Bob Boese, Louisiana

January 5th, 2009

Purists Versus The Bluegill
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

Fly fishing purists are a joy to be around. Not because of their witty repartee, or their cutting edge insight, or their intra-fisherman social graces and streamside fashion sense, But because fly fishing should be a happy occasion. Purists make you laugh.

Consider the lowly bluegill, one of the fish world's great survivors, a spunky fighter, a staple for a healthy bass population, a unique and spectacular breeder, and the bane of purists. The state of Maine (where they think good coffee is the color of tea) considers bluegill to be an exotic and dangerous species, officially referring to the spread of the bluegill population as an "epidemic." It seems the bluegill's aggressive and prolific nature threatens Maine's native brook trout. Even though bluegill are most active in Maine only 3-4 months out of the year, they are said to cause irreversible changes to entire aquatic ecosystems by restructuring plankton and forage fish communities, and because strategies to eliminate or control bluegill are difficult to design and implement, and almost entirely ineffective. Bluegill are tough.

In Japan's Lake Biwa, a new bluegill population threatens native carp and eels and the Japanese, who are particularly good at killing (and eating) anything that swims (no dolphin-free tuna there), can't kill out our favorite panfish. Bluegill are resilient.

In South Africa, where apartheid apparently still applies to fish, the bluegill is considered an "alien invader" and has put 15 indigenous fish species on the road to extinction because of bluegill predation on fish fry and invertebrate food for native species. Bluegill overcome.

Fly fishing purists consider trout and salmon the only respectable freshwater game fish. For some reason, a fish that can't survive in water hotter than 58? doesn't seem all that remarkable. Admittedly, ice fishing is merely an excuse to drink beer, but while some bluegill are caught below the ice, others can be found in the hottest waters of the tropics. Bluegill are a hardy breed.

Consider also that trout and salmon spawn in redds on rare occasions. Bluegill romance in a bed at least annually and with different partners. Trout are often caught on soft rods with a size 24 fly on 7X tippet and must be handled very delicately to survive on release. Bluegill get downright belligerent with anything smaller than a size 10 on 6lb. test and managed to live to breed again with a hooked-out eye or gill plate. Trout are measured in inches because hanging them on a scale is gauche. Bluegill are measured in how many filets to a plateful. Purists clean foreign materials off of their waders before they enter a trout stream. Bluegill fishermen change from their snake-proof boots to grease-from-the-truckbed coated hip boots before challenging a gator for best spot on the bayou. Trout fishermen concentrate their fishing times around insect hatches. Bluegill fishermen just buy DEET. Purists are enraptured by the beauty of the nature and the environment around them. Bluegill fishermen figure if it's not wet it's not worth watching. A purist's vest looks like he shoplifted FeatherCraft. A blugill fisherman uses whatever fits in bluejean pockets. A purist may carry hundreds of flies in dozens of patterns. A bluegill fishermen carries what worked yesterday. Trout and salmon must live in clear streams. Bluegill thrive in anything wet. Purists start fishing when they have disposable income. Bluegill fishermen attach a rod to the stroller. A purist buys a license and permit, reads stream reports and hatch charts, hires a guide and complains about stream access but honors Posted signs. A bluegill fisherman downs a case of beer with the pond owner before filling his ice chest with bigguns. A purist won't drive his Navigator down a dusty woods road. A bluegill fisherman made the road pushing down trees with his front bumper. A purist is committed to a favorite rod. A bluegill fisherman uses the one with the tip that wasn't broken in the pickup door. A purist stakes out his beat on a stream and glares at intruders. A bluegill fisherman shows you where he's catching fish and what to cast there.

Bluegill fishermen require only one good fly, but look in the bluegill fisherman's jeans pocket and you might find as many as five patterns because every yesterday might be just a little different. What you might see are:

    1) Poppers. Cork, foam or balsa doesn't matter, if it floats it's fish food.

    2) Sponge spiders. Bluegill don't care what it looks like, it might be a bug, so eat it.

    3) Soft hackles. It takes a lot of little bugs for a meal so bluegill eat them all.

    4) Chenille flies. Colored, fat, slim or woven, bluegill see and think snack time.

    5) Terrestrials. Ants, beetles and hoppers — when the wind blows the menu does too.

If you don't have a fly that works, ask a bluegill fisherman to borrow one, but don't be surprised if what you get is a bit chewed up and eaten on. Remember, you asked for what works.

~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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