July 19th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Picking Pockets
By Don Rolfson, Nebraska

I learned to fly-fish for trout in the cold high mountain streams of Colorado. You know, the ones that a boy of 10 could almost jump across, much to the chagrin of my mother who did my laundry. I later graduated to larger streams and rivers and bought some waders (okay, my wife did after a few fishing trips when I returned wet and muddy.) I later moved on to trying a little lake fishing, so I procured a float tube. Then my fishing life took a large turn.

I moved from the Rockies out to the flatlands of Nebraska. I fought it for about four years, only fishing a couple of times a year on the trout stream that is three hours away, but I finally caved in a couple of years ago and began chasing the warm water species. That first year I started it was late in the year when I began, and it had been a wet year. The lakes were full and deep. Somehow the place I selected held a few bluegills and some crappie I was able to catch, and I have been hooked on warm water fishing ever since. About that time I also found FAOL and began digging into any and all information that applied to this new pursuit.

As I have learned and applied that learning to this newfound area of my 'hobby' the drought that has been affecting much of the west also has hit us a bit. The lakes I fished have lost a lot of surface area. Last year the shore receded about 20-30 feet in the areas I frequented. This was actually a blessing to me and my learning, as I was now able to get out close to the weed beds that I had heard was where the warm water species liked to hold. You see, most of the time I have available for fishing is over my lunch hour at work. I work five minutes from one lake and ten from another. I can eat a sandwich and some carrots while I drive there and string up my rod. Then I can walk the bank and fish for about 45 minutes before I have to head back. So last year, with the receding water line I was now able to get to within 20 feet of the weed edge without getting wet. I could drop a fly right up next to the weeds and draw out some of the fish with some regularity.


I had a great year from early March thru late November of catching crappie, bluegill and bass. Then this spring arrived. The water has receded even farther and I now find that the weed beds start about five feet out from the water's edge. There are some areas where the weeds do not grow as close to shore, but they are few and far between. I again tried fishing the inside edge, and have picked up a few fish. Most were bass in the three - to five inch range.

I brought my plight to the attention of my friends on the bulletin board here, in hopes that they would have some experience to share and some techniques for catching more and bigger fish under these new conditions. They had many good suggestions. Unfortunately, most involved getting into the water so I could fish the outer edges of the weed lines. I would love to give this a try, and even plan to one of these days when I can get my float tube out on the lake, but since most of my fishing is in short time periods, this has not been possible yet.


One day while I was stalking the banks of the closer lake (which has the most weed growth) fishing the spots where the weeds were farther from shore with limited success, I noticed that there were many fish hitting the surface out in the weeds. I thought I had an answer to the problem; I would just need to tie more of my flies as weedless configurations and fish them on top of the weeds. In an attempt to see what types of flies I would need to tie weedless I reeled in and watched what was happening a little more closely. That is when I noticed something I had not before. Most of the activity was not really in the weeds, but in and at the edges of little weedless pockets within the weed beds that ranged from a few inches in size to a few feet. As I watched I was amazed that an opening the size of a dinner plate would have fish regularly hitting the surface within it.


The next day I decided to try to take advantage of this newfound knowledge. I headed out to the same spot, and stood there to see if the same pattern was holding as the previous day. It was, so I tied on a small gurgler to see if the fish would show any interest. I soon discovered that my casting had a lot to be desired in the accuracy category. I would slap the fly down on the weed two feet short of the pocket, or four feet beyond it, or a foot or two to either side before finally getting it into the pocket. This seemed to stop the action in that pocket for a while and I would have to move on to another one. I kept my attempts to the bigger pockets as I worked on accuracy and discovered that if I could place the fly in the pocket on the first or second try, it would get some attention from whatever was living there. Many times this was a bluegill, but there have been some pretty nice bass (for me) that I have picked out of these pockets.


It has been a wonderful season of discovery so far this year, and I hope that I never forget that when the fishing begins to get difficult I just need to figure out how to pick the pockets of whatever body of water I happen to be fishing. ~ dr

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