Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

If Pinkie Says So
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS

It's April 24th. I was in the Kansas City, KS Cabela's fly tackle shop popping for a new reel. After scouting reels for some time I'd settled on the Okuma 4/5 as the best way to spiff up my 8 -ft. 3-wt. Stowaway rod.

The Okuma is a good fit; its weight aft of the cork handle nicely counterbalances the rod's forward weight. There's an adjustable friction drag plus a spool rim that can be palmed for manual control in case I goof up and hook something really big. Best of all, the Okuma is very quiet. When line is pulled off the spool prior to casting the click mechanism makes only a faint noise; on retrieve the reel is deathly silent.

Cost-cutting meant cannibalizing the old reel's WF-3-F line and backing. But once inside the fly shop I decided to get a spool of Scientific Anglers Master Series line and have that put on the Okuma. The SA's high-visibility orange would help me in the reduced-light conditions that I prefer.

The salesman behind the counter was Pinkie, who from earlier visits I'd learned is a retired school teacher. Pinkie has never mentioned to me whether he was big into fly fishing back when he taught school. If so, I'll bet his pattern of springtime sick leave use came to the principal's attention more than once.

Pinkie is a happy fellow who comes up to you like an eager puppy. It takes a first-time customer a few minutes to realize that the puppy is you as Pinkie leads you through the shop past all those pretty food bowls filled with savory fly tackle. Next thing you know, you're nibbling away. If this man ran a restaurant, everybody in his neighborhood would be overweight.

While Pinkie adroitly outfitted my new Okuma with backing, floating line and a butt section, I babbled on about what a thrill it is catching nice-size crappies on fly tackle. Once he finished spooling my reel, I was set to check out. Just as I turned to leave, Pinkie nailed my shoes to the floor with a sudden, excited invitation: Could I take just a second - just a second - to look at a new fly they'd started selling?

Well...okay, Pinkie, sure. It can't hurt just to look, can it?

No matter whose fly shop I visit, I try hard - I really do - not to buy a half dozen of every fly I see. Flies are so beautiful; each handmade, a museum-quality work of art. Pinkie was leading another lamb to the slaughter and whether he knew that, I did; still, I couldn't flee. He opened a large plastic storage box, reached inside it then laid a silvery fly in the palm of my hand. I felt its weight (very light), squeezed the unusual reflective yarn comprising its body and knew instantly that this minnow imitator would be a stone cold killer on the shallow-water crappies I'd been pursuing the last few weeks.

"You have to stay ready," Pinkie warned in a hushed tone, "You're going after crappie, but a largemouth bass will take this in a heartbeat."

Examining the minnow's meaty profile and the all-angles reflectivity of its spiky metallic yarn, I could appreciate how a bass would do exactly that. Oh well, no crappie fly is perfect; the odd largemouth could be released quickly enough. And so with visions of crappie slaying dancing in my head, I bought three of the flies.

At 7:00 PM the next evening I was on the lake fishing from my solo canoe. My girlfriend, Janet, was on shore grilling some of her dad's homegrown beef burgers for our picnic supper. From my floating vantage point it was a totally bucolic scene - green grass and tree foliage all around her, a deep blue sky above, lake water reflections below, etc., etc. The only thing intruding on this Kodak Moment were the ravenous crappies pouncing on my #10 flashback Hare's Ear nymph anytime it swam too near a submerged tree trunk I'd discovered 100 yards offshore. With each strike my appetite for grilled burgers slipped another cog.

Suddenly I heard the horn on my pickup. It was Janet. Had she honked it accidentally while scrambling through my truck cab looking for equipment, or was she signaling me that the burgers are ready? I gave the second possibility a questioning yell. She yelled back that no, the food isn't ready yet but it will be any minute.

To a jury of my peers, the phrase "any minute" sounds reasonably close enough to "one more cast" that I would use it in my defense if Janet cooked those patties to cinders and later pressed charges. I kept casting, and boated three or four more slabs before reeling in and paddling with frantic resignation toward the picnic site. See, back at home two hours earlier I'd watched her put in a fair amount of work packing this meal? I wasn't interested anymore in eating, but now I was trapped (for lack of a better word). And although I subsequently ate two grilled burgers, a bunch of chips and other stuff, I didn't actually taste much of it.

If dragging oneself away from a submerged log surrounded by hungry crappies ever becomes a Relationship Predictor Exam that Cabela's offers to fishermen with girlfriends, Pinkie would give my effort today a C-minus grade because only half of me took the test - the body half. While we were eating, I vaguely recall Janet's mouth moving when she faced my direction, and me smiling and nodding, but I don't remember anything she said. We need to try another picnic sometime under less stressful circumstances.

Thirty years later we finished eating and stowed the picnic gear. Now, finally, I could do what I'd REALLY come here for, which was to get Janet into my canoe and take her out on the lake so she could have an up-close look at fly rodding for panfish. I was a bit worried how my canoe would handle with her in the back, though. Solo canoes are designed to carry one paddler; there's only one seat, located amidships. Putting her weight aft of the paddling station with no forward gear load as counterweight would throw the boat out of trim. I wasn't sure how a severely stern-heavy trim would impact my ability to maneuver the canoe.

Lucky for me, Janet is pretty trim herself. She wiggled into a comfortable position back there behind me, her weight mostly down in the bottom of the boat, and with our center of balance thus lowered we moved around the lake slowly but under good control. She of course was wearing a PFD, as I was.

First spot we went to was right back to that submerged tree. Creeping in then anchoring 20 feet out, I began false casting my Hare's Ear nymph then stopped in mid-stoke and pulled it in. This was the perfect place to test fire one of the flies Pinkie had sold me the day before. I knew crappies were here from my pre-burger success. So I clipped off the nymph, tied on a silver reflector minnow and sent it 10 feet beyond and just to the right of the submerged tree's root wad. It never made it halfway back to the tree before it got whacked by a slab crappie.

As I lifted this fish into the canoe, I noticed for the first time that Pinkie's silver minnow has a fairly large hook (#8, maybe even #6) with a wide gap. The problems I've had with crappies throwing the nymphs I normally use, the thought occurred to me that using flies with bigger hooks might be the way to go on crappie from here on out.

After that initial fish, three more slabs fell prey on my next three casts. (All four fish went into my ice chest.) Seeing Pinky's fly go 4-for-4 on its first career at-bats...if I'd had a bag of popcorn and a third arm to eat it with I'd have been stuffing my face like a little kid at the ballpark.

Once this submerged tree played out I paddled Janet over to the submerged brush hotspot I'd discovered a couple of weeks earlier. It was dusk now, getting dark just like the night I found this spot. We anchored at the 8 o'clock position relative to the target zone. Testing the right fringe with my first cast, a big orange-tummy bluegill apparently burned out on eating nymphs hammered the minnow. I released the 'gill and studied the cover, looking for an interior spot to throw to. From my position it was tricky finding a decent open area. I gambled and shot the silvery minnow between two stickups, and got lucky when the fly splatted down between the woody stems instead of hanging up.

Almost immediately the minnow got hit hard. Whatever grabbed it became violently offended and rushed into open water toward my canoe, then thought better of it and rocketed back toward the submerged brush, putting me on the defensive, forcing me to surrender line between my left thumb and forefinger. If this fish took much more line he'd reclaim the option of moving laterally through that brush tangle and there'd be hell to pay getting him out of there. So I pushed my luck by squeezing down on my escaping line, and managed to brake the fish to a stop just before it reached the tangle. Here's where my 7 -ft. Umpqua 4X tapered leader earned its keep (not that it hadn't already).

A fish this powerful had to be a channel cat, a largemouth bass or one really big crappie. A few nervous seconds ticked past before the question was answered by a largemouth around 2-lbs. that broke the surface and went airborne, trying but failing to throw Pinkie's minnow. Moments later I lipped the fish, unhooked and released it.

"Pinkie, you said this might happen and it did, first day out," I thought to myself.

That bass didn't know it, but he was the first representative of his size and strength category to be hooked and defeated since I began using my Cabela's 5-piece 3-wt. Stowaway rod. So please, amigos, don't anybody out there lose sleep wondering whether a 3-wt. rod can handle your basic juvenile largemouth? Sure, each fight will be too close to call until it's over, but isn't that why they call it fishing instead of grocery shopping?

The struggles of this bass must have freaked out every gamefish inside a 50 foot radius of the battle, because 10 minutes passed without another touch. I lifted anchors, but rather than power stroking to a new spot I shipped my paddle, cam cleated both anchors in the raised position and let the gentle evening breeze puff us along slowly through the cove. This allowed me to "pass shoot" single casts into lanes that came briefly open as the boat drifted through the brush. A few more good crappies and bluegills fell prey before the sky got too dark to continue. The last fish I hooked wrapped around a stickup and broke off the minnow.

Thank you, Pinkie! And thank you, Pinkie's fly; I still have two of you left! ~ 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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