It's a terrible thing when one of your best friends and
his family are hungry for a meal of panfish but they've
exhausted their freezer supply of bluegill fillets. Just
terrible. But it's a wonderful thing when this same buddy
has permission to fish a farm pond that's full of big
bluegills and he telephones you in the morning seeking
more firepower for a replenishment mission that afternoon.
The crossbars on my truck's roof rack are 66 inches long.
I was a bit surprised it worked, but Donnie's Coleman
tandem canoe and my Wenonah Rendezvous solo canoe both
fit on my rack (although it was a close call because
Colemans are so wide). If my boat were a wider tandem
instead of a narrow solo, there's no way I could have
hauled both our canoes to the pond.
Once we got there, Donnie and his wife, Khalila, launched
first, paddled out into the pond heading around a point on
the south bank and disappeared from my sight. A few minutes
later I launched and was following their course. Then I
looked left and became attracted to a large pocket in the
shoreline where a stand of cattails gave way to a shelf
of shallow open water.
Although it was mid-June now and the day was quite warm,
curiously a north wind was blowing and it was a strong
wind, around 15 mph. The thought occurred to me that
any winged insects flying or jumping off the heavily
vegetated pond dam north of me would likely get caught
in a wind eddy rolling off the leeward side of the dam,
an eddy that might force them onto the pond surface
involuntarily, after which they would get blown across
the pond into this pocket. If that was happening, this
cattail stand would function like an underwater woodlot
where a few bass and bluegills might position themselves
at its edge, concealed just inside the cattail stalks
like deer hunters on stand, where they could rush out and
pick off a doomed insect if one slowly floated past.
Using a few braking strokes with my paddle I slowed the
canoe, un-cammed my stern anchor and lowered it to the
bottom. Since I'd been paddling across the wind when the
idea of fishing this pocket hit me, the north wind was
pushing against my canoe on the right side. I waited
for the stern-anchored boat to weathervane around to the
left until its bow was pointed south, then I quietly
lowered the bow anchor and cam-locked that line. I was
now positioned stationary in open water 25 feet northwest
of the cattail stand's corner, in a spot where I could
cast crosswind to the east and drift a popping bug directly
into the north face of the cattail stand (with the false
casts happening in front of me, which would prevent
snagging my own body). Or, I could throw shorter and at
an easier downwind angle and let my popper drift parallel
close along the west face of the cattails.
Boy, if you think being anchored at a setup like this
doesn't beat steering a 4-banger Japanese pickup through
a swarm of sociopath Johnson County, KS drivers in bloated
SUVs on Interstate 35 during the KC Metro Area's morning
and afternoon commutes, then you need a vacation worse
than I and I need one pretty bad. Well, I could relax
now but it was going to be tough: fishing in general,
and fly fishing in particular, can get me a little wound
up, and no more so than when I'm fishing good water.
The relaxation began coming, too, although not quite the
type of relaxation I was after, when after about ten minutes
I'd caught just one small largemouth bass (released) and
one 6-inch 'gill (dropped in the floating fish basket
that Donnie had loaned me). I kept fishing this spot
for another five minutes, as much as anything for the
purpose of sitting there wondering why I wasn't lighting
up this cattail stand like it was a pinball machine.
Maybe it was the wave action? Possible: it stands to reason
that short, choppy waves will conceal insects on the surface.
Conceal them in the sense that fish can't spot them at longer
distances due to the surface scatter. Still, in ten minutes
I'd made enough casts, and the water was clear enough here,
that surely my popper had passed directly over more than
just two hungry fish.
I lifted anchors and moved, going back to my initial idea
of following Donnie and Khalila. Just as I rounded the
point ahead I saw them making their last few casts from
a shoreline area that, had it not been for the cattails,
is where I would have fished myself as my first stop.
But they'd gotten there first, had already fished it and
What interested me is that despite using spinning tackle
(small spinners and fliptail jigs) they were fishing this
spot exactly as I'd have done if I'd nymphed it. They'd
anchored five feet off the shoreline and were casting out
into deeper, cooler water. Watching them paddle away,
headed toward the pond dam, I felt I'd just received a
free education that this spot won't produce fish for me
today. In two years I've acquired great faith in fly
rodding as a panfishing method; nevertheless, Donnie
and I have fished together since we were junior high
school kids and when he isn't having success at any
given spot my chances there won't be very good, either.
I reversed course and headed for the dam, too. Specifically,
I went to the east end of the dam where I could anchor in a
corner and fan-cast in a 90-degree arc, with every cast
landing close to fish-concealing vegetation. Again this
looked like a perfect setup. Maybe the 'gills weren't
waiting for bugs at the downwind side of the pond; maybe
they were here, Johnny-on-the-spot for a surface attack
the instant an insect got blown down onto the water.
After a few minutes of no takes on the popping bug, I
clipped it off and went with a wiggly-legged fly I'd
bought a month earlier at K&K Fly Fishers in Kansas
City. Ned there had showed it to me, commenting on
its long, flexible legs. I tried it here in the pond
corner but didn't have any luck with it, and clipped
it off knowing that its day would certainly come.
That fly looks good enough to eat and I'm not even a fish.
What I went with next was Young Reliable, a flashback
Hare's Ear Nymph. But unlike Old Reliable (who has a
#10 hook) Young Reliable is a #14 nymph. Into a little
weedy pocket he flew, where he got grabbed by a fish
that fought with sharp, high-frequency pulses of power.
I'd felt this type of struggle before at the lake I
fished all winter, so I hoped I was wrong but I was
right: it was a golden shiner, one about 10-inches
long. A very nice fish, actually, if you happen to
be a soaring vulture sniffing thermals for something
stinky to eat.
Three of these big shiners - some fisherman's minnow
bucket baitfish at one time - fell prey to Young Reliable.
I tossed all three shiners into the bow of my canoe and
paddled over to show them to Donnie and Khalila. At
first glance Donnie didn't know what he was looking
at, then the reality hit him with considerable surprise.
I could relate; the first time I ever got into a school
of shiners as big as these (at the lake I previously
mentioned) I was surprised not only that shiners would
take a nymph but that they could grow so big. Surprised
and concerned. The way so many hook and sinker fishermen
(including myself in the past) habitually dump leftover
baitfish into the water they're leaving, it's inevitable
that populations of shiners arise in habitats otherwise
inaccessible to their natural expansion. Leading me to
speculate as to their insect food needs as they grow larger,
which in turn leads to pondering the impact these one-time
"medium minnows" have on the growth rate of the panfish I
want to catch.
Alongside Donnie's canoe, which was anchored near the center
of the dam, I learned that minutes before Khalila had gone
on a roll, catching a half dozen 'gills, each one some
10-inches long, while throwing a 1/16-oz. fliptail jig.
Donnie had scored, too, and together they'd now caught
about 15 nice bluegills. Whereas Mr. FAOL Warmwater
contributor had just two medium/small bluegills swimming
inside his fish basket. But, by golly, I had three reeking
golden shiners lying dead inside my canoe, and flinging their
oily carcasses onto the pond dam for scavengers to find that
evening was one fishing triumph Donnie and Khalila couldn't boast.
Okay, so if the east end of the pond isn't any good right
now. I'll try the west end, then. It wasn't any good,
For the next hour I spot-worked my way southwest, following
the shoreline into areas where on previous visits I'd scored
well on bass and bluegill. As the water got progressively
shallower two things became apparent: 1) not many fish here
were interested in what I was presenting, and; 2) this west
end of the pond is becoming increasingly clogged with the
type of algae I hate most - the kind that forms stringy,
goopy clumps that totally clog the hook gap of any fly or
lure that encounters it. These algae clumps were scattered
about not just on the surface but underwater at various
depths like moored mines.
The duration of this trip was at Donnie and Khalila's
discretion, so with what I guessed to be an hour of
fishing time left I paddled over to the first spot
they'd fished. Enough time had elapsed that maybe the
fish would be active there now? I approached from the
northwest and this is when the wind decided to swing
around to the northeast. I lowered my stern anchor
first and was irritated to see that I'd misjudged my
distance from a fallen tree laying on the south shore
with its trunk leading into the water. My proximity
alone would easily spook any fish there. Compounding
this boat handling error, my first cast snagged Young
Reliable on that tree trunk. Fighting to maintain
control of the boat in the wind, I made enough loud
paddle strokes moving in to save him that after
retrieving my nymph there wasn't much point in
continuing at this spot.
About halfway between this spot and the cattail stand
I anchored correctly and began throwing parallel to
the shoreline. I anchored about twenty feet out so
my nymph could work through water about five feet deep.
Still no luck, and I was now at that point where you
write off a trip as one of those days when your
experience and skill are getting you nowhere.
I still don't know why I did it, and the physical doing
of it felt stupid even as my arms went in motion, but
I pulled a couple more rotations worth of line off the
reel and threw the nymph farther, threw it right up
against the shoreline into water that maybe was a foot
deep, no more. Young Reliable moved maybe a foot and
got creamed by a strong fish that headed directly out
into the pond. (Which I always like to see a strong
fish do when I'm already out there myself.) This fish
turned out to be a 9-inch orange-belly bluegill, and
into the floating basket he went.
Throwing the next cast into the same spot, another good
'gill attacked and after a stout fight was boated. Then
another. And another. They just kept coming.
Well, well, well...so that's where "my fish" were hiding
all along - not around the cattails, not in the pond dam
corners, and not along the west end shoreline but right
here on this south shoreline, in tight against the bank.
Were they spawning here, protecting nest depressions, or
were they lined up waiting for deliveries of windblown
The funny thing was realizing that if I'd come here first,
if I'd reached this spot ahead of or instead of Donnie and
Khalila, I would not have caught even one fish. Why?
Because I'd have done exactly as they'd done - I'd have
anchored close to the bank and thrown out into deeper water.
I'd have anchored right on top of these big 'gills and not
only spooked them but actually thrown away from where they
Guess it goes to show that you can't take anything for granted
when fishing a body of water you've been to before. The
unexpected will very often happen. ~ Joe Hyde
From Douglas County, 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