The scene would have qualified as déjà vu had
not the weather been so much nicer than the
first time around. There I was, a new fly
rod in hand, throwing a Hare's Ear nymph to
the exact same spot (next to a patch of
submerged shrubs) that I'd thrown a nymph into
last spring at this same lake arm. And just
like last year, on my first cast I got a hit.
You gotta be kidding me.
Well, there were a few differences worth
mentioning besides the better weather. For
one, this time the fish got off immediately
after it hit the nymph. For another, this
time I was not casting from the bank. No,
no, boys and girls; I was out there on the
lake, my solo canoe anchored bow and stern,
held steady in the afternoon crosswind.
The lake arm I was fishing in tends to run
fairly shallow; 200 yards from its upper end
the depth is still only about 6 feet due to
decades of sediment buildup. Not knowing
where to begin, after launching my canoe I
started casting to cover when I was barely
50 feet away from the upper end shoreline,
where the depth isn't more than 18 inches
For some reason it always feels so weird,
fishing in extremely shallow water. But I
opted to give it a try because conditions
seemed to dictate it. The lake water still
felt very cold to my hand, and the week prior
had seen chilly daytime and overnight
temperatures. If the fish in this cove were
going to be active at all, chances were good
they'd be active this afternoon, in this shallow
water that had been warmed by an entire day's
worth of direct sunlight.
Last year about this time, FAOL writer Rick
Zieger had unknowingly compelled me to visit
this lake. I'd read all his fishing stories
and had gotten fired up to go panfishing with
fly rod. Thanks to Rick's stories, plus a trip
up to Iowa to actually fish with him, I was back
at this lake again, fired up anew, using another
new fly rod. But I wasn't just using a new rod;
today for the first time I would be imitating one
of Rick's standard procedures; namely, carrying
two fly rods in my canoe.
15 minutes earlier, before launching my boat,
having a second rod forced me to think hard
about which fly or flies I wanted on my backup
rig. My new rod (Cabela's 5-piece, 8-foot
3-weight pack rod) was equipped with Old
Reliable - a #10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph.
After much guesswork, onto my other rod (a St.
Croix 2-piece, 9-foot 3-weight) I tied a tandem
rig consisting of a #16 mosquito larvae "tractor"
with a #20 scud "trailer" linked by 18-inches of
6X tippet. If the bluegills don't want a big bug
quite yet, maybe they'll grab one of these two
Once on the lake and anchored, the Hare's Ear
nymph went into battle first. No choice in
the matter; last year, I had way too much
success with this fly not to go with it
initially. So after this year's first hit
got loose, I shot more casts around the same
stickup brush and a few throws later connected
with a bluegill that ended up in hand. Little
feller, thanks buddy, "There you go; see you
I wasn't anchored very far off the south
shoreline. The water near shore lay in
mottled shade cast by the still-bare
branches of adjacent hillside trees. This
water would have been warmer, but it had
seen only partial sun all day long. That
would make it a bit colder than where I was
presently working. When it was time to move
farther down the lake to a new spot, I almost
dismissed this shaded water.
Then a thought came to me: perhaps some crappies
were holding in that shaded water. Crappies
prefer low-light conditions, so if any crappies
had indeed moved into this shallow arm so early
in the year, either to spawn or to make nests,
this lower-light slightly warmed habitat is the
sort of place where they could be hanging out.
So...I targeted an open pocket about 20 feet
off the bank and sent my nymph into it. Bang!
A bluegill snatched it, and this one was a keeper.
I went back into the pocket again and the nymph
absorbed a lightning bolt strike from some kind
of fish - I couldn't tell what - but it was
extremely irked at getting poked in the mouth
with a hook so early in April. After lots of
circling and surging about (the water was too
shallow to offer diving depth) a big redear
sunfish surfaced alongside and I horsed it
into my boat. On the bottom of my canoe I've
put a row of markers spaced 2-inches apart, and
this redear was 10-inches long. The thing
weighed 1-½ lb. if it weighed an ounce. One
big, mean chunk of panfish tiger. Thinking of
the damage he might do kicking open the door of
my ice chest, I lost my nerve and released him
back into the lake before he could get seriously
mad at me.
I'd love to fool that redear again someday when
he's even bigger and stronger. If it happens,
I hope I'm holding this Cabela's 5-piece, 3-wt.
pack rod that I got for Christmas. Its action
is smooth and soft, yet with plenty enough spine
to throw a #10 nymph 40 feet anytime I need to.
Tangling with a 1-lb. redear on this fly rod is
an experience so religious you won't need to go
to church for six months.
One of the constants in fly fishing is how
excess loops of line below your hands get
tangled in objects like rocks, weeds, grass,
twigs. Trust me, fishing from a boat does
not eliminate this hassle. Soon after
releasing the redear, and still in a state
of excitement, I wrapped a coil of line
around the handle of my canoe paddle. A
mistake like this, if left uncorrected, can
lead to an instant break-off should a big bass
or channel catfish grab your fly and zoom off.
So after the fly hit the water, I stopped my
retrieve and busied myself unwrapping line from
around my paddle. When I picked up my retrieve
again I felt weight on the line, then the
slow-frequency throb of resistance from a fish.
"Crappie!" this had to be a crappie. And so
it was. Identifying it as it surfaced, I went
immediately defensive, bringing the fish toward
me slowly, leading it along gingerly to keep
its mouth underwater. I learned my lesson
last year, about not bringing crappie to the
top so fast, because if they ever get their
mouth up in the air they'll wiggle hard and
throw the hook.
After putting this smallish crappie on ice, I
began fan-casting through the pocket, working
it all over again. Except now I was giving
my nymph a few seconds longer to fall before
working it slower, so that it would take a
deeper route back to the boat. You can snag
on the bottom a lot doing this, but it's a
risk worth taking. Whatever the depth, once
you discover the fish are deeper there's little
choice; you have to go deeper to catch 'em.
But going deep in water that's shallow to
start with is a bit hard on the nerves.
Okay then, you can imagine what happened
to my nerves when a few minutes later one
of my slow retrieves stopped moving and I
connected with a female white crappie that
was 11-inches long and weighed probably
1 ¼-lb. Fat with eggs, she was spending
time in this shaded, shallow water already.
Not in mid-May, she was here now, in very
Catching this beautiful crappie threw my
bluegill-focused game plan into chaos. Were
these two crappie loners, or was an entire
hungry school of crappies lurking nearby?
Should I stick with the Hare's Ear or switch
to a crappie-specific fly? Problem was, my
stash of crappie-specific flies was sitting
in a storage unit in one of many unmarked boxes
with other belongings I'd stacked there a couple
months earlier. There's nothing like going
through a divorce for getting your outdoor gear
discombobulated. Did I say "gear?" I was lucky
to have a train of thought roll far enough down
the track without derailing that I'd made it to
the lake today myself.
About now is when the idea occurred to me that
the mosquito larva/scud tandem rig might be the
way to go here, if indeed a school of crappie
was close by. The tandem rig with its two tiny
flies would settle very slowly due to the extreme
light weight of those hooks, and then I could crawl
the rig back through this shallow water in super-slow
motion. The result would be a longer target exposure,
two flies offering the crappies better attack
possibilities. However, the wind was gusting
hard enough that I feared losing the rig to
snags; wind-blown waves were already pushing
my floating line into all the little stickups
that poked above the lake surface. Besides,
hadn't I just caught a great looking crappie
using this nymph? Why switch dice when I'd
just rolled a winner?
So I stuck with the Hare's Ear and proceeded
to wear out my right arm catching…one more
crappie over the next two hours. It was not
until after sundown, when the lake surface was
becalmed, that I finally brought the backup
tandem rig into play. It caught just three
bluegills, and I don't blame the flies for
that. The tandem's slow action was caused
by fading light, I think, coupled with a move
I'd made to a new spot where the water is two
feet deeper (and thus colder). I did catch a
bluegill on the scud, though, and that was fun.
After reading in FAOL's Bulletin Board last fall
of the success many fly fishers have had using
this tiny fly, I've been eager to try the
Spring is finally, finally here, at least in
Kansas it is; an ice chest holding 11 bluegills
and 3 crappies just told me so. For the next
couple of months, though, my personal circumstances
will make it harder to chase them properly.
Luckily, back in my childhood I learned the
art of finding time to go fishing. ~ 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