It's wonderful what wildlife scientists
accomplished a few years ago, working the
magic that gave hybrid bluegills to the
world. I haven't personally caught a hybrid
bluegill yet, but a neighbor of mine caught
one a few years ago and the creature looked
like a dinner platter with gills; it filled
the entire bottom of his ice chest.
I just wish those scientists had also studied
a regular bluegill's DNA code more carefully
and made an effort to correct certain genetic
flaws. Specifically, it would have been nice
if they'd identified and then altered the gene
that controls a bluegill's inborn feeding behavior
(if there is one). The idea being to generate
a population of these pesky fish that will either
smash a surface fly and get hooked outright, or
else just leave the fly alone altogether. No
in between; either they grab the fly for real
or they totally ignore it.
It's fine when a big bluegill grabs your fly
then lets go of it underwater before you have
a chance to set the hook. But it's quite another
thing to have a big bluegill dramatically break
the surface with a loud slurping swirl right
underneath where your fly is floating, making
you THINK your fly has been taken inside the
fish's mouth when in fact the fly never got
touched at all.
So if somebody ever gets bluegills to either
grab a fly and hold it, or leave it be, then
I won't anymore get suckered into hauling back
with a reflexive strike that jerks my terminal
tackle toward my canoe so fast that I cover my
face and chest with floating line, leaving me
sitting there looking like a little kid who got
sprayed with "canned string" at a buddy's birthday
Bluegills can drive you nuts doing that, and
they sure were having lots of such fun at my
expense last Sunday morning. The whole thing
was my fault, too: if I'd only stuck with my
trusty flashback Hare's Ear nymph I wouldn't
have got embarrassed. But no...I had to try
something new and different and the 'gills
made me pay.
This was a deal where weeks of hot, humid
weather have conspired to keep me off the
lake for almost a month - which has happened
before and will happen again, I'm sure.
Finally I just couldn't take it anymore and
went fishing even though the forecast was for
a daytime high of 102. Besides, the downstairs
freezer was almost out of bluegill fillets,
and you can't catch supper if you don't go
Arriving at the lake just before dawn, I
found the air was still very warm, making
me wonder what the lake water temperature
was like. Putting my hand down into it, it
definitely felt warm. But I could see surface
feeding activity happening, so I figured this
was as good a time as any to try a small
popping bug. I tied on a little yellow
popper that I'd picked up at the newly-opened
Yager's Flies store in Lawrence, KS.
Paddling out to a distance that put me away
from shore in water about 3 ft. deep, I began
casting to the irregular edge of a floating
weedline. Right away I caught a bluegill.
After that fish, on the next cast the little
popper didn't move more than a couple of feet
after splashdown when it got torpedoed by a
largemouth bass that sent me through all sorts
of changes before I finally lipped and released
him. That fish would have gone 1-3/4 lb., maybe
It still amazes me that you can cast a tiny
fly out into a lake and a big fish will grab
it. I guess no matter how big a fish grows
it never turns down a bug meal if the
opportunity presents itself.
About when I'd caught three or four 'gills,
a small powerboat appeared with a couple of
fishermen inside. They were after bass,
casting buzzbaits, whirring their lures back
to the boat just under the surface. When they
drew close enough, I asked how they were doing
and they said they'd caught a couple of
good-sized bass. Another case of early birds
catching the worms.
Unfortunately for me, the pair then proceeded
past me and began fishing the very shallowest
part of the lake cove, entering the main feeder
creek channel which was exactly where I was
planning to go next. Oh well...
They didn't have any luck once they got in there,
though, probably because their entry involved
passing across an area only 6-inches deep. I
heard the sound of their trolling motor clogging
as they went in, and coming out a few minutes
later they hung in the mud and got stuck real
good. Their commotion while getting loose from
that mud bar doubtlessly spooked every fish in
the area. Times like that, it makes you feel
good to be steadily catching nice bluegills
from a canoe while the competition sits helplessly
a short ways away, rocking back and forth trying
to liberate their larger boat.
About 30 minutes after those guys left, I
lifted my anchors and paddled into the area
they'd vacated. I fooled one keeper 'gill
in the feeder creek; it grabbed my popper
after I dropped it at the base of an aquatic
grass clump. Grasshoppers are in season now
and probably that 'gill had eaten more than
a few already and figured he was ambushing
yet another careless young one.
After exiting the feeder creek, I seriously
thought about calling it quits since it was
starting to get hot pretty fast. But my canoe
was in a nicely shaded area where the heat
wasn't that bad yet. So I stayed in the
shade and caught a few more 'gills. The
surprise was catching a keeper crappie that
clobbered my yellow popping bug on the surface
at around 9:30 AM. By all rights, that late
in the morning that crappie should have
retreated to deeper, cooler water and waited
there for the return of lower light conditions.
But who am I to criticize any crappie that
wants to check out the inside of my ice chest?
I unhooked him, lifted the cooler lid and tossed
him on the ice.
With a steady south wind blowing, I had a
chance to do some shoreline drift fishing
past a row of private cabin boat docks. This
little exercise netted me a couple more keeper
'gills, to where I estimated there were now
enough panfish in my ice chest to make for
a good meal.
Looking up from my business, I spotted another
powerboat, this one with a couple of fishermen
standing in it. They were working an area of
deeper water about 150 feet north of me.
Ordinarily this sight would be nothing to
comment on, except that the man standing in
the bow was using a fly rod. This was the
first time I'd actually seen another person
fly fishing this lake from a boat (although
I've met a few others who've said they do it).
So I let the south wind keep blowing me in
their direction and a few minutes later I
got to within conversation range and asked
how they were doing. They reported catching
some fish, which was of great interest to me
since the water here was deeper than where
I'd been working. I was particularly curious
to learn whether the fly rod fisherman had
scored in this water, and if so had he scored
using nymphs fished slow and deep. He said
that's exactly how he'd been working the spot.
The fly rod guy in the bow was Mike Richardson
of rural Lawrence. His partner, Jim Cole of
Kansas City, was manning the boat's stern area,
employing an ultralight spinning rig, which may
have represented a change of pace for him because
he told me later that he's a big fly fisher, too;
indeed, he's the former president of a fly
fishing club in KC. So these two guys and
I had lots to talk about.
As our boats floated in close proximity, Mike
noticed my canoe's two-anchor rig. Out of the
blue he asked if I'm one of the guys who writes
fishing stories in FAOL. I confessed to being me.
He said he reads FAOL's Warm Water section, and
he really digs Rick Zieger's articles in Panfish
Just before I left the lake, I showed Mike
and Jim where I'd caught most of my 'gills
that morning - which also happened to be
where I'd caught most of the bass, too.
They troll motored over and gave it a try.
As I was backing out to drive off, I glanced
over and Mike's fly rod was bent over double
like a croquet wicket. Jim hand-signaled to
me that Mike was into a good fish.
A few moments later, Mike lipped, unhooked
and released a really nice largemouth bass
that looked to go 3 lbs. easy, probably closer
to 4 lbs. A good thing, then, that he was
using a 6 wt. rod.
At the outset I'd fished very close to where
Mike connected with that big bass. His fight
was far enough away that I couldn't tell what
kind of fly he'd used to fool that fish, but
I doubt it was a tiny popping bug of the kind
I was using the entire morning.
Nice to know that bass is still there; maybe
someday we'll meet. ~ 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