September 25th: When I came out of the house that Sunday
morning my truck, canoe and gear were dripping wet with
heavy dew. How high was the humidity? Halfway to the lake,
I encountered fog so thick I slowed to 25 mph else I'd have
done my fly fishing in a watery roadside ditch.
Mornings like this keep many fishermen at home. But when
I reached the lake and began unstrapping my canoe, I looked
way down the lake arm and saw that another hardcore was
already out there hitting it. Bless his heart! The guy
was bass fishing, throwing a large spinnerbait over and
over into the water.
It's getting anymore that my favorite thing to see on the
lake are bass fishermen in expensive boats. These guys are
having a ball, just like me, and their sturdier gear has
little or no impact on my activities; we seldom get in
close proximity. Maybe it's because I prefer fishing
the shallows (5 feet deep or less) while your average
bassaphile seems to prefer the next deeper zone (5-10 feet).
Perhaps a bit of psychology comes into play as well. Not
boasting, but I'll wager that I have a fish on, and my
whippy 3-wt. fly rod will be hopping up and down under
the strain of a fight, probably 10 times more often than
the bass anglers enjoy hooking up. The bass guys will be
sneaking glances my direction, so there's no doubt they
see I'm having good luck. The fish I'm catching are only
6-to-10 inches long at best, but maybe it's the fact that
I'm catching fish steadily while they're having slower
action - maybe THAT is what keeps them from coming near:
their competitive nature (cultivated by watching the exultant
behavior of tournament fishermen on TV) does not allow them
to operate anyplace where they might get shown up by a fly
fisherman in...a canoe?
But my thing is, I don't go fishing for the purpose of showing
up other people; I go out to catch fish. Hey, can I help it
if panfish are so abundant, and such aggressive feeders, that
on most trips a distant observer thinks I'm casting into the
holding tank of a hatchery truck? I've been fishing since I
was 5 years old, too, so I do know a thing or two about where
a panfish might be found.
However, it's the overall system of fly fishing - THAT is what
makes me look so good nowadays. I've happily shared this "secret"
with every curious bassboater who's ever come close enough to
visit with. Most bass fishermen, though, will troll-motor away
the other direction after just a few minutes spent watching me
rip the bluegills a new one.
Is there a sad aspect of their aversion to fly rod fishing
success? I think so.
Quite a few bassboats I see have young kids on board - kids
who presumably are being taught how to fish by their dads,
uncles or grandpas. It's a good thing to see. Problem is,
these kids are being taught to go after largemouth bass
"tournament style;" in other words, the kids are outfitted
with medium-to-heavy spinning or baitcasting rigs designed
for throwing crankbaits, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, pig & jigs,
Being trusted with such expensive, man-sized gear doubtless
gives Junior's developing ego a boost, but the benefit appears
short-lived from what I've seen and heard.
Take your average 8-year old just learning to fish: what does
that boy or girl want more than anything? They want to catch
fish! And it doesn't take a mental giant to figure out that
the more fish the kid catches, the more skills the kid learns.
To my 58-year old little kid's brain, the best thing Dad, Uncle
and Grandpa can do is introduce their kid to panfishing first.
Put the lunker largemouth bass on the back burner for a few years.
If you want to turn your garden variety innocent little kid
into a raving maniac for the sport of fishing, the training
method is simple: put the kid into some bluegills, redears
or green sunfish. Start them off with a cane pole if you want
the lesson to begin on Square One. Or go with an ultralight
spinning outfit. Or pop for a low-cost 3-wt. fly rod and let
the kid sharpen his sword by casting barb-less flies in the
back yard. If he or she exhibits fly casting skills that are
even remotely close to being passable, then buy a cheapie fly
box with some nymphs and poppers and get that kid to the water
right away. If you're in a boat, anchor it next to a weedbed
or a brushy shoreline and see what grabs those flies the kid
All of this was going through my mind Sunday morning as I
listened involuntarily to the awful racket emanating from
a second bass boat that pulled into the lake arm about 30
minutes after I arrived. Two young boys and two adult men
were in the boat. Even before the boat came around the
shore into view I could hear this group yakking above the
engine noise. Soon after the boat stopped, both boys became
loudly unhappy at how slow the fishing action was.
I could appreciate their pain. The grownups operating the
boat were fishing in 8 feet of water where no submerged
cover exists. Initially they'd roared up to where the
depth makes only 4 feet and good cover begins, but then
strangely they retreated into deeper water. I suppose due
to fears of running aground or fouling their prop?
While the two boys griped loudly and Dad did his best
to keep from exploring for oil using their heads for a
drill, yours truly was anchored in his solo canoe 100
yards to their east boating and releasing so many
bluegills it was downright ridiculous. I kept thinking
to myself, "Those boys ought to be over here in this
shallow water with a fly rod doing this. EVERY kid who
gets taken fishing should experience the kind of fun I'm
having right now."
It really was an extraordinary morning. Equipment-wise,
I had brought two rods and was catching fish on both. My
3-wt. St. Croix Avid carried a #10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph.
Most of the time, though, I was topwater fishing using my 5-piece
Cabela's Stowaway (a softer action 3-wt.) to throw a modified #8
K&K Flyfisher's panfish popper.
I say "modified" because the popper required some body and
fender work. This was accomplished by nipping off its long
rubber legs and tail strips, leaving only the cork body,
thorax hackle and tail feathers. Thus streamlined the
popper flew much easier through the air; my leader could
now roll out properly and deliver the goods at maximum
extension (whereas prior to the rubberlegectomy this popper
would die in mid-cast, touching down no farther out than
where the end of my floating line landed).
After launching my canoe, I'd fooled around for 5 minutes
or so casting to an area of foot-deep water but then made
a beeline to one of finest places on planet Earth - a large
area of submerged brush in water 4 feet deep. Normally at
this time of year this brushy area is clogged with a mat
of weeds so thick as to make it nearly impenetrable to any
watercraft. But a recent storm surge that roared through
this lake arm had blasted the area free of surface weeds.
I could now ease my canoe into the heart of the brush stand,
quietly lower my anchors and fire away in all directions,
my only concern being not to hang up during my backcasts
and forward cast.
All morning the wind speed remained very light, near dead
calm, making accurate casting much easier. The K&K popper
floated inches above the tips of woody-stemmed hazards lying
just below the surface. The popper was not, however, safe
from attack by the hungry panfish that reside amidst that
brush. I could hardly make a cast anywhere without the
popper getting pounced on by a bluegill or redear sunfish.
Some of the 'gills were running 8-inches long.
This was catch and release fishing, and lots of releasing got
done because the hits never quit coming the entire time I was
there. My first cast touched down at 7:30 a.m. and I quit
fishing at 11:30 a.m. It was one of those days you hate
leaving the lake. If I had brown bagged it on this trip,
those 'gills and redears might have jumped in the boat and
eaten my lunch, too. ~ 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