As I wrote in the first half of this story, I specifically
targeted crappies last fall and to prepare, I read some
articles about their feeding habits and dietary preferences.
Most of the articles I read were written more for the
spin-fisher than the fly angler but I knew I could adapt
their techniques fairly easily. I believe the most prominent
feature of spin fishing for crappies is the variety of lures
and jigs available. What I wanted to do was apply some of the
characteristics of the crappie jigs to my own concoctions of
fuzz and feathers. And so, the Pan-Handler was born. It was
a FOTW in December 2006.
The first trip out I had good success using the gold-ribbed
hare's ear nymph, this time I was using the weighted Pan-Handler.
When I first tied the Pan-Handler my intention was to give the
crappies a large dark silhouette, lively action, and some of
their favorite colors. I felt the bulk and greenish-bronze
color of peacock herl would be perfect for that. The pearl
Krystal Flash would give the glint of chartreuse they love
so much, either shallow or deep.
I put the kayak in by the ramp at Watkin's Mill near
Kearney, Missouri and the wind was blowing out of the
south pretty strong. I was going to fish the same cove
I'd fished the first time, straight across from the ramp
to the east side of the lake. The waves were breaking
over the bow as I paddled east across the wind and I was
getting just a little damp. I decided to paddle south
directly into the wind to minimize the effects of the
waves. After paddling well south of the cove and about
halfway across the lake I turned sharply northeast and
aimed for the cove. I paddled hard to surf the wave tops,
just for fun.
Before entering the cove I decided to try the outer
edge of the sunken tree line. I let the Pan-Handler
sink near some of the tree trunks. There was no
reaction from any fish along the edge, so I moved a
little south and pointed into the channel. I knew where
the channel entered the cove from my earlier trip and I
set the anchors so the wind blew against my starboard
side. The wind had died down a bit now and I cast
through a couple of old stumps sticking about a foot
above the water. The first fish was a crappie, smallish
and thin at about 6 inches, but exactly the kind of
company I wanted to enjoy today.
I continued to fish into the cove moving the kayak
along about 2-3 feet at a time being sure to fan my
casts to every bit of fishable water ahead of and
beside me. On each cast I would let the Pan-Handler
fall slowly for a several seconds and then I'd raise
the rod tip to create a rising motion by the fly.
After the rod tip was above the height of my head I'd
drop it back down and pull the slack line in and allow
the fly to drop again. About every third time I pulled
slack line in I'd give the line a couple of quick jerks,
just to make certain there was no fish on. I know most
of the crappies were pretty easy to feel when they hit
the fly, but I was then and still am curious if I was
missing fish that might have been quicker and subtler.
I continued fishing with the Pan-Handler and was
thrilled with how much the crappies liked it. I was
able to bring about twenty fish to hand including
three bluegills, I lost several crappies during the
retrieve and I'm sure a couple of the ones I lost
would have filled a spot at the dinner table. I put
four good crappies in my basket that I keep hanging
just behind my right elbow.
The wind continued to die down to only a couple of
miles per hour as the day wore on. While sitting
there fishing I enjoyed the occasional mud hen and
heron. Every so often a fish would splash along the
shore or maybe it was frogs. Farther into the cove
a bird was perched at the top of one of the sunken
trees, it would dive into the water after fish and
fly up to an adjacent stump. After his meal he'd
return to the treetop and dive again. There's a paved
trail winding through the woods along the shore of the
entire lake for bicycles, jogging, and walking. The
people using the trail seldom realize I'm in the water
fishing, but one or two will wave as they go by.
I consider the Pan-Handler to be a very successful fly
and the tactics I've used have served well for fall crappies.
Now it's winter and the water can't be fished. The temperature
today was only 19 for the high. I'm not certain when I'll get
to go out for more crappies, but when I do they'll no longer
be fall crappies. That means the tactics will have to change
and the crappies will most likely prefer a minnow imitation,
but I think I'll be ready. I'm already holding in my hand a
fly that looks an awful lot like a tube jig I know has worked
wonders on spring crappies. It'll be a FOTW candidate one of
these days. ~ Tim
About Tim Lunceford:
Tim lives and fishes near Kansas City, Missouri. He's
been married 23 years, is the father of four kids and
is celebrating the arrival of his first grandchild –
Caleb Thomas. He works as a Heat and Frost Insulator
for Local Union #27 in K.C.