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Part One Hundred fourty-nine

Do Largemouth Bass Eat Bluegills?

By Skip Morris, Port Ludlow, WA


A friend once told me that he didn't think largemouth bass ate many bluegills. "Why not?" I asked. "They're plentiful, and just one makes a big meal."

He replied with a single word: "spine."

I understood - bluegills have stiff, pointed spines mixed into their fins. Anyone who has caught a few bluegills has been poked by them. I imagined eating a whole, spiny, thrashing bluegill and my mouth hurt.

Made perfect sense, so I wrote bluegills off my list as bass food. But I mentally logged my usual trace of skepticism.

The following summer I was on a tiny bass-bluegill pond, one oval acre behind an earthen dam. I'd never found a decent bass in it, but I'd found some good bluegills. For some reason the fish were down. I put up a pan-fish fly called the SMP, let its weighted eyes carry it down, and then worked it slowly just off the bottom. Every couple of casts I'd feel the slow resistance of pond weed or the thump of a bluegill.

Then the sun began to set, leaving a rim of soft yellow light along the hilltops. Now the bluegills were up; the pond dimpled with their feeding. So I put up a tiny Skip's Fusion Bug and cast it across the open water near the dam to the edge of the weeds. I'd let it lie quiet, then make it dive and float back up. I caught bluegill after bluegill, mostly small but with the occasional good one to keep things interesting.

When the hilltops were gone and the pond was black, a good bluegill swirled on my bug and then panicked at the hook's bite. Then came an absurdly big swirl and a heavy throb down the rod - a big bass had taken my bluegill. I struck hard, praying the bluegill was lightly hooked and that the fly would snap from it into the bass. The throbbing continued for a moment; then the bluegill popped out of the water and skimmed flat-sided across it, the little bug firmly pinned to its jaw.

I knew then that despite the spines, bass eat bluegills. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine bass doing well without eating things that defend themselves. Bass eat crayfish, which pinch; dragonfly nymphs, which bite; and likely all kinds of spiny, biting, pinching things.

So Jimmy Nix, in creating a bluegill imitation, was right, and my friend and I were wrong.

Shinebou Sunfish

After I started looking around for a bluegill imitation, and then found Jimmy's Shineabou Sunfish. I had seen plenty of flies with feathers lashed atop a body by a rib, Matuka style, but I'd never seen the effect doubled - feathers both atop and beneath the body - and was impressed at how well this suggested the flattened bulge of a bluegill. But the Shineabou Sunfish's lead eyes were mounted atop the shank, and that concerned me. On the Clouser Deep Minnow such an arrangement inverts the hook, which is fine because the Clouser is designed for it, but I couldn't imagine an upside-down bluegill looking plausible to a bass. So I tied a few Jimmy's way; them I tied a few with the lead eyes beneath the shank. Tied my way, the flies looked wrong - the eyes were too low. Then I trimmed the tops of their heads down and they looked fine.

In the end, Jimmy's way worked fine. All that steel in the wide-gap bass-bug hook keeps everything upright, just as long as the retrieve isn't too quick.

So, again, Jimmy was right and I was wrong. I saw a pattern in all this and began to take Jimmy more seriously.

I still tie my Shineabous with eyes beneath the shank. I think I can retrieve them faster that way, without concern that the fly will turn over. But my whole approach to fly fishing is neurotic, so perhaps this eye-business is just more of that.

I have found that, regardless of how the eyes are set, some Shineabous turn on their sides, especially at a fast retrieve. The best defense I've found is to make sure the eyes are centered, their weight evenly distributed to the sides. But maybe they are supposed to turn; maybe this makes them look vulnerable. I hesitate to question Jimmy's design - a guy can get tired of being wrong. The tying instruction for the Shineabou describe, as usual, the way I tie it. ~ Skip Morris

For the recipe and tying instructions for the Shineabou Sunfish, click HERE.


Credits: From Fly Tying and Fishing for Panfish & Bass published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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