Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Worth Going Back To

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence KS

For the last forty-five years one of my best buddies is a Lawrence guy who is not a fly fisher. Not yet. He knows I've gotten into fly fishing and have enjoyed many good times doing it, so every now and then I obliquely mention fly rodding's advantages while giving him trip reports from my latest outings. This is no act of charity on my part. Don Binns doesn't need my help to catch fish. Never has; he's quite adept with ultralight spinning tackle.

We both are. I used ultralight spinning tackle almost exclusively from age 18 until age 57. This thanks to repeatedly seeing during my high school years the Garcia 408 ultralight spinning reel used during broadcasts of a Kansas City-based outdoors TV show called "The Sportsman's Friend." This excellent weekly show was hosted by the late Harold Ensley, one of the founding figures responsible for fishing and hunting being included in national broadcast television programming, and who in 1960 won the championship in one of America's first organized fishing tournaments. If not for Mr. Ensley's respect for ultralight tackle as a legitimate system it's doubtful I'd have tried such gear myself and, as a consequence, began developing as a teenager the love for panfishing that I have now.

Donnie and I may approach the sport from different directions now but something we unfortunately have in common is we each have permission to fish exactly one privately-owned Kansas farm pond. Donnie's pond is located…ahhh…I really couldn't pinpoint it exactly. The pond where I fish is down west of… "Doc, I think I'm suffering from amnesia."

Like where Donnie goes, "my pond" is enjoyed by many other fishers. In past visits with its owner I've mentioned the 7 lbs. of panfish-to-1 lb. of bass harvest ratio that has been mentioned numerous times by Iowa's Rick Zieger both in his published FAOL stories and Bulletin Board posts. The pond's owner doesn't fly fish but out of curiosity began reading FAOL regularly last year. So it's possible that Rick's information is being applied at the pond by way of informal word-of-mouth.

In any event, the folks who come to this pond individually focused on catching bass, or channel catfish, or crappie or bluegill – we must be doing something right because good-sized bluegills are what I normally catch. Living this summer in southwest Idaho what I normally caught was nothing, so the reader can appreciate why a significant percentage of my eagerness to get home to northeast Kansas was so I could resume hitting the one pond on the face of our planet that I have permission to fish?

Viewed from a Google satellite image, this 4-acre pond has three coves arranged in the familiar shape of Mr. Spock's Vulcan hand salute. After launching my canoe on the pond last Friday, I initially worked two stretches of shoreline that bracket the boat dock and had no success at either place. So I paddled to a weedy point that separates the Vulcan salute's finger coves and anchored 30 feet offshore, my canoe's bow facing the point. A southeast breeze was blowing small waves from astern, past my canoe onto the point.

In hindsight I wish I'd tried a wet fly pattern, something resembling a drowned insect delivered by surface conveyor. Olive soft hackle maybe. The idea just never occurred to me. I'd come to the pond with a nymph already clinched to my leader and out of habit had left it on despite not scoring with it back at the boat dock. This marginally mindless act proved to be a lucky move, though: at the weedy point eight hefty bluegills engulfed the nymph with vigor.

Only after the fact do I see how the nymph restricted me to working the edge of the weeds. How might events have transpired if, instead of nymphing the edge, I'd crawled a virtually weightless #16 wet fly through that weedline's interior, through the meager inch of water covering the tops of those leafy pondweeds? With the wind blowing prey items toward them, bluegills and bass probably were lurking inside that submerged weedline like crouching hunters blocking the end of a grain field on a pheasant drive.

But catching those eight keeper 'gills took all of three hours, making this the slowest morning of fishing I've experienced at this pond. Impossible to tell, but foul weather may have played a role. The day was supposed to be clear and warm, but from chilly dawn until chilly noon the sky was overcast and the wind took turns blowing in from three directions. Rain started falling just as I broke for lunch.

On previous trips here, by way of thanks I'd given the landowner one or two zip-lock bags of boneless bluegill fillets after cleaning my day's catch on-site. Fresh-caught bluegills for that evening's supper, or maybe invite some neighbors over for a fish fry? Such was my intention again today, but just these eight bluegills wasn't gonna cut it. So I returned to the pond at mid-afternoon to see what more trouble I could stir up. Because the other fishermen mostly target the pond's bass and catfish, I had to hold up my end of the "Zieger Ratio" by extracting more bluegills. A miserable, thankless task but somebody needed to do it.

My rig this day was one I haven't used for almost three years: a 7-ft., 2-piece, 1-weight Cabela's Clear Creek rod holding a Cabela's Cahill II 0-wt. reel overlined with 2-weight Scientific Anglers trout line. This is a panfish rig I put together prior to going even lighter with a 00-weight Sage. Using the Clear Creek today was one of those deals where for about the two-hundredth time I looked over and saw it standing in my rod rack and suddenly thought, "Why am I not using that rod anymore? Let me take it out again."

Of late I've been using a 9-foot, 3-wt. rod. Transitioning to a 7-ft., 1-weight felt weird at first, but soon all was business as usual except for feeling a higher voltage running through my hand on each hookup. Well, that plus you must maintain a quicker tempo when false casting, due to the rod's shortness.

Quite a number of 40-foot casts got thrown by this midget rig, each one the product of group instruction given by James Castwell at the September, 2007 Idaho Fish-In. Easy, subtle wrist flexes of the line-holding hand during the rod's load phase are the secret – a trick Castwell explained while demonstrating the double-haul cast. The technique works not just with 9-ft. fly rods but with every length fly rod. Now we fast-forward to October 17, 2008 and by the time I exit this farm pond my assessment of the 7-ft. Clear Creek has radically changed: "wallflower" is now "dangerous weapon." All due to a few minutes spent listening and watching as a certified fly casting instructor did his thing.

You don't have to believe me; go ask the next four bluegills I caught. They were holding in shallow water beneath the drooping branches of willow trees growing along the pond's south shoreline. These big boys were making an honest living executing any insect that lost its grip on those tree branches and fell in the drink, when a double-haul sidearm cast from my little Clear Creek gunned a #12 Pheasant Tail Nymph low through the shadows and plopped it on their dinner plate.

After sliding the day's twelfth keeper bluegill into my floating fish basket I began to relax, to the point where I decided to start experimenting with fly patterns. At this juncture I'd relocated to the elbow formed by the pond dam and south shore. The canoe was anchored about 50 feet out in water 8 feet deep. The PTN had not attracting a customer for ten minutes, so I switched to a Pete's Rubber Legs. This nymph runs pretty deep if given time, an important attribute because my intent was to cast it near the dam, let it sink for a five-count then progressively decrease my retrieve speed so Pete would swim steadily deeper through the water column on its way back to the canoe. Not a pendulum drop, but close.

One bluegill and a couple of little bass took the bait (if you will permit) before something heavier and more powerful grabbed hold of Pete. The first few throbs I couldn't ID the fish, maybe a sluggish bass? Then came the realization: this might be a crappie and a good one! Seconds later, despite me feathering my rod pressure, a large crappie rose into view, pushed its mouth through the surface and gave a vigorous head shake. To my great relief, Pete's hook had penetrated the fish's upper lip in a firm spot where it could not be easily dislodged. I worked the fish over beside the canoe, lipped it and hoisted it aboard.

I confess to being utterly helpless against the onset of those changes – perhaps clinical changes – that take place in my psychology and physiology immediately upon catching a 13-inch crappie. Something in my spirit…I just turn into a different person. Half elated, the other half serious as a heart attack.

The serious half kept me flogging the water around the canoe for fifteen minutes until Pete's Rubber Legs was at risk of unraveling from impact. But no more hits. I frantically switched to a Maribou Miss streamer, then a Mickey Finn streamer, then a beadhead nymph. Forty-five minutes of casting in all directions, working at all depths, using fast and slow and stop-and-go retrieves…but not another crappie.

The elated half finally took over, letting me view the event philosophically. This 13-incher may have been a rogue, not part of a school feeding in this spot. I'd given it a decent shot. This is, after all, a 4-acre pond; the big guy's brothers and sisters and mom and dad must be off somewhere else. Let it go, let it go; spend today's fading sundown minutes testing the face of the dam with Old Reliable. Try to bag a few more bluegills there before calling it a day.

I did just that and finished with sixteen big bluegills and the one crappie. Two zip-lock bags of boneless panfish meat – eleven bluegill fillets and one crappie fillet per bag – went into the pond owner's freezer compartment. I was invited to stay for supper, did, and the remaining ten bluegill fillets went into our stomachs. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer, now retired. 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 recently retired from 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 former 'day job.'

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