Sunday, May 16th: High School Graduation Day for
my youngest son, Eric. The ceremony was scheduled
to begin at 4 p.m. The day before, I got to
thinking: Why not get up before sunrise Sunday
morning, hit a local lake for a few hours of fly
rodding before the wind picks up, then come home
and (hopefully) clean some fish, and THEN go to
the graduation ceremony? Made perfect sense to me!
I had no way of knowing at the time, but May 16th
would be Graduation Day for me, too.
My pickup rolled over the gravel driveway into a
picnic area that sits twenty feet from the lakeshore,
and I couldn't believe my eyes. Nobody was there.
All around me, all above me was a laboratory specimen
beautiful mid-May Kansas morning, 60 degrees with
light wind, partly cloudy sun-glowed dawn sky,
great-looking water...and nobody but me was here.
Sometimes an adjustment period of seven nanoseconds
is required before I feel completely comfortable
having a large body of water all to myself. Not
today: I instantly became happy and relaxed.
During an earlier trip to this lake arm, I employed
my canoe and a portable fish finder to scout for
submerged creek channels, drop-offs and other
things of fisherman-type interest. In the limited
area I'd searched, one interesting spot I'd found
was a lakebed hole roughly the size of two parking
lot stalls laid end-to-end. Lying close against
the shore, this may once have been a channel bend
scour hole on the original feeder creek. Whatever
created it, the hole gave fish a 7-ft. deep loitering
area to harbor in between feeding forays into the
adjacent 4-ft. deep weedy flat.
The day I'd found this hole a month earlier, my sonar
had detected many fish suspended at mid-depth. Of
course, the fact that my sonar spotted them meant I
had paddled directly over them. Sonar is great for
locating fish, and supposedly the ultrasonic beam
doesn't spook fish, but I always worry that even
a canoe passing silently overhead will cast a shadow
into the water that triggers panic amongst the
Not wishing to test this theory Sunday morning, I
quietly anchored at the edge of the hole once my
sonar revealed the drop-off break. Even if I
suspect that fish are near and eager to bite, I
never know if they're holding in deep water or
shallow water. So I tried having it both ways,
by throwing a #10 Hare's Ear nymph across the hole
into the lakeshore shallows. The object being,
work the nymph out of the shallows fairly quickly,
then slow my retrieve and let it settle into the
My tactic's only flaw is that it didn't produce.
If any fish were suspended in this hole now, they
weren't interested in eating a poor, lost insect
At the far end of the hole, an overhanging tree
sends half its branches down into the lake. For
fish, this creates a great spot to pounce on crawling
bugs that lose their grip and fall into the water.
For me, the tree created an opportunity to mimic
that bug fall - if I could avoid hanging my cast
in those tree branches above and below the lake
Tentatively probing a ten-foot wide band of water
around the branches, I fooled a couple of good
bluegill and one black crappie before the action
died and I had to move on. As I eased my canoe
over the length of the hole, my sonar detected no
suspended groups like before, just one large fish
lying barely above the bottom. Probably a channel
cat sleeping off a bellyful of crappie eggs.
Before lifting anchor, my plan had been to give this
hole a quick sonar look before turning 45 degrees
to starboard and paddling out into the arm's middle
zone. But near the end of the hole, up ahead I
spotted a C-shaped pocket of weed-free shoreline.
"Weed-free" is the operative word, because the
shoreline here was generally heavy with algae,
and to my immediate right the open water's fishable
depth had been shrunk to maybe one foot by rising
aquatic growth - foxtail, I think it's called?
So I decided to give this open pocket a brief try
before committing to the lake's main arm. Something
about that grassy shoreline fringe was calling to
me. I anchored 30 feet away, my sonar showing the
bottom at 4 ½ feet down and relatively clear of
Into the pocket went my trusty Hare's Ear nymph.
Splat, and bingo! Fish on! A good one, too,
from the struggle it put up. I unhooked the
bull bluegill and eased it into my ice chest
for a little flavor-preserving siesta. Then
back into the pocket I went with another cast.
Splat, bingo, fish on!
This continued for maybe 45 minutes before it
occurred to me that I'd lost track of how many
fish I'd put in my cooler. It had to be a fair
number, and I needed to clean those fish before
getting ready for Eric's graduation. So I decided
to call it a day - and it was only 7:15 a.m.
The long throws and roll casts I was using to reach
this spot meant that any bluegill that grabbed my
nymph could put up a terrific fight. The distance
between us gave each 'gill the dual advantage of
lateral maneuvering room plus time. Many found a
submerged weed tower and wrapped around it or dove
headlong into it. Each time this happened I was
grateful that my tapered leader had a 6-lb. test
tippet. Anything lighter and some of those 'gills
would have broken off.
A concentration of red hot action like this could
mean but one thing: I'd stumbled onto a bluegill
spawning bed. The last time I'd done so was near
40 years ago, in a private church lake. Back then
I didn't appreciate bluegill spawning beds; too me,
bluegills were nuisance fish that interfered with
catching largemouth bass. The more large bluegill
there were around, the worse the nuisance. Convinced
I was doing the world a gigantic favor, back in those
days every time I unhooked a bluegill, no matter its
size I would fling it hard over my shoulder to suffocate
up on the bank.
It wasn't until my early 40s that I first read (or
paid attention to) magazine articles about how
bluegills are extremely good eating. Those stories
persuaded me to re-examine my prejudice, after which
I abandoned it. Well, you know how Murphy's Law works:
once I tried catching bluegills on purpose, I couldn't
get them to hit anymore. This frustration went on
for years, proving that there's no justice quite as
horrible as poetic justice.
Now here I was, once again catching large bluegills
one after another from a spawning bed. I must say
that despite the thrill of this non-stop action, I
began feeling a bit guilty at how easy it was.
Even more than guilty: "future greed" came into
play as I found myself releasing the biggest
bluegill, a 10-incher.
So truth be told, there were three reasons I
stopped fishing as early as I did:
1) I needed time to clean the fish I'd caught;
2) nowadays I'm satisfied bringing home only eight or ten
keepers per trip;
3) I don't want to over-harvest the gene pool
superstars, because I want to be
catching intermediate-size 'gills in this lake
for years to come.
It felt great, though, to again be ripping into
a hotbed of good-size bluegills. And especially
to be doing it with fly tackle. I think I've made
a commitment now both to panfish and fly rodding,
and I'm happy with that. No doubt this is an
indication that I'm a natural born action junkie
when it comes to fishing.
Ignorance and prejudice put 40 years between my
bluegill spawning beds. Since graduating from
that place to where I now fully recognize the
value of bluegills as quality game fish, I've
benefited from the assistance given me by many
fine people who make and sell fly rods and equipment,
who tie the wonderful flies I use, and who write
such good panfishing stories.
Eric received his high school diploma that
afternoon wearing the traditional mortar
board headgear. Parked above my head all
too often is something more akin to a 2x10
pine board. But at least where fishing is
concerned, maybe I'm not banging my head
against it quite so hard anymore. ~ Joe email@example.com
From Lawrence, 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