March 3rd, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Gill Bum
Confessions of a latent panfisher in trout country
By Gerald E. Wolfe (aka RW)

Outside the blizzard was raging. It sounded like the wheezing and groaning of a sleeping giant.

The house creaked and the windows rattled. Off in the woods, an occasional sound like a pistol shot could be heard above the wind, as another tree limb cracked and fell under the weight and fury of the storm.

I was in bed. The power was out. It was dark outside. The covers and two extra blankets were pulled up just below my nose. I was staring at the ceiling.

"I could be all warm and toasty right now," I thought to myself. "I could be down fishin for bluegills with Jim Hatch. Instead, I'm up here in the north country, freezing my tail off, waiting out winter for a few months of brook trout fishing," I muttered.

"Who's Jim Hatch?" Self said.

Self had been dozing. He'd planned to ride out the storm in bed, like my wife, who was already fast asleep and snoring. The word "hatch" had jarred him out of his reverie. Self loved fishing, fly fishing in particular. But sometimes he was a little "off the wall."

"Jim Hatch is a famous panfisher from the Santee-Cooper Region of South Carolina," I replied. "He's a bluegill enthusiast in particular." He invented the Pig Fly and the slogan "When Pigs Fly."

"With a name like Hatch, he shoulda been a trout fisherman," said Self.

"Well, he's that too," I said. "But his first love is panfish. He's a regular on the Fly Anglers On Line website and his reputation is growing."

"I thought that Johnny Gillfisher, from the Texas Gill Country was the big "panfish guru" on FAOL?" said Self.

"That's Hillfisher, not Gillfisher. And it's the Texas Hill Country," I shot back!

"Whatever," said Self.

The storm was at it's peak now. Self was being unusually quiet. It wasn't like him at all. He doesn't spend much time thinking. Usually he's spouting off about one thing or another. I knew he was hatching up another of his crazy schemes.

"You could be famous too!" he finally blurted out.

"Yeah, right! How so?" I said.

"Create some new flies," said Self. "Like, dry flies for the discriminating bluegill angler," he added.

"There's no such thing as a bluegill purist," I told him. "Panfishers fish with worms and grubs and crickets. . .jigs and poppers and wet flies. They kill their catch and eat it."

"We could change all that," said Self. "Think if it! "Dry flies only" for bluegills. We could bury Hatch and his pig flies. The yuppies would eat it up. There'd be "gill bums" camped at every stock tank in the country. Brad Pitt would make another movie called "A Farm Pond Runs Through It."

"Runs through what, you idiot?" I was getting a little annoyed at Self now.

"The farm, stupid, the farm!" he shot back. "Ketona Lake in Alabama would be "Mecca" for gill fishers. You know, where T.S. Hudson caught the world record bluegill in 1950. Fly fishers would come from all over the world during the spring spawn. We could make Livingston, Montana a ghost town. All we need is to swing all the gill fishermen over to fly fishing."

Self was really on a roll now.

"We can take the old pick-up," he went on. "Drop the wife at her brothers in North Carolina and tour the south. We could sell your flies and promote your new book, Bluegill Dryflies: Theory and Practice. It will be a good primer for your next, soon to be published, best selling blockbuster Gill Bums. Then when you really get old you can write your life story, A Gill and Crappie Fisherman For Seventy Five Years.

"Listen Self, I'm not writing any books. You really are crazy," I added. "The way you describe it, I can see me now. A Yankee, with my delicate, little 2-weight cane rod, casting dry flies off the fishing pier at Monk's Corner on Lake Moultrie in So. Caroline, while explaining the merits of dry fly fishing to two big guys with hairy arms and tattoos sitting on beer kegs, dunkin worms with K-Mart spinning rods. Are you trying to be me lynched?"

"No guts, no glory," said Self.

"Okay! I've heard enough. I can't sleep. Think I'll go tie some flies."

"We've got no power, no lights," Self reminded me.

"I'll think of something," I replied.

I noticed the house was starting to get cold as I headed for the kitchen. The wind was still howling and there was already a foot of snow on the deck. Earlier weather reports had warned of over 20 inches before the storm was over. I built a big fire in the wood stove, lit all the burners on the gas range and opened the oven door. Then I gathered up my candle lantern and a couple of oil lamps.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," I reasoned.

After the room got warm I set up my vise on the kitchen table. "Maybe I (will) create some bluegill dry flies," I thought. "Self might be onto something."

"That's the spirit," said Self, who had followed me into the kitchen. "You know, Abraham Lincoln read books by candlelight and he became President of the United States."

"Yeah! And I suppose if I tie flies by candlelight I'll become the next Theodore Gordon?" I shot back.

"Nope! He was a trout fisher," said Self. "You gotta think gills man, gills! You need more than one fly too. You need a series of flies like Lee's Wulff patterns, or Joe Brooks and his blondes, or Swisher and Richards with their no-hackles. And don't forget to use the color red. You gotta have red somewhere in a gill fly. I heard that somewhere," he added.

"Don't forget to use Conranch hackle either, said Self."

"Is there any one kind," I said, finally getting a word in edgewise.

Self was always good with advice, although he was never good at taking any.

"Well, if I'm gonna be famous, I've got to come up with something quick," I told him. I'm not getting any younger you know."

Self readily acknowledged that last point. He gave me his best evil grin and said, "Why don't ya steal? Gordon stole from Gillford."

"That's Halford. Frederick M. Halford," I corrected. "And he didn't steal from Halford. He changed a few things to adapt Halford's English flies to American waters."

"Whatever," mumbled Self. "But that's what (you) gotta do. Changed a little something here, a little something there and you've got your own creations."

Self was determined. "Okay," he said. "What about that Emlyn Gill? He wrote "Practical Fly Fishing in 1912. Everyone knows Gordon had one of the first copies. . .autographed too. With a name like Gill it makes you wonder if it was really a book about trout flies. I'll bet old Teddy G. stole from him too. Probably changed all the names and then took all the credit."

"Okay Self, that's enough! You're really over the edge now," I told him. "Go back to bed. I'll be along in a little while."

Self tottered off down the hall, muttering something about Irresti-gills and Rat-faced McGoogills. As he disappeared in the dark, I could swear I heard him say gillies were really misplaced panfish guides.

"He's really slippin away on me," I thought.

Just them, my wife came into the kitchen. "You'd better come back to bed. It's really late," she said. Then she noticed the fly in my vise.

"Oh my god! That's a pretty one!" she said excitedly. "What are you going to call it?"

"Well, it's a gill fly. I was gonna call it "Fruit of the Loom," because it looks like the label in my underwear," I laughed. "But you gave me another idea."

When we woke up later that morning, the wind had died down considerably. The sky was clearing. The power was back on and the house was back to normal. Outside it was a blanket of white. Twenty-plus inches of pure white.

"You were restless last night," my wife said. "Tossing, turning and mumbling things about an elf, the Gillowemoc, Beaver Gill and the Cat's Gills, whatever they are."

I laughed. "Probably just a crazy dream."

"You must have got up and tied last night too," she implied.

"Nope! Slept right through the storm," I said.

"Then what are those?" She pointed to the kitchen table.

I looked. There was the burned out stub of a candle. Feathers and scraps were everywhere. Neatly arranged on the table were 12 little clear-plastic boxes, holding one fly each; four sets of 3 different flies.

Royal Brown Bi-visa Gill

They looked like familiar patterns, but somehow different. They were labeled: Grizzly Bi-grizza-Gill, Royal Brown Bi-visa Gill, and Oh My Godzilla Gill. The Grizzly had a red head, the Royal Brown had a red tail, and the Godzilla Gill was every color of the rainbow. I didn't remember tying any of them.

Grizzly Bi-grizza-Gill

"I like that one on the end," my wife exclaimed. "The one with all the pretty colors. But I would have named it something else. "Fruit of the Loom," maybe. It looks just like the label in your underwear."

Oh My Godzilla Gill

I thought I felt the slightest breeze go by my face. My eye twitched an uncontrollable wink. Just then, the radio blared out the weather report. "Another big storm expected this weekend."

"Whatever," I muttered, to no one in particular. ~ RW


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