie at that time of year turn on like crazy.  I usually fish small, shallow, flatland reservoirs and the fish swarm into the same weedy bays they frequented in the spring.  They are also drawn toward turns and points on rocky shorelines.  The rip-rap along a dam is another magnet.

IMG_1347
The magic really starts to happen an hour or two before sunset.  The crappies often give themselves away as they swirl after baitfish and other critters.  Better yet, they eagerly suck in #8 to #12 streamers attached to a intermediate line and a 3 to 5 weight rod.  A type II line also works well, especially if the water is 5 or 6 feet deep.  Some of my “go-to” patterns are shown in the accompanying photos.

IMG_1369Occasionally, if there are sunfish around, I will use a #12 or #14 nymph.  Both crappie and sunfish will hit a small nymph but I really believe that crappie prefer something a little bit larger.

Wait a second… Didn’t the title of this article say something about top water?  Don’t worry, it’s coming…

As dusk moves in, put away the streamers and tie on a panfish-sized popper or gurgler.  Short, rhythmic strips – and the resulting surface commotion – draw the fish in.

My favorite outfit for presenting poppers and gurglers was inspired by a Sage Bluegill.  A Sage Bluegill is probably a bit heavy for most of the panfish in my area so I’ve taken a crisp action 4 weight that is 7 ½  feet long and matched it up with a 6 weight line and a light reel.  The resulting combo loads great with a short line; it is amazing at hitting little pockets in rip-rap or any other target.  Plus, an 11 inch crappie puts a good bend in it!

IMG_0639A boat or a float tube are great for working fall hot spots but walking along the rip-rap face of a dam is also effective.  Actually, as dusk turns to night – but the fishing is still lit up – walking on shore with a minimum of equipment is perhaps preferable to being in a boat or a tube.

Crappie are a great way to say good-bye to the dog days of summer and say hello to fall!

Morning On The Holston

A Question: A Reflection On Fly Fishing

Fall Fishing A question was asked of me today of which I thought I knew the answer, but upon further introspection, I suspect that perhaps I need to reset my footing.  A friend asked me today why exactly it was that I fly fish and why it was that I do not keep the very thing that I spend so much time and effort to get in my net?  I gave him what I suspect would be considered an answer gleaned from the liturgy of the angler, an answer that contained all the right keywords to at least insinuate that I knew what I was doing.  I am writing a book about it for goodness sake, so my answer came forth without any forethought.  Not because of any rehearsal, but because I have conversed enough, I have read enough, and perhaps on some levels I have written enough so that I have all the right words.  But a wise man once said to me, “If your words and your actions do not match, no one will believe a word you say”.

I used all the key phrases that would get the approving nod from my contemporaries.  Words like, challenge, nature, peace, wild places, clean water, skill, beauty, conservation.  All of these, or at least some of these will appear in literally every published volume on the sport, which would justify, in effect, that what I was saying was correct.  But just because you say the right things, you are not granted membership into those who “get it”.  Many are the folk who have all the accouterments of the sport-the right gear, the right look, the proper technique yet they seem somewhat empty.  I suppose it is the empty ones who do not last very long in the sport.  As a matter of fact, I have a couple of friends who dove into the deep end, bought all the gear, but when there was nothing left to buy, they found that it wasn’t the sport they were interested in at all.

So what makes me a true angler?  If I were to remove the nice gear and replace it with the worst possible equipment-would I still hold the passion?  If I were to be dropped into a situation where the only place I had to cast a fly were to bluegill in an algae laden farm pond-would I still hold the passion?  If I had never stepped out as a writer of fly fishing- would I still hold the passion.  If all the key words and catch phrases were removed from my rather limited vocabulary- would I still hold the passion?

In all honesty, after much introspection, the answer would be yes.  You see, as far as a great…or even good fly fisherman…I am at a loss.  More times than not my cast is not pretty and if I am in the water for more than three hours it is a certainty that I will manage to create a mess of my leader that would be in league with the Rubik’s Cube in difficulty to repair.  I am often quite clumsy as I wade, and the biggest fear I have in life is drowning.  My flies are not pristine, and my selection looks more mutant than even an attractor pattern might imply.  As a fly fisherman, I am just about as undone as you will find.

Therefore, without an abundance of skill and a limited perspective, I am faced with a burning question imposed upon me innocently enough by a curious companion.  Why exactly do I fly fish?  And to answer in as simple a way as I know how, the answer comes to me without having to dig very deep at all.

I cannot even try to imagine myself NOT being one.

This sport is as much a part of me as my next breath, much as a runner with his or her next stride.  The great race horse Secretariat was said to have a heart larger than is common for a horse.  Larger heart meant an incredible blood flow and an expanded capacity to do that which it was born to do.  I can see myself in no less of a term.

Great WaterIf you fish with me, it is a near certainty that you will outfish me.  I know this to be so because of the number of times it has actually occurred.  For me the epic day is nothing more than blind luck.  I can read the water well thanks in great part to Tom Rosenbauer.  I can understand the methodology of fly selection, casting, and most other things that encompass a day in the water.  But all the information in the world will not make you a great angler.  There comes a time when skill must take over…and in that department I am most lacking.

Yet I continue to frail about, stumble, make messes, and admire those of whom I spend time on the water.  I get so frustrated at times with myself that I curse under my breath at the bad luck or bad technique, yet the very next opportunity I have to fish, I will be there playing the role of jester in my own court again.  Not because I am a glutton for punishment and self degradation.  It is because I am a fly fisherman, and I cannot help but do that which I have found to be a very large part of me.  Tangles and all.Morning On The Holston