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Bluegill observations

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I'm heading out in the morning with a friend and surely bluegill will be a target. We'll put the kayaks in at the Nine Mile Canal at North Port, Fla. Haven't fished that body of water in years, but I know it's good.

I'm not a purist by any means, but I find I can catch more bluegill and other freshwater fish on fly rod than I can other tackle. Of course, I use fly tackle all the time. Tomorrow I'll take a 1-weight, 2-weight and maybe something just a little bigger with a bass bug.

Like most folks, I like to cast poppers for gills. And I'll stick with the popper as long as the fish are willing to rise. Used to be when they quit hitting poppers, it was time to head home.

But I discovered (just like many) that you can still catch plenty of bluegill after the topwater bite subsides. I usually use a No. 10 gold, beadhead nymph under a strike indicator or my Myakka Minnow when I go subsurface.

Observation No. 1: I catch more and bigger bluegill on sinking flies.

Most anglers in Florida pound the shoreline. They'll cast to grass, fallen trees, stumps or whatever might be there. That will produce. But I do well in deeper water off that particular structure -- especially when the bite is tough. I like to target river channels, edges and deep weed beds.

Observation No 2: Deeper water often produces better fish.

New fly patterns are neat. But they do me no good if I have no confidence in them. I'd tie on a new pattern, cast it 5-6 times, then go back to my tried-and-true producers. But I've conditioned myself to give flies a chance. I observe them to figure out their sink rate. I look at how they act in the water. If I figure a fish will eat them, I'll give that fly and decent workout.

Observation No. 3: Confidence is the best pattern in your fly box.

As Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by observing." How true. I've been with anglers who are oblivious to what's going on around them. They're so focused on their fly that they'll miss a bluegill rising to kiss a bug off the surface 20 feet away. While I do need to focus on my fly, I still am able to be aware of what's going on around me. I see minnows scatter and I'm able to deliver the fly promptly.

Observation No. 4: Observe.

A good pair of polarrized sunglasses is essential. I don't mind spending a decent amount on sunglasses and won't fish during the day without them. Last spring, we were kayak fishing on Lake Manatee and paddled into a cove. I saw a light area of bottom that looked like honey-combed bluegill beds. I said to my buddiy, "Do you see the beds?"

His answer, "What beds?"

He wasn't wearing sunglasses.

I made a cast and caught a hand-sized copperheaded bluegill. Over the next hour, I caught 30 more.

Observation No. 5: Sunglasses are for more than just warding off the sun.

Some people wait for the "perfect" day to go fishing. Those days are few are far between. I go fishing whenever I can. And I've had some pretty good days when the fishing wasn't supposed to be good.

Observation No. 6: If you're fly is in the water, you've got a chance.

A lot of folks want to show off their casting prowess. That's all well and good, but lengthy casts aren't usually required -- especially when fishing out of a kayak. The fish don't know you're there, so you can get a little closer to your target.

Observation No. 7: A short cast on-target is much better than a lengthy, off-target cast.

Fishing is more than catching fish. I like to catch fish as much as anyone, but I learned a long time ago that when I'm on the water, problems are far away. I don't think about bills, the job or anything else. I think about fishing, the great scenery, good times and Mother Nature.

Observation No. 8: Go fishing often.

It has happened more times that I can recall. I'll cast a popper out, let it sit, then turned to grab a drink. Whenever I take my eyes off the popper, I inevitably get a hit. The fish don't know that you're not watching. But what has happened is that you're not working the heck out of the bug. Instead, you're allowing the rubber legs to slowly work in the water.

Obsevation No. 9: Slow down and the catching speeds up.

Many, many years ago, I was wading Upper Myakka Lake. We found an area of bedding bluegill and started catching them every cast. We were using No. 10 poppers. Every time a popper would hit the water, it didn't take long before a big bluegill rose to suck it in.

But I started missing fish. Ten times I cast out, 10 times bluegill hit the popper and 10 times I came up empty.

The popper's hook had broken off.

Observation No. 10: If you're missing a lot of strikes, check your hook.

I used to play golf., but I retired in 1984. I did pull my clubs out of retirment to play 18 holes with Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden, but I haven't played since. Golf is a great sport that requires a lot of skill. And there's little sweeter than hitting a drive 300 yards down the middle or sinking a 20-foot birdie putt. But many times I'd walk off the 18th green, look to the sky and say, "I should have gone fishing."

Never ever at the end of a fishing trip have I said, "I should have played golf!"

Observation No. 11: Fishing is relatively inexpensive. And it doesn't make sense to pay good money to play golf and get ticked off.