Trying to get myself back into a
fishing groove, I dragged myself
out of bed at 5:30 a.m. two days
in a row in hopes of ripping into
some panfish at a local lake.
Saturday morning I was the first person
on the water at one of the lake's main
arms. Strangely, there wasn't much surface
feeding activity in evidence. Looking back
at it now, I should have paid attention to
that clue; instead, I impulsively tied on
the last of my Yager's Flies poppers and
tried forcing the action at the surface.
As I began working the edges of floating
weed beds, a thought crossed my mind that
the success and great fun I'd had the
weekend before using a Yager's popping
bug might have hooked me on surface fishing.
And what might that portend? If a tiny popper
is what I'm throwing today in the face of
physical clues indicating that it probably
won't produce any fish (instead of using a
Hare's Ear nymph fished deep, which probably
would) then maybe tomorrow I'll be
throwing - gak! - a conventional dry fly?
I guess I'm just one of those "inertia
fishermen:" a fly that catches fish for
me is a fly I'll keep using until I'm
utterly convinced that a change is needed.
And it can take a lot of failure to make
me change flies.
At any rate, the 'gills Saturday morning
were only mildly enthused by the popper.
I'm not sure it was the popper's fault,
though. On three separate occasions I
briefly spotted the massive dorsal fin
of some kind of large fish that was slowly
prowling the weed beds I was fishing. All
I could glimpse was a huge fin connected to
a seriously large fish. Not a carp; this
water was far too deep for carp. It may
have been a very big flathead catfish -
definitely a super predator of panfish.
If so, the presence of such a dangerous
hunter (or a number of them if a school
was hunting the weeds) was reason enough
for every bluegill in the area to retreat
deep within the weed bed mass where they
could spend the morning checking their mascara.
A few 'gills did take my popper, though,
but the fish were running very small. Then
my popper took a soft, quiet, swirling hit
from what I took for granted was another
dinky bluegill. It even felt like a dinky
'gill at first, until suddenly my rod got
yanked down so hard and quick that I was
unable to relax my pinch hold on the line.
Before I knew it the leader parted and…hasta
la vista, Yager's popper.
Searching the box with trembling hands for a
"surface type" to tie on next, I settled on a
black foam spider and began giving it the old
heave-ho. My reflexes were now on Red Alert
after being sucker punched by yet another Big
One That Got Away. A few minutes later, my
spider suffered a vicious hit an instant after
touchdown and the floating line began rushing
away from me. My mind flashed "big fish!" and
I yanked back hard on my 3-wt. rod. From out
of the lake, flying my direction on a low
trajectory course, came a bluegill no more
than 3 inches long.
I ducked as the fish zipped past my head
and splashed into the lake 15 feet behind
me. As I began pulling in slack line, I
noticed that my violent strike and resulting
"air retrieve" had formed a nasty wind knot -
and not in my leader, either, but the floating
line. Undoing this knot involved backing first
my first line then the leader and finally the
tiny fish itself through the granny knot loop,
which meant I had to pull this micro-'gill into
the canoe hand-over-hand. This bit of drama
would have made ESPN's daily sports highlight
if anyone had filmed it.
I eventually gave up on the surface fly
idea and switched back to my trusty nymph,
with the idea that working the depths would
produce some fish. It did, but not very
many. Popper, spider, nymph…not much was
happening this morning. Catch-and-release
fishing is what I was doing, so after three
hours of not catching very much I released
myself and went home.
Next day, I returned to the same lake but
a different lake arm and tried an area of
standing brush that has served me well.
This is shallower water than where I fished
Saturday, probably 3 ft. shallower, in fact.
I paddled to various patches of open water
within the huge area of weed cover, and one
after another anchored nearby and worked each
patch using a new Yager's popper (I'd purchased
replacements the day before after completing
that morning trip). But there was not much
action on the popper again.
I switched to a foam spider. Not much
luck with it, either. So I abandoned my
surface quest for a second straight day
and went with a tandem rig - a Rick
Zieger-tied #12 pheasant tail nymph up
front with a black #20 midge trailer.
Still not much action, except for one
very small pocket of water where I hooked
probably 15 small gills plus one big fish
that took me into weeds and broke me off.
But that little hot spot soon bottle-rocketed
into oblivion and I was back to catching one
fish about every 20 minutes.
By now I was getting thoroughly confused as
to what the 'gills wanted. Whatever it was,
I sure wasn't providing it. The frustrating
thing was that fish of some sort were surfacing
all around fairly regularly, eagerly attacking
some type of prey item.
I'd been watching various fishing boats come
into the lake arm; boats whose occupants
would bass fish for a short while and then
leave. Suddenly it dawned on me that one
of them, which I thought was a small boat,
was actually a float tube fisherman and the
guy was a fly fisherman to boot!
An hour or so later we finally came close
enough that we could commence visiting without
shouting across the water. The guy told me
that he'd caught some nice sized 'gills down
at the tail end of the weeds and shrubs, where
the water drops off into the deeper part of the
arm. I'd been watching him for a long time as
he slowly worked into shallower water, and had
seen that he wasn't doing any better than me
once he got into the same water. That is to
say, the fish were politely handing us our
hats and telling us it's okay we leave whenever.
The tube float fisherman turned out to be Dave
Hildebrand of Lawrence, KS. Recently of
Lawrence, I should say; he's formerly from
Rapid City, South Dakota, and also from Wyoming
before that. A slow morning spent fly rodding
this pretty but slow-action Midwest lake had
put Dave in the mood to rhapsodize about the
beautiful trout streams he used to fish back
in his former states of residence. He sounded
like one homesick fisherman, and who could blame
him? Not me, when I'd been fishing one of my
home state's better panfish lakes for four hard
hours and caught only two 'gills 6-inches long.
I told Dave that I've been planning a trout
fishing/camping trip in the Medicine Bow National
Forest west of Laramie. So it was cool meeting
another fly fisher on this lake, but even cooler
to meet one who's actually lived in Wyoming and
caught lots of trout there. Dave put me in the
mood to immediately leave for Wyoming last week.
Maybe in these dog days of summer, even
Kansas panfish need to take a little
vacation from the habitual things they
do that result in them getting caught by
eager fly fishers. Just like we Midwestern
fly fishers who chase after those panfish,
sometimes we need a little vacation from
the things we do.
I've only seen pictures of the river I'll
be going to up in Wyoming. A woman in one
of the photos (my girlfriend, Janet) is
standing in the middle of a wide stream
holding a rainbow trout she just caught,
and it's about 18-inches long. I will try
not to obsess on that image, and stay focused
on fooling some great-tasting 8-inch fry pan
trout that Janet says live in the river in
And the stars. I can't wait to camp out
near that river and stay up late at night
visiting quietly in the cool, higher
elevation clear night air, counting
satellites that pass overhead by picking
them out from a brilliant background of stars. ~ Joe
From Baldwin City, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the