Welcome to Panfish

Part Nine

Larger Than..
Photo from Cowles Enthusiast Media
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Slightly Larger Than A Pan (Or a Bread Box)

by Randy Fratzke

What's larger than a pan (I realize not all pans are created equal) and, most of the time larger than the proverbial bread box? Lives in Warm water streams, rivers, lakes, and large ponds? Have teeth that would lacerate a Kevlar vest, not to mention any fingers accidentally placed inside their mouth? And are as close to salt water fishing as you can get without the salt? Pike!

I may be wrong here, (and too lazy to haul my butt off the chair and out to the library) but I think there are five main members of the Pike Family: Perch, Pickerel, Walleye, Northern, and Muskellunge (or Musky). While they are all related, fishing for each specie is quite different. I order to conserve space, keep you from getting too bored, and have articles for me to write in the future I'll split this into four articles.

Perch and Pickerel

As usual, I was told that "you can't catch perch or pickerel on a fly rod". Being the ornery, bull headed kraut that I am, I took it more as a challenge than a statement. After all, "fish is fish", and all fish eat, and fly fishing is just another way of presenting a lure to the fish. So the challenge, as I saw it, was the basic "How, When, Where, What" questions and answers about the species. (Yes, ya gotta do a little research once in a while!) So a little background (most of which was provided by my wife's skeptical brother-in-law who is an avid perch and walleye angler).

Perch, and their larger cousin, Pickerel, have a tendency to travel in schools. They feed on a lot of small nymph and larva like creatures near the bottom of lakes and large, slow moving streams. They feed almost continuously, but like most fish, early morning and evening hours seem to be best. I also included in my research visits to lakes that had abundant anglers and reports of catches.

Here in Iowa, that means Spirit Lake and the Okiboji chain in the northwest part of the state. I wanted to talk with the anglers and DNR to find out just what the fish liked to eat, specifically. What they were mainly using were maggots, (known by a lot of local names, such as wigglers, stinky's, etc., and come in different colors) hung on small hooks, with very light sinkers, and suspended under spring bobbers (like the ones used for ice fishing).

The real problem came in when I found out that the usual depth was between 15 and 30 feet and that the usual method is to use an ultra sensitive, light weight rod and drop the line vertically from the side of the boat. So now I had to convert this information and technique to fly fishing. As my wife's brother-in-law put it: "Why bother with the fly rod, just get in the boat and lets go catch some!" But there was the challenge.....

The problem of designing a fly (or lure) wasn't too bad, basically a shortened version of a San Juan Worm, a couple nymphs, tied in various light colors, and a couple of larva patterns, again, in a couple of light colored patterns, all tied on size 16 or smaller hooks. Rigging the rod was another story. I loaded the reel with a sinking line, with a super light tippet (these are not monster fish...usually under a pound). Having tied the flies, rigged the reel, I was ready for the challenge, I thought.

What everyone had failed to mention was that, while the fish moved in large schools, so did the anglers and their boats. In this case about 60 to 70 boats, grouped in a tight cluster, anchored about 10 feet apart from each other.....The idea being, as the school came around for another sweep, the outside boats would start pulling the fish in and then the other anglers reacted to what was similar to a stadium "wave" at a football game. After about 15 minutes, the school would pass and an anxious calm would come over the crowd, waiting for the next pass of the school. Then the whole thing was repeated. So, obviously, long distance casting amongst this crowd would be "frowned on". I wasn't about to just lower my line into the water and jig fish with a fly rod (I do have some limits). So I decided to watch for a few passes and figure out the school pattern. Once that was done, I positioned the boat to the outside of the crowd, on the "exit" side of the school pattern. That way, after they were done flagellating the water "en masse" I could cast towards the exiting school, have the line sink to the proper depth, make the presentation, and hopefully wind up with a couple of fish.

The other problem is that fishing for perch is like hitting a school of Dorado Dolphins, each pass usually resulted in six to eight fish for the "normal" anglers, each working two rods and up to four people per boat. In my boat there was me, and a very embarrassed looking brother-in-law wearing a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. There was no way I was going to take more than one or two fish per pass, but quantity has never been a big priority with me anyway.

To sum it all up, yes, to the surprise of the brother-in-law and the other 60 boats, the method worked. Would I do it again? Probably not...it's a heck of a lot of work for a few fish. Did I enjoy myself? Immensely, mostly just proving that "it can be done" (my orneriness showing through, I guess). So if you want a challenge, a lot of strange looks, a few "guffaws", and some darn good eating fish, give it a try. My only other advice it if your brother-in-law doesn't fly fish, don't tell him what your doing, and leave him at home, you'll both be better off for it!

~Randy Fratzke

Panfish Part 1 | Panfish Part 2 | Panfish Part 3 | Panfish Part 4 | Panfish Part 5 | Panfish Part 6 | Panfish Part 7 | Panfish Part 8 |

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