For the last forty-five years one of my best buddies is a
Lawrence guy who is not a fly fisher. Not yet. He knows
I've gotten into fly fishing and have enjoyed many good times
doing it, so every now and then I obliquely mention fly rodding's
advantages while giving him trip reports from my latest outings.
This is no act of charity on my part. Don Binns doesn't need
my help to catch fish. Never has; he's quite adept with ultralight
We both are. I used ultralight spinning tackle almost
exclusively from age 18 until age 57. This thanks to
repeatedly seeing during my high school years the Garcia
408 ultralight spinning reel used during broadcasts of a
Kansas City-based outdoors TV show called "The Sportsman's
Friend." This excellent weekly show was hosted by the
late Harold Ensley, one of the founding figures responsible
for fishing and hunting being included in national broadcast
television programming, and who in 1960 won the
championship in one of America's first organized fishing
tournaments. If not for Mr. Ensley's respect for ultralight
tackle as a legitimate system it's doubtful I'd have tried such
gear myself and, as a consequence, began developing as a
teenager the love for panfishing that I have now.
Donnie and I may approach the sport from different
directions now but something we unfortunately have in
common is we each have permission to fish exactly one
privately-owned Kansas farm pond. Donnie's pond is
I really couldn't pinpoint it
exactly. The pond where I fish is down west of
"Doc, I think I'm suffering from amnesia."
Like where Donnie goes, "my pond" is enjoyed by many
other fishers. In past visits with its owner I've mentioned the
7 lbs. of panfish-to-1 lb. of bass harvest ratio that has been
mentioned numerous times by Iowa's Rick Zieger both in his
published FAOL stories and Bulletin Board posts. The pond's
owner doesn't fly fish but out of curiosity began reading FAOL
regularly last year. So it's possible that Rick's information is being
applied at the pond by way of informal word-of-mouth.
In any event, the folks who come to this pond individually focused
on catching bass, or channel catfish, or crappie or bluegill we
must be doing something right because good-sized bluegills are
what I normally catch. Living this summer in southwest Idaho
what I normally caught was nothing, so the reader can appreciate
why a significant percentage of my eagerness to get home to
northeast Kansas was so I could resume hitting the one pond
on the face of our planet that I have permission to fish?
Viewed from a Google satellite image, this 4-acre pond has
three coves arranged in the familiar shape of Mr. Spock's
Vulcan hand salute. After launching my canoe on the pond
last Friday, I initially worked two stretches of shoreline that
bracket the boat dock and had no success at either place. So
I paddled to a weedy point that separates the Vulcan salute's
finger coves and anchored 30 feet offshore, my canoe's bow
facing the point. A southeast breeze was blowing small waves
from astern, past my canoe onto the point.
In hindsight I wish I'd tried a wet fly pattern, something resembling
a drowned insect delivered by surface conveyor. Olive soft hackle
maybe. The idea just never occurred to me. I'd come to the pond
with a nymph already clinched to my leader and out of habit had left
it on despite not scoring with it back at the boat dock. This
marginally mindless act proved to be a lucky move, though: at
the weedy point eight hefty bluegills engulfed the nymph with vigor.
Only after the fact do I see how the nymph restricted me to
working the edge of the weeds. How might events have
transpired if, instead of nymphing the edge, I'd crawled a
virtually weightless #16 wet fly through that weedline's interior,
through the meager inch of water covering the tops of those
leafy pondweeds? With the wind blowing prey items toward
them, bluegills and bass probably were lurking inside that
submerged weedline like crouching hunters blocking the end
of a grain field on a pheasant drive.
But catching those eight keeper 'gills took all of three hours,
making this the slowest morning of fishing I've experienced
at this pond. Impossible to tell, but foul weather may have
played a role. The day was supposed to be clear and warm,
but from chilly dawn until chilly noon the sky was overcast and
the wind took turns blowing in from three directions. Rain started
falling just as I broke for lunch.
On previous trips here, by way of thanks I'd given the landowner
one or two zip-lock bags of boneless bluegill fillets after cleaning
my day's catch on-site. Fresh-caught bluegills for that evening's
supper, or maybe invite some neighbors over for a fish fry? Such
was my intention again today, but just these eight bluegills wasn't
gonna cut it. So I returned to the pond at mid-afternoon to see
what more trouble I could stir up. Because the other fishermen
mostly target the pond's bass and catfish, I had to hold up my end
of the "Zieger Ratio" by extracting more bluegills. A miserable,
thankless task but somebody needed to do it.
My rig this day was one I haven't used for almost three years: a 7-ft.,
2-piece, 1-weight Cabela's Clear Creek rod holding a Cabela's
Cahill II 0-wt. reel overlined with 2-weight Scientific Anglers
trout line. This is a panfish rig I put together prior to going even
lighter with a 00-weight Sage. Using the Clear Creek today was
one of those deals where for about the two-hundredth time I
looked over and saw it standing in my rod rack and suddenly
thought, "Why am I not using that rod anymore? Let me take
it out again."
Of late I've been using a 9-foot, 3-wt. rod. Transitioning to a
7-ft., 1-weight felt weird at first, but soon all was business as
usual except for feeling a higher voltage running through my
hand on each hookup. Well, that plus you must maintain a
quicker tempo when false casting, due to the rod's shortness.
Quite a number of 40-foot casts got thrown by this midget rig,
each one the product of group instruction given by James Castwell
at the September, 2007 Idaho Fish-In. Easy, subtle wrist flexes of
the line-holding hand during the rod's load phase are the secret a
trick Castwell explained while demonstrating the double-haul cast.
The technique works not just with 9-ft. fly rods but with every length
fly rod. Now we fast-forward to October 17, 2008 and by the time
I exit this farm pond my assessment of the 7-ft. Clear Creek has radically
changed: "wallflower" is now "dangerous weapon." All due to a few
minutes spent listening and watching as a certified fly casting instructor
did his thing.
You don't have to believe me; go ask the next four bluegills I caught.
They were holding in shallow water beneath the drooping branches
of willow trees growing along the pond's south shoreline. These big
boys were making an honest living executing any insect that lost its
grip on those tree branches and fell in the drink, when a double-haul
sidearm cast from my little Clear Creek gunned a #12 Pheasant Tail
Nymph low through the shadows and plopped it on their dinner plate.
After sliding the day's twelfth keeper bluegill into my floating fish
basket I began to relax, to the point where I decided to start
experimenting with fly patterns. At this juncture I'd relocated to
the elbow formed by the pond dam and south shore. The canoe
was anchored about 50 feet out in water 8 feet deep. The PTN
had not attracting a customer for ten minutes, so I switched to a
Pete's Rubber Legs. This nymph runs pretty deep if given time,
an important attribute because my intent was to cast it near the
dam, let it sink for a five-count then progressively decrease my
retrieve speed so Pete would swim steadily deeper through the
water column on its way back to the canoe. Not a pendulum
drop, but close.
One bluegill and a couple of little bass took the bait (if you will
permit) before something heavier and more powerful grabbed
hold of Pete. The first few throbs I couldn't ID the fish, maybe
a sluggish bass? Then came the realization: this might be a crappie
and a good one! Seconds later, despite me feathering my rod
pressure, a large crappie rose into view, pushed its mouth through
the surface and gave a vigorous head shake. To my great relief,
Pete's hook had penetrated the fish's upper lip in a firm spot where
it could not be easily dislodged. I worked the fish over beside the
canoe, lipped it and hoisted it aboard.
I confess to being utterly helpless against the onset of those
changes perhaps clinical changes that take
place in my psychology and physiology immediately upon
catching a 13-inch crappie. Something in my spirit
turn into a different person. Half elated, the other half serious as
a heart attack.
The serious half kept me flogging the water around the canoe
for fifteen minutes until Pete's Rubber Legs was at risk of
unraveling from impact. But no more hits. I frantically
switched to a Maribou Miss streamer, then a Mickey Finn
streamer, then a beadhead nymph. Forty-five minutes of
casting in all directions, working at all depths, using fast and
slow and stop-and-go retrieves
but not another crappie.
The elated half finally took over, letting me view the event
philosophically. This 13-incher may have been a rogue, not
part of a school feeding in this spot. I'd given it a decent shot.
This is, after all, a 4-acre pond; the big guy's brothers and sisters
and mom and dad must be off somewhere else. Let it go, let it go;
spend today's fading sundown minutes testing the face of the dam
with Old Reliable. Try to bag a few more bluegills there before
calling it a day.
I did just that and finished with sixteen big bluegills and the
one crappie. Two zip-lock bags of boneless panfish meat
eleven bluegill fillets and one crappie fillet per bag went
into the pond owner's freezer compartment. I was invited to stay
for supper, did, and the remaining ten bluegill fillets went into our
stomachs. ~ Joe
From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer, now retired. 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 recently
retired from 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
former 'day job.'