Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

"Doin' It Like Rick"

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, KS

Many things I thought I knew about fishing have been happily thrown out the window since late fall of 2005, when I proceeded beyond my normal annual cut-off point as a fishermen (early September) and entered the realm of 4-season fly fishing (adding late fall and wintertime clear through early spring to my usual warm weather trips).

And like so much of the personally illuminating fly angling I've enjoyed before and since the fall of 2005, when it comes to having a glimmer of hope for success I owe almost everything to Iowa's Rick Zeiger, FAOL's Panfish column writer. Rick is a 4-season fly angler and just one of the many things that seized my attention in his many published stories is that his trips take place in the same general area of the American Midwest where I live, and in more or less the same type of water.

I can't stress enough the power of this "If Rick is catching 'em, maybe I can, too" component that now stays tucked in the back of my mind like an ace up a gambler's sleeve. Without it, it's doubtful that on my own I would have mustered the energy and courage to go out during cold weather, afoot or in my canoe, and risk public embarrassment waving a long skinny fly rod through the air in full view of passing motorists, migrating waterfowl and deer in rut.

Kansans all know that only the crazy go fishing in cold, nasty weather. And only total crackpots would use fly tackle in cold, nasty weather. Last October I wasn't sure I had the right stuff to become certified as a total crackpot but I enrolled in the 6-month Crackpot course anyway then attended late fall, winter and early spring classes at the lake almost weekly, took all the required exams and passed! I feel so much better about myself now.

It's Friday morning, October 27th and a cold but much-needed rain has been soaking northeast Kansas almost continuously since Wednesday, but is projected to end this afternoon. Once the rain moves out and the sky clears, a northwest wind is forecast with gusts to 25 mph. Three days earlier, on Tuesday evening, I'd promised a friend in Kansas City a meal of panfish the coming Saturday night. Yours truly intends to deliver.

Wondering what my fishing luck will be like this windy afternoon, I reviewed recent events. The previous Sunday evening I'd arrived at this lake later than desired and as a result had only an hour of light in which to fish. I was in the mood for statistics that evening. I made exactly 50 casts and caught 30 fish - 27 bluegills (a few 8-inches long) 2 small largemouth bass, 1 crappie. I released all fish.

The next afternoon, Monday, I returned to this lake a couple hours earlier and tried a different spot. I intended to keep statistics again but lost heart when the fish didn't bite as eagerly or immediately as they'd done the evening before. Still, I ended up catching approximately the same number of panfish as the night before. And released all fish.

What especially gave me hope for today's "fishing for the table" trip is that during Sunday's and Monday's C&R trips I was fishing in air so chilly that I could see my breath even before the sun went down. So if three days of cold, steady rain (and hopefully some modest runoff to raise the lake level) hasn't bumped this lake into TILT mode and shut the fish off, I might do okay.

When afternoon came the wind speed was everything that had been forecast. This made me feel real smart for opting to not bring my canoe. I would be fishing from the shore, taking advantage of a tall backdrop to break the wind. What I found when I arrived, though, is that the wind was angling across this tall backdrop in such a way that I still had strong wind to deal with.

Examining my nymph box, I picked out a Rick Z-tied "Perch-a-bou" minnow imitator. What attracted me to this fly were the two bead eyes, which I hoped would cause the 'bou to sink rather quickly. Here I should admit that I haven't used the Perch-a-bou fly much because: 1) it's too pretty to use; 2) I have only two of 'em, and; 3) it's primarily a crappie-killer fly and October isn't crappie spawning time.

What tipped the scales in the Perch-a-bou's favor was that lone crappie I'd caught at this lake the previous weekend. It was the first crappie I'd caught since that trip this spring where Rick and I ripped into 'em up in Iowa (I caught over 100 crappie that day). So today here in Kansas I was thinking that if the crappies are coming within range of me again maybe the Perch-a-bou fly is just what the doctor ordered. Worth a try, so I tied it on and gave it the heave-ho.

On the fourth cast the Perch-a-bou was hammered by a keeper red ear sunfish, which I immediately put on ice in the little cooler sitting at my feet. One down. But in 30 more minutes of trying I didn't catch another fish. This of course provoked speculation about whether the fish were biting today, or biting yet, whether I was using the wrong fly, or using the right fly in the wrong way, etc., etc.

By observing my line angle during retrieves, one thing I determined is that a Perch-a-bou doesn't sink through the water column very fast. And although that is a fine attribute in certain habitats it was working against me today due entirely to the wind that kept sweeping the lake surface in front of me. As my floating line got bowed laterally by the wind, this pulled the Perch-a-bou up very close to the surface and kept it there. Since the water I was fishing in angled off into considerable depth, my guess was that the Perch-a-bou was simply not descending to where the fish were. If they were there.

Back into my nymph box I went, and selected what looked to be a #16 beadhead nymph. The beadhead plus the copper wire wrapping around the thorax should, I hoped, let this fly settle to combat depth fairly rapidly. Not only that, its compact size and heavier weight should make casting easier in this wind.

After knotting it to my leader, I free-dropped the little nymph into a patch of shoreline water that looked to be a foot deep. Two seconds later the nymph touched bottom. This 2-seconds-per-foot observation supplied the countdown formula I needed to explore various zones of the deep water in front of me.

At each nymph splashdown, depending on how far off the bank the nymph landed I began counting down 6 seconds (for a 3-foot running depth), 8 seconds (4 feet), 10 seconds (5 feet) and so on. And lo and behold, the fish were not only down there occupying various depth zones but they welcomed with mouths wide open my helpless little nymph.

After I'd caught about a half dozen keeper bluegills the idea came to me that I should try a technique that Rick Zeiger uses all the time with great success. So I tossed out the nymph and gave it a 26-second countdown (13 feet). I watched and waited patiently, almost like a bait fisherman would do, as the end of my floating line angled underwater, pulled down by the weight of the little beadhead, wire-wrapped nymph.

On the 26th count I began slow-stripping my retrieve and the line became tight. Must be hung up on the bottom; I shouldn't have let it sink that long. But as I lifted my rod to verify that I was indeed hung on the bottom, the "bottom" began pulsing against my pull, showing its displeasure at having a hook suddenly stuck in its jaw.

This was a heavier fish, I could tell from the struggle. And I hated rushing to judgment, but the strong though sluggish fight characteristic certainly suggested that this was a crappie. Seconds later the fish rose to view and...it was a crappie, and a good one. Gently working the fish to shore, just as I guided the fish into the rocks it shook the nymph loose from its jaw. Too late: I was already bent down to lip the fish and with a pounce thrust my hand underwater, got under its belly before it could react and flipped it out of the lake up onto the rocks.

Hello, lunch!

This first crappie was a 10-incher (a slab in my book) and was soon joined in my ice chest by an 11-incher that took the nymph during a lateral retrieve in water about 6 feet deep.

I spend the rest of this trip trying my best to "do like Rick." And it worked because by the end of the day I had fifteen panfish in my ice chest. Plenty enough for that "dinner for two" fish fry I'd promised.

Many of the fish I took from the lake (or released) took my little nymph on the fall, and in deep water. Most exciting, seeing my line twitch then move off while I'm standing there doing absolutely nothing but silently mouthing numbers.

With the many years of jig and bobber fishing that I've done, it was interesting to consider that this tiny copper wire-wrapped beadhead nymph I selected today, this nymph functions underwater exactly in the fashion of a micro-jig. But instead of being connected to a bobber as most jigs are, my "micro-jig" nymph was suspended at various and easily controllable running depths by a "linear bobber" - my floating fly line.

Here is where I contend that anyone new to fly angling will quickly feel right at home wielding a fly rod if the newcomer is a spinning tackle user who has experienced success using leadhead jigs, spinners and small crankbaits. ~ Joe

About Joe:

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 'day job.'

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