Mid-September, 2004. It's my day off, so I
slept in a little later than usual but luckily
awoke just before sunrise. All week at work,
I'd been curious what the conditions were like
at a flooded lake that I'd fished two weeks earlier.
Time to go back and check it out.
First place I went to was a lake arm that I've
caught lots of fish out of, but I didn't fish it
two weeks ago because it was blanketed with an
absolutely impenetrable layer of floating debris.
Today, though, it looked normal. No, it looked
better than normal, given how this lake arm usually
looks at this time of year. That 6-inch rainstorm
had sent a torrent of runoff blasting down this arm's
feeder creek. That current had knocked down the
dense carpet of aquatic vegetation that from mid-July
on seals the surface shut across an area the size of
six football fields. This arm was now open again;
I could cast almost anywhere I wanted to. Yippee!
Creature of habit that I am, after launching my
canoe I paddled straight for the spots where I'd
had success during springtime trips. Anchoring
at the first one, I outfitted my leader with a #10
Hare's Ear nymph/#18 black gnat tandem rig. This
morning I would go with proven winners, all the
way around. I proceeded to fish these spots
thoroughly, one by one. Two hours later, I had
caught exactly two borderline keeper 'gills - a
bizarre outcome given the water clarity.
To make matters worse, a stiff breeze kicked up.
It blew hard enough that accurate casting became
impossible, and I kept losing control of my slow
retrieves. I decided to abandon the arm and check
another arm about a mile away. Paddling back to
where my truck was parked, I finally reached the
arm's upwind end. Here, because of surrounding
hills and tall trees, very little wind was blowing
and the lake surface was glassy smooth. A pretty
sight but the water is only a foot deep.
I glanced at the north side of the arm, where the
feeder creek channel comes in. The flood had
stripped the channel clean of its former vegetation
cover. Without aquatic growth providing cover, no
bluegills would be holding over there. I kept
paddling toward my truck.
Fifty feet from shore, a thought occurred to me:
"They weren't hitting in the places with good
cover and depth, where they normally hang out.
Maybe they're hitting in areas with no cover, in
places they would not ordinarily be."
Hmmm...theoretically possible, but I dismissed it:
"No, that's stupid; and they won't be in that channel,
it's too shallow. Let's get out of here." But then
I thought: "Why not go over there? You're here, you
can reach it easy by canoe, and it's not very far
away. Why not give it a couple of casts?" I gave
this idea a few more paddle strokes worth of
consideration, then grudgingly caved in: "Okay,
okay, but just a couple of casts."
(I seem to be having conversations like this with
myself a lot since I took up fly fishing.)
I steered left, and to reach the channel bend
where the deeper water was I had to ease my canoe
across a mudflat delta through water only inches
deep. Reaching the edge of the 15-ft. wide creek
channel, I was heartened somewhat to see that it
was still in deep shade thanks to the adjacent
trees. But aside from that habitat advantage,
this channel looked about as fishy as a shopping
mall fire lane. A shaft of sunlight illuminated
a tiny patch of water in front of me, revealing a
baby bluegill swimming aimlessly. My #18 black
gnat's hook would be a tight fit, but only if he
held his mouth right.
I almost cast to him, but across the way a rotted
blowdown lay slumped in the channel. Just a couple
small branches were visible underwater. All right,
let's get this over with...
My tandem rig double-dimpled the surface above
the old tree's submerged branches and didn't
travel two feet before suffering a violent strike.
In came a very irritated 7-inch bull 'gill that
had chosen a Hare's Ear nymph for brunch. Well,
hello! I removed the hook from his jaw, booked
him a room at the Ice Cube Motel, then whipped
another cast into the blowdown. Boom! Another
'gill almost the same size. Alternating my casts
away from the blowdown then back to it, away then
back, I caught six keeper 'gills from that one
small spot before it played out.
Fifty feet downstream from this blowdown, the
feeder channel curves sharply and here it also
deepens slightly. Still, the depth couldn't be
but three feet, max. But hey, the 'gillies were
hitting in just a foot and a half of water back
at that blowdown, so maybe there's some in this
slightly deeper water, too? It seemed unlikely;
the channel bottom everywhere I could see was
clean as a whistle and looked incapable of
supporting the former spectrum of insect life.
Next time I need to stick my head underwater and
look, because the 'gills were in here, too, and
boy were they tickled to see my tandem rig. I
boated another four or five keepers, including
a half-pound red ear that showed just how stubborn
a panfish can be when fighting inside a restricted
As it got along toward noon the action began
fading and I decided once again to quit the
arm (but with a happier mood). After lifting
anchors and pivoting the canoe toward my truck,
I looked way back up the creek channel to where
a county road bridge crosses it. I knew that a
nice hole lays just below this bridge, but I'd
never tried it because the channel is guarded
by tall shrubs on both banks.
Out of curiosity more than anything, I paddled
up the creek toward a shallow riffle that
separated me from the hole. As luck would have
it, there was barely enough depth that by pushing
on my main paddle with one hand and my backup
paddle with the other hand, in the fashion of a
cross country skier I scraped through the riffle.
At the downstream end of the hole the bottom angled
away out of sight, the water becoming a dark blue-green
that reminded me of holes you see in Missouri Ozark
streams? Very pretty water. I carefully sent a
cast to the far side of the hole, where the water
looked a couple of feet deep over some rocks. A
keeper 'gill grabbed my gnat trailer. With no
further hits there, I began working the deep water
at the hole's center. No luck.
The underside of the bridge spans the hole's biggest
area. The span forms an opening about 6 feet tall
and 30 feet wide. The only way to fish this part
of the hole would be to come forward 20 feet, anchor
my boat hard against the left bank and shoot sidearm
casts back underneath the bridge (this would keep
my backcasts safely in the channel's open center
behind me). This was going to be something a
little bit different.
I'm real fussy about my flies collecting stray
vegetation during the retrieve, so I was worried
about the accumulation of floating leaves under
the bridge. No other area was left to cast to,
though. So holding my breath, I side-armed my
tandem rig into the deeply shaded water under
the bridge. Ka-boom! A big bluegill hammered
my Hare's Ear nymph almost the instant it touched
the water. Adding him to the ice chest, I began
working the hole from one bridge abutment to the
other, back and forth, and succeeded in boating
another four or five good keepers.
Turned out the floating leaves were no hindrance.
Apparently they were new-fallen leaves, stiff
enough they tipped over if my flies landed on
them. And the times when my cast would lay the
leader across one, if I made my retrieve superslow
then the leaf would drift along naturally while
holding my flies at a shallower depth, thereby
functioning like an extremely sensitive strike
indicator. That was pretty cool.
I left the lake with 18 keepers, which two hours
later converted to 36 boneless bluegill fillets
inside a 1-qt. Ziploc bag with some lemon juice.
Putting this bag on ice, I took it to band practice
later that afternoon along with my river trip cook
kit. This, in hopes that after band practice was
over our lead guitarist, Dalton, would again want
to visit our buddy Mike again, like we'd done the
week before. If we did, I would deep fry those
fillets and we'd snack on them while sipping beer
in Mike's garage.
But wouldn't you know it: after band practice Dalton
wanted to go grab a beer at a local bar and grill
instead? Guess he's not yet heard the music that's
created by a skillet full of sizzling bluegill fillets.
~ 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