It was sultry, summer day in late August. I'd
been working hard in the garden. Sweat trickled
down the back of my neck and off the end of my nose.
The hammock caught a wisp of hot summer breeze and
swayed gently under the big white pines in the back
yard. It looked inviting in the cool shade. A cold
iced tea and a little nap seemed more appropriate
than slaving away in the mid-day sun.
"Why not?" I thought. Besides, the wife was tucked
away in the air-conditioned family room watching a
movie. I wouldn't be disturbed for at least a couple
of hours. The lawn needed mowing but it could wait
until tomorrow. Even my big, lazy cat sensed the need
for a little siesta as he jumped in the hammock with
me and curled up next too my feet. Ah...peace and quiet.
No sooner had I closed my eyes than "Bam!", I heard
the screen door slam shut on the back porch and saw
my old friend, Self, striding across the yard toward
"Whatcha been up to good buddy?" he yelled out.
"Well, I was up to a little nap before you came barging
up", I said, rather annoyed. "What have you been doing?"
"Nothing. I'm bored", he shot back. "Let's go fishing."
"No can do," I replied, rather despairingly. " I've
got too much yard work to do."
"Yep, it looks like it," he answered sarcastically. A
lot of weeds need pulling in that hammock...hee, hee,
hee!" I think your wife has got you working too hard
around here. You need more fishing time."
"Look, nobody asked for your opinion, Self," I said,
in a grumpy tone. "Besides, she takes care of the
housework, I take care of the yard work. We've done
it that way for years. It works for us, and we still
have plenty of fishing time."
"You two have been fishing a lot together lately, haven't
you?" Self said, with a sly little twinkle in his eye.
"Yep, couple of times a week," I said with a smile.
"Janice is really into it. She likes panfishing the
best and that little 5-foot, ultra-light spin stick
she's using, with the tiny Quantum reel really brings
out the fight in those big perch and crappies. I've
been having a blast with my little 1-weight, too,"
I added. "It's the ultimate in panfishing with a fly
rod, and the little Hardy fly-weight reel sings like
a bird when a big one hits."
All the while I could sense that Self was getting
ready to hatch another one of his crazy schemes.
When they involve me I usually wind up holding the
"A contest!" he finally blurted out. You two should
have a panfish contest.....mano-a-mano, fly fishing
against spinning, man against woman, husband against
wife, yard work versus housework!" Self was on a
familiar roll, just another in a long line of
"can't-win-schemes" he's always cooking up.
"Winner does the other's chores for a couple weeks.
You'd have more time to go fishing with me. It's
foolproof. You always out-fish her anyway," he said
"Not always," I said, even though that was usually
the case. "Calm down will you! She's gonna hear us.
Besides, she'll never go for it," I added.
"Sure she will," Self said. "I was just talking to
her earlier and she said it sounded like it might
"So, you've already said something to her about a
contest, and the chores part of it?" I questioned.
"I might have mentioned it," he said slyly. "She said
she wouldn't mind a little help with the housework."
"She did, eh? She said that? She thinks she can out-fish
me?" I felt my testosterone level shoot up a couple points.
"Sure she does old buddy," he went on. "Women are
just as competitive as men. They just hide it better
is all. You give them a chance, though, and they'll
go for the jugular every time. I think what we have
here is the age old example of the student thinking
she can beat the teacher, and we know that ain't
true here, right good buddy?"
Self was reeling me in again. His sly grin was plastered
all over his face, like it always is when he thinks one
of his plans is coming together.
"I'll talk to her tonight at dinner and see what
she says," I told him.
Self was lickin his lips and rubbing his hands together.
"Can I come for dinner?" he shot back. "I don't wanna
"No!" I said emphatically. "This isn't a stage show. I'll
get it all worked out and call you tomorrow. Now git!"
As it turned out, Self was right. Janice loved the
idea of a contest between us, a "friendly little
competition" she called it. She said it would add
a little excitement to our fishing. I told her I'd
reserve judgment on that until after the contest.
The rules would be simple, four days of fishing,
Monday through Thursday, for each of the major
panfish species in Maine. The first day we would
fish for white perch, second day yellow perch,
third day sunfish and the final day crappie. Our
big lake, Sebago, holds them all in size and numbers.
A minimum size would be placed on each species with
a total of ten fish between us. Once ten legal fish
were caught the day's contest would be over. Points
would be scored as follows: One point for first fish,
3-points for most and 5-points for largest. A tie for
most would be a wash with no points awarded.
Catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only would
be the rule.
Winner would take over the other's chores for two
weeks. If Janice won I would vacuum, dust, do dishes,
laundry, the usual housework. If I won she would mow
the lawn, weed the garden and flower beds and do the
trimming. She agreed.
"That was simple," I thought. "I can put a lock on
this the first couple of days and when it's over,
Self and I will have two chore-free weeks of fishing
to look forward to. The game was afoot.
Monday dawned with a thick haze hanging over the big
lake. The air was damp and still. A heavy dew covered
everything and it would be a couple of hours before
the sun burned it off...ideal conditions for top-feeding
white perch. The schools would be easy to spot as they
splashed and foraged on the calm surface.
We quickly loaded our gear aboard. I started the motor
and headed slowly out of the marina. When we cleared
the breakwater, I opened the big Lund Sportfisher full
throttle for the 3-mile run across the bay to Turtle
Cove. It would be our fishing destination for the next
On the way across, Janice decided on a 2-inch, 1/16
ounce Youzuri pin's minnow as her lure of choice.
The holographic eyes and pearl finish looked as much
like a small shiner or smelt as the real thing.
Earlier, I had tied on a tiny, inch-long black
ghost streamer, one of my long time favorites
for panfish and brook trout.
When we reached the entrance to the cove I stopped
the boat, turned off the motor and we moved the bow
and stern pedestal seats into place. The cove has
a narrow opening off the big lake into about 60
acres of what could only be described as panfish
heaven. I lowered the electric motor, picked up my
fly rod and slowly eased the boat through the small
entrance. Only the hum of the trolling motor broke
"Look there!" Self whispered excitedly. "It's a
school working over by that rock wall about 50
yards to the right in 15-feet of water, and another
one way down there off that big bed of lily pads
"Calm down Self. I can see them. We'll head for
the closest school first," I said. "Janice, you
all set? These fish can be real spooky. They'll
sound at the slightest thing, so cast to the edge
of the school, not right into them."
"I know...I know," she answered. "I'm all set."
Self was having a fit. "Whaddya helping her for?"
he hissed in my ear.
"Habit", I hissed back. "It's just a habit of mine."
I looked over to see if my wife had heard. She was
staring straight ahead with a little smile on her face.
I slowed the boat and brought it broadside to within
30 feet of the splashing school. So far so good. We
would make the first casts together. After that it
would be "every man for himself."
I stripped about 15 feet of line off the reel, made
a couple of false casts to get it out, one to lengthen it
and laid the little ghost right at the edge of the feeding
fish. The line tightened and the rod bucked almost
immediately as a foot long perch took the little
streamer right off the top and bore deep in a wide arc.
A 1-weight fly rod, Hardy fly-reel and a foot
long white perch combine to make a panfish anglers day. This
was the first fish - first point of the wife's and my little
I heard the little Quantum's drag singing and knew
that my wife was into a good fish too. I put extra
pressure on my fish and had him inHft boat in less
than a minute...first blood...first point. My wife's
fish was a little bigger at 13-inches. Self frowned
when he measured it and the frown got bigger when
she ripped off two more foot-long perch in rapid
succession, while I lost one and then couldn't buy
A sloppy cast that overshot the mark finally got me
a solid strike, but the line spooked the school. I
felt the line go slack at the same time the fish
sounded. The hook had pulled free again. I stared
at the quiet water where the school had been. Janice
had 3 perch, I had one and so far she had the biggest.
It was time for a break.
Selfs jaw was clenched tight. "It ain't suppose to
happen this way!" he hissed through his teeth in my
The white perch isn't really a perch at all,
but a member of the sea bass family and a close relative of
the hard-fighting striper. This 16-inch, 2-pounder put
a splendid arc in my little 1-weight and gave me the lead
on day one.
"It ain't over til it's over," I staunchly whispered back.
I stole a glance at Janice. She was tying a new
knot on her lure and her smile was a little broader.
By the time we finished our coffee the school had
re-surfaced and was working about 40 yards off the
bow over deeper water. I set the trolling motor on
its lowest setting, picked up my rod and we headed
for the fish at a crawl.
The perch stayed just out of casting range in a series
of moves that I'm sure were designed to taunt frustrated
anglers. I've chased schools for half-a-mile out on
the open lake and never caught up with them. I was
hoping this wasn't going to be one of those days.
Luckily on the fourth try we got in close enough
and I nailed my second fish on the first cast, a
solid 12-incher. Janice countered with two more
identical fish. This was getting old.
"Maybe the bigger fish are deeper," I thought. "They
could be feeding just under the smaller fish."
I pinched a tiny split shot on the line about six
inches above the streamer and laid out a smooth cast
a little farther from the feeding school. The little
ghost sank quickly and when it was about 4 feet down
I began a fast, short-strip retrieve like a baitfish
Suddenly, there was a solid jolt and the slack line
zipped into the guides. The Hardy reel screeched once
and then began a steady whine as the little 1-weight
bent into the cork and the fish ran straight away
from the boat. This was a white perch with shoulders.
It's the only time I remember praying it wasn't a
Steady pressure finally turned the fish after his
initial run and he came in grudgingly, his bursts
of energy still strong but getting shorter. I played
him off the reel the whole time. Panfish or not, I
wasn't taking any chances. Besides, white perch aren't
really perch at all. They are members of the sea bass
family, close relatives of the hard-fighting striper.
It turned out to be a beautiful white, a chunky, 16-inch,
2-pounder that would easily be the big fish of the day.
When I netted it, Self let out a "Yeeehaa!" that could
be heard in Portland.
"For crying out loud, Self! Quiet down!" I scolded.
"It's early. People might still be trying to sleep."
"Oh yeah....sorry.... I forgot," he said, excitedly.
Janice hadn't been wasting time watching. She had
quickly landed two more perch while I was playing
the big one, bringing her total to 7 fish. Total
points: Wife-3, Husband-6.
"Nice perch," Janice said on the way in. She was
still smiling." You pulled off an eleventh hour
victory with that fish," she added.
"It's only the first day," I replied. "Besides, you
caught more than twice as many as I did." Self had
been jump-started out of his blue funk by the big
perch. He was humming and whistling college fight
songs all the way in.
"Tomorrow's another day," Janice said as we headed
into the marina.
That was true, but I wasn't going into it with as
much confidence as I did today.
The sun was just peaking over the trees when we
arrived at the marina on Tuesday morning. The air
was cool and damp but a hot, muggy day lay ahead.
Self was already there to meet us, anxious to get
started. As we stashed our gear in the boat we
could hear the steady drone of early morning trailers
out on the big lake in the deep water, plying the
100-foot depths for lake trout. Some of the big
lakers in Sebago run 20-to 30-pounds but we had
smaller fish to fry.
Yellow perch were the target today. Sebago grows
her panfish big too. Perch here can run in the
12-to 14-inch class and weigh over a pound...
if I could find them. Janice had agreed to a
10-inch minimum on today's fish and I figured
the most and the biggest would give me a solid
lead in the contest. I needed to put distance
between us on this second day.
When we reach the cove we quickly set the seats in
place, eased through the narrow entrance head headed
straight for the milfoil beds way in the back. In
the shallows the weeds here are almost impenetrable
but as the water gradually deepens out from the shore
the milfoil doesn't reach the surface. At around 10-to
12-feet it doesn't grow at all, making a distinct
break-line of weeds next to open water. Schools of
big perch patrol this break-line, snatching up hapless
baitfish that stray too far from the safety of the
thick cover. Here is where we would fish.
I checked the depth-finder. A few fish were suspended
at the 6-to 8-foot mark. Janice had chosen a 1/16-ounce,
chartreuse, twister-tail jig as her lure, a proven
perch catcher on many occasions. I had switched to
a #10 light Cahill wet fly. In the water it's as
close to imitating a tiny minnow as you can get.
A little split shot pinched on the tippet would
offset the sink rate Janice would get from her jig.
When I put the boat in position, Self eased the anchor
over the side and we made our first casts. The fish
gods must have been smiling on me. I nailed the first
3 fish, 10-inchers all, in a matter of minutes before
Janice even got hit. She took fish number 4 and then
I ran off 3 more perch in rapid succession, guaranteeing
me points for first, most and a lock on the second day
lead. Self was whistling "On Wisconsin" non-stop. The
little Cahill seemed to be the right medicine. Now, if
I could just get the big one again I could all but wrap
this little contest up.
Alas, it was not to be. Janice wanted to move the boat
out to a little deeper water. It was her turn. I had
picked the first spot. When we re-anchored she took
the last 3 fish, including a beautiful 13-incher that
gave her the 5-points. Janice had used my tactic of
yesterday against me, going deeper. Instead of 15 to
3, the total score was now: Wife-8, Husband-10. I was
still in the lead but she had pulled to within 2-points
and made the contest going into day three a toss-up.
Janice took the second day points for big fish
with this handsome 13-inch, 1-pound yellow perch.
"I guess turnabout is fair play," I said, as we headed
in. "Talk about a last minute victory," I added, glumly.
Her smile had turned into a broad grin.
Self was staring vacantly out across the big lake.
He was strangely silent, his rendition of the Notre
Dame Fight Song having suddenly been cut short by
the big perch.
A bright and beautiful day greeted us on Wednesday,
along with very little wind again. A mid-morning start
had been agreed to since pumpkinseeds are on the bite
all day long. Seeds are Maine's native sunfish and
are arguably the most beautiful of all the sunfishes.
They eat a wide variety of insects, snails and tiny
crustaceans, so they can be taken on top, in the
shallows or deep with regularity. A 5 or 6-year-old
seed measuring 6-to 8-inches is considered big in most
lakes, but I've taken 8-to 10-inchers regularly in
Sebago. Occasionally, a rare sunny close to a foot
long will show up and one that size can put a splendid
arc in a 1-weight fly rod.
Since pumpkinseeds have tiny mouths, Janice had chosen
a 1/32-ounce version of yesterday's chartreuse jig.
I opted for a tiny, black wooly-bugger tied on a #12
wet fly hook.
Turtle Cove provides a variety of habitat for sunfish,
from pad beds and spatterdocks in 1-to 4-feet of water,
to pickerel weed and grass flats over sandy bottom in
3-to 6-feet of water.
We agreed to a 8-inch minimum on the seeds and decided
to start the day by working the edge of a huge bed of
spatterdocks just inside the cove entrance. With little
wind to contend with,the electric motor would let us
work the entire perimeter of the pad bed slowly and
We eased up quietly to within 20 feet of the edge.
I heard the bail-spring on the little Quantum at
the same time my fly line sped forward on the
business cast. The two lures dropped gently about
6-feet apart at the very edge of a small opening.
Several large swirls humped up from beneath the mat of
pads, disrupted the mirrow surface of the water and overtook
the lures before they had sunk a foot. The little rods bent
deeply and the lines cut circular patterns in the water
as the two sunfish bore deep and tried to head back to
the safety of the pad bed.
A little extra pressure kept my fish away from the
thick vegetation but Janice wasn't as lucky and her
fish made it into the tangle of roots and stems.
After a brief tussle my fish came flopping aboard,
a large bull seed of 10-inches, it's flaming orange
fins spread defiantly. It was the first of more than
2-dozen nice sunfish and half that many jumbo perch
we caught that afternoon before boating the legal
10 fish over 8-inches. In addition, we caught and
released another dozen or so small to medium bass
along the same stretch of pad beds, giving us all
the action we wanted from a few hours of fishing.
Pumpkinseeds are perhaps the most beautiful of
all the sunfishes. Ten-inchers are common in Sebago Lake,
and this one helped me to a substantial lead on day 3.
That first 10-incher turned out to be the biggest
of the day, netting me a combined 6-points. Janice
had stayed in the race with 7 keepers to my 3, the
same as day one, but I had a substantial lead of
5-points going into the final day. Total after
day three: Wife-11, husband-16.
"You're down 5-points and still looking confident,"
I said, starting the motor and heading out of the cove.
"I've caught 18 fish to your 12, anyone of which
could have been the biggest. If that was the case
we'd be tied," she calmly replied with a smile.
"I'm still very much in it," she added.
Janice was right. She was out-fishing me. Maybe I
had just gotten lucky and stumbled onto a couple of
big ones. She was very much in it, indeed.
Self looked confident as we cruised past the breakwater
and into the marina. The sly look had returned and
he had resumed his incessant humming again. All I
could think of was yard work and housework if I lost.
Self was at the dock early again. He had already prepped
the boat. The canvas was off, windshields wiped down
from the heavy dew. "We better get started," he said.
"It's going to be another hot one and those crappies
will go deep and sulk when the sun gets high."
I quickly started the motor. Self cast off the bow and
stern lines, jumped aboard and we sped across the open
water to the little cove for the final day's fishing.
Janice laid out the 3 lures she planned to use. Her
favorite crappie lure was a black, 1/16-ounce, twister
tail jig with flecks of silver in it. For back-up she
chose a white jig and a tiny, yellow beetle-spin. I
decided to use my go-to wet fly, a #10 dark Cahill.
Sebago's crappies travel in loosely knit schools and
forage for small baitfish from below, never looking
down, always up. Their big eyes are set towards the
front and on top of their heads for just that style
A rocky shoreline runs along one side of the cove
with overhanging brush and trees. The water here
is 8-to 15-feet deep and is a favorite foraging
ground for crappies. Because it is on the eastern
shore, it stays in shade later into the morning.
We've taken our share of crappies here over the years.
The depth-finder showed a fish here and there. I
positioned the boat and we made our first casts. I
glanced at Self. He had his fingers crossed. With
a 5-point lead the most or biggest fish would
clinch this little competition for me and Self
and I would be off for two weeks of chore-free
The little Cahill sank quickly, the little shot
taking it down to about 6 feet where I started
a slow retrieve in long steady strips of the line.
Suddenly I felt a slight heaviness in the line,
almost like a hang-up. I raised the rod into solid,
live resistance. There was no hard strike here.
Crappies have tender mouths and hooks often pull
free during the fight. The moderate to soft action
of the little 1-weight countered the fish's every
surge and within a minute a foot-long crappie came
easily to the net. I had taken the first fish all
four days and was sitting pretty with a 6-point lead.
My imminent victory was short-lived, however. While
I was taking my fish off the hook the wife's rod
dipped sharply. It dipped on the next two casts...
and the following three casts....and the final
three casts. She caught 9 crappies in a row in 45
minutes, including a beautiful 15-incher on her
next to last fish. I never had another touch. The
Cahill had let me down big time. The little black
jig wasn't just magic, it was black magic. Final
score: Wife-19, Husband-17.
My wife, Janice, worked a little black magic
with her favorite black jig on this beautiful 15-inch
back crappie. But it was more than day four's biggest fish.
Self was stunned. His big scheme had been dashed
on the rocks in less than an hour. "This is another
fine mess you've gotten me into, Self," I said
emphatically. "Why do I even listen to you. Now I
have to do the housework "and" the yard work for the
next two weeks. I'll never get to go fishing."
"Oh, that's not all," my wife chimed in. "You also
have to do the grocery shopping for a month."
"What?!" I shouted. "How did that happen?" I shot
a withering look at Self but he was staring out
across the deep, green waters of the big lake,
trying to act as inconspicuous as possible.
"I made a couple of side bets when you were leading,"
he mumbled sheepishly. "I never thought you'd lose."
"Well, I did lose," I said angrily. "Do you realize
I have to do all the housework and all the yard work
for two weeks, and all the grocery shopping for a
month...and...wait a minute...you said a couple of
bets. What's the other one?"
"Well, there's also the matter of a steak dinner,"
he said sheepishly.
My wife interrupted before I could get my hands around
Selfs throat. "You know, I kind of like these little
contests," she piped up. "Maybe we should make them
an annual event. Better yet, how about twice a year?"
"In your dreams, I muttered. "In your dreams."
Dreams...dreaming...I woke with a start. I'd
been dreaming. It was late. The shadows were
getting long. "I've got to finish the lawn," I
I heard my wife hollering from the back door. "C'mon
dear, better hurry up and get ready."
"Ready? Ready for what?" I hollered back.
"You promised me a nice dinner in town tonight,"
she replied. And don't forget we have to get up
early tomorrow morning too. You said you would
help me with some of the housework. Did you forget?"
"No," I hollered back. "Or yes...I guess I did," I
said sleepily as I walked across the back lawn.
"I'll bet you forgot the shopping too," she said,
as I entered the kitchen.
"Shopping! What shopping?" I shot back.
"You said we'd go over to LL Beans tomorrow afternoon
and you would help me pick out a nice little fly rod
for our panfish outings. You did forget," she pouted.
"You said I'd love fly fishing and you would help me
get started this Saturday."
"I did? Yeah, that's right. I did." I replied.
"Hey!" I thought, "this isn't going to be such
a bad weekend after all."
"But no contests! Okay?" I quickly added.
"Contests? Don't be silly dear," she said with
a big wide grin. "I could never beat you in a
fishing contest." ~ Gerald Wolfe (RW)