Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Someday Is Today
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS

I've been more than satisfied with the strategy I settled on last year after I determined to seriously involve myself in warm water fly fishing: Don't try to catch anything but bluegills; that way anytime something other than a bluegill grabs the fly it comes as a pleasant and educational surprise.

Bluegills would be my bread and butter gamefish.

But a secret ambition lurked in my heart from the very beginning: If I could learn enough fly rodding skills to catch bluegills on a fairly regular basis, I'd be preparing myself to catch spawning crappies with fly tackle if that opportunity ever arose. During their spawn, crappies in large numbers temporarily invade the places that bluegills inhabit more or less all the time. So if I just keep fishing for bluegills and have a ball doing it, my shot at catching spawning crappies will someday come.

For all I know, the random crappies I caught recently could be in their pre-spawn phase; the actual spawn not begun yet? So maybe it's possible to access these fish in the shallows for a few more weeks? Beats me. But really, I don't care whether a slab crappie is spawning or going cove-to-cove selling magazine subscriptions without a permit; if one knocks on my door, I'm buying.

It's April 15th. After stumbling by accident into a shallow-water crappie hotbed on my last regular Monday off, four excruciatingly long days pass before Friday afternoon quitting time arrives. I head straight to the lake after work. Would those slabs still be out there?

I'd had four days to devise a game plan. I would start out throwing deep, going with the Pheasant Tail nymph tandem rig that scored so well during first contact with these fish. My backup rod would carry a minnow tandem rig, both flies hand-tied by Rick Zieger.

About these two minnows of Rick's: I don't recall their names, sorry. The front fly had a white yarn body, short chartreuse marabou tail and a much longer chartreuse marabou upper section that trails back over the body? This fly sinks very slowly; perhaps it's a "neutral buoyancy" fly? Whatever it is, you better hold it underwater and squeeze every bit of air out of those marabou fibers and the body yarn, too, prior to your first cast else the fly floats like a cork. But once saturated this fly limps pitifully through the water, breathing harder than an out-of-shape rookie in his first week of NFL training camp.

In case any crappies with enough willpower to resist this fly wouldn't' get the message that somebody was after them tonight, I ran 18-inches of 5X tippet off the bend of the marabou fly and tied on a spooky-looking minnow imitator - a tan-colored job with sparse glitter fibers running its length. In low-light conditions the overall effect is the fly becomes virtually transparent. This might be a Clouser pattern; if so, it is a very subtle one indeed, no resemblance to those commercial cannonball-heavy Clousers with thick hooks and two bead eyes. This little baby was going to trail its gaudy marabou brother through the water like The Ghost of Minnows Past.

Still fresh in my mind's eye from Monday night's trip was the image of that big crappie I saw suspended about a foot under the surface, its head tilted upward like it was waiting for a passing bug or minnow to ambush from below? I'd selected these two minnow imitations for my backup rig specifically because both flies are very lightweight. They would sink just below the surface and swim along slowly, ducks in a shooting gallery for any shallow water crappie with an appetite for raw meat.

These minnow imitators are one-of-a-kind gifts; no replacements are available at local stores, so I was nervous about bringing them into play in brushy cover. The quadzillion nymphs in my fly box are expendable; these minnow flies are not. The way I'd planned it, I wouldn't deploy these minnows until dusk and then only if fish began surfacing around me like they'd done Monday night. (I'd suspected that those rising fish were crappies.)

Daily, lots of people drive past this cove I was fishing. Others will ride bicycles past it, and you also get people taking evening walks. People who themselves enjoy fishing will often pause for a short while to watch boat fishermen below, curious to see whether anybody is having any luck. I can certainly understand how interesting it would be to spot a guy fly fishing from a canoe. You don't see many fly fishers or canoeists in Kansas. Combine these two curiosities and you're showing people something that many have never seen.

The presence of these passersby always makes me uneasy, but especially so tonight. You see, one of the really nasty tricks played by the crappies in this lake is they love to grab my fly at the exact moment when spectators are looking. Feeling the hit, reflex always suckers me into setting the hook. Then when I begin cursing myself as my limber 3-wt. rod bends impressively under the fish's initial run; the crappie bolts to the surface for an eye-catching "Hollywood Splash" and immediately all observers up on the road lurch to a stop. This, needless to say, causes me to wonder how long it'll be before my hard-found hotspot becomes a bottle of cheap muscatel that gets uncorked and passed around by a cluster of thirsty winos, if you get my drift.

So with weeks of undisturbed crappie fishing at risk tonight, I was alive to any possibility that I might be spotted having fun. I would try hard not to let the fish trick me into cluing John Q. Public about the location of my hotspot. I added to this concealment plan by approaching the hotspot indirectly, moving randomly, closing the distance ever so discretely.

A good 200 feet away, I began working alternate cover, stuff that looked decent enough structure-wise compared to where I really wanted to be. And thanks to my tandem PTN's these spots surrendered some nice fish. I even went on a roll, boating the first five crappie I hooked, each weighing at least a pound. Hey, now THIS is more like it!

Word got out underwater that tonight was 'All Bluegills Get Released Night,' and the big 'gills started coming out of the woodwork to flex on me. Nice hit, punkin-belly! You bad!

Close to dusk, unknown fish with some size to them began swirling at the surface almost everywhere. Slab crappie, I hoped. I peered all around and nobody was in sight; no boats, no vehicle noises, no distant human voices. I was alone. Reaching behind me, I stowed the nymph rod and pulled out the minnow rod. A few minutes earlier I'd reached my target area; it was right in front of me now. Although I had trouble making out where each stickup brush stem was exactly, well, that was Okay. You are mine, Sweet Spot...all mine.

Imagine my 100 square foot target zone being the pivot pin of a wall clock. Monday night, I had anchored 15-feet away at the 2 o'clock position relative to the "pin." Tonight I was the same distance out but anchored at the 5 o'clock position, the sun's dimming light coming from the left side. Using my longer rod (9-ft. St. Croix 3-wt.) to propel the two heavier flies, I sent Rick's minnows into the center of the target zone and the tandem took a very hard hit almost at the same instant of touchdown.

"Meet Rick Zieger," I said to the fish as I brought my line tight.

After two short, strong runs the fish surfaced, wallowing loudly. This had to be a crappie, nd it was. I worked it in and boated a fine black crappie, its profile the size of a hunting boot sole. With those wide top and bottom fins the creature resembled one of those wood-handled paddle fans that preachers used to hand out to women at church in the days before central air.

It was getting dark fast. A couple of fish later the only evidence I had that each cast had indeed landed were faint reflections off two tiny parallel waves spreading apart from where the line splashed down. Fish were surfacing everywhere around me now, even right beside me. I felt like a leopard with a herd of unsuspecting gazelle browsing directly under his lookout tree. One cast I made into the darkness, I never had a chance to begin the retrieve before a good-sized fish yanked my line tight, bent my pole down and got off without me touching the line. This hotspot was boiling with hungry fish. At dusk. In mid-April. Who'd a-thunk it?

Seven crappies after switching to Rick's minnows, I called it a night. An even dozen slabs was all I needed. I might have stayed out longer but my supervisor had assigned me to work overtime the next morning, and these fish had to be cleaned before I hit the sack.

Ever wonder what it's like paddling across a lake under starlight after a trip like this, after you did some things right and enjoyed some great luck? It feels pretty good, is what it's like. ~ Joe

About 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 'day job.'

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