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Well, Somebody Has To Catch 'Em
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS


September 25th: When I came out of the house that Sunday morning my truck, canoe and gear were dripping wet with heavy dew. How high was the humidity? Halfway to the lake, I encountered fog so thick I slowed to 25 mph else I'd have done my fly fishing in a watery roadside ditch.

Mornings like this keep many fishermen at home. But when I reached the lake and began unstrapping my canoe, I looked way down the lake arm and saw that another hardcore was already out there hitting it. Bless his heart! The guy was bass fishing, throwing a large spinnerbait over and over into the water.

It's getting anymore that my favorite thing to see on the lake are bass fishermen in expensive boats. These guys are having a ball, just like me, and their sturdier gear has little or no impact on my activities; we seldom get in close proximity. Maybe it's because I prefer fishing the shallows (5 feet deep or less) while your average bassaphile seems to prefer the next deeper zone (5-10 feet).

Perhaps a bit of psychology comes into play as well. Not boasting, but I'll wager that I have a fish on, and my whippy 3-wt. fly rod will be hopping up and down under the strain of a fight, probably 10 times more often than the bass anglers enjoy hooking up. The bass guys will be sneaking glances my direction, so there's no doubt they see I'm having good luck. The fish I'm catching are only 6-to-10 inches long at best, but maybe it's the fact that I'm catching fish steadily while they're having slower action - maybe THAT is what keeps them from coming near: their competitive nature (cultivated by watching the exultant behavior of tournament fishermen on TV) does not allow them to operate anyplace where they might get shown up by a fly fisherman in...a canoe?

But my thing is, I don't go fishing for the purpose of showing up other people; I go out to catch fish. Hey, can I help it if panfish are so abundant, and such aggressive feeders, that on most trips a distant observer thinks I'm casting into the holding tank of a hatchery truck? I've been fishing since I was 5 years old, too, so I do know a thing or two about where a panfish might be found.

However, it's the overall system of fly fishing - THAT is what makes me look so good nowadays. I've happily shared this "secret" with every curious bassboater who's ever come close enough to visit with. Most bass fishermen, though, will troll-motor away the other direction after just a few minutes spent watching me rip the bluegills a new one.

Is there a sad aspect of their aversion to fly rod fishing success? I think so.

Quite a few bassboats I see have young kids on board - kids who presumably are being taught how to fish by their dads, uncles or grandpas. It's a good thing to see. Problem is, these kids are being taught to go after largemouth bass "tournament style;" in other words, the kids are outfitted with medium-to-heavy spinning or baitcasting rigs designed for throwing crankbaits, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, pig & jigs, etc.

Being trusted with such expensive, man-sized gear doubtless gives Junior's developing ego a boost, but the benefit appears short-lived from what I've seen and heard.

Take your average 8-year old just learning to fish: what does that boy or girl want more than anything? They want to catch fish! And it doesn't take a mental giant to figure out that the more fish the kid catches, the more skills the kid learns. To my 58-year old little kid's brain, the best thing Dad, Uncle and Grandpa can do is introduce their kid to panfishing first. Put the lunker largemouth bass on the back burner for a few years.

If you want to turn your garden variety innocent little kid into a raving maniac for the sport of fishing, the training method is simple: put the kid into some bluegills, redears or green sunfish. Start them off with a cane pole if you want the lesson to begin on Square One. Or go with an ultralight spinning outfit. Or pop for a low-cost 3-wt. fly rod and let the kid sharpen his sword by casting barb-less flies in the back yard. If he or she exhibits fly casting skills that are even remotely close to being passable, then buy a cheapie fly box with some nymphs and poppers and get that kid to the water right away. If you're in a boat, anchor it next to a weedbed or a brushy shoreline and see what grabs those flies the kid starts throwing.

All of this was going through my mind Sunday morning as I listened involuntarily to the awful racket emanating from a second bass boat that pulled into the lake arm about 30 minutes after I arrived. Two young boys and two adult men were in the boat. Even before the boat came around the shore into view I could hear this group yakking above the engine noise. Soon after the boat stopped, both boys became loudly unhappy at how slow the fishing action was.

I could appreciate their pain. The grownups operating the boat were fishing in 8 feet of water where no submerged cover exists. Initially they'd roared up to where the depth makes only 4 feet and good cover begins, but then strangely they retreated into deeper water. I suppose due to fears of running aground or fouling their prop?

While the two boys griped loudly and Dad did his best to keep from exploring for oil using their heads for a drill, yours truly was anchored in his solo canoe 100 yards to their east boating and releasing so many bluegills it was downright ridiculous. I kept thinking to myself, "Those boys ought to be over here in this shallow water with a fly rod doing this. EVERY kid who gets taken fishing should experience the kind of fun I'm having right now."

It really was an extraordinary morning. Equipment-wise, I had brought two rods and was catching fish on both. My 3-wt. St. Croix Avid carried a #10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph. Most of the time, though, I was topwater fishing using my 5-piece Cabela's Stowaway (a softer action 3-wt.) to throw a modified #8 K&K Flyfisher's panfish popper.

I say "modified" because the popper required some body and fender work. This was accomplished by nipping off its long rubber legs and tail strips, leaving only the cork body, thorax hackle and tail feathers. Thus streamlined the popper flew much easier through the air; my leader could now roll out properly and deliver the goods at maximum extension (whereas prior to the rubberlegectomy this popper would die in mid-cast, touching down no farther out than where the end of my floating line landed).

After launching my canoe, I'd fooled around for 5 minutes or so casting to an area of foot-deep water but then made a beeline to one of finest places on planet Earth - a large area of submerged brush in water 4 feet deep. Normally at this time of year this brushy area is clogged with a mat of weeds so thick as to make it nearly impenetrable to any watercraft. But a recent storm surge that roared through this lake arm had blasted the area free of surface weeds. I could now ease my canoe into the heart of the brush stand, quietly lower my anchors and fire away in all directions, my only concern being not to hang up during my backcasts and forward cast.

All morning the wind speed remained very light, near dead calm, making accurate casting much easier. The K&K popper floated inches above the tips of woody-stemmed hazards lying just below the surface. The popper was not, however, safe from attack by the hungry panfish that reside amidst that brush. I could hardly make a cast anywhere without the popper getting pounced on by a bluegill or redear sunfish. Some of the 'gills were running 8-inches long.

This was catch and release fishing, and lots of releasing got done because the hits never quit coming the entire time I was there. My first cast touched down at 7:30 a.m. and I quit fishing at 11:30 a.m. It was one of those days you hate leaving the lake. If I had brown bagged it on this trip, those 'gills and redears might have jumped in the boat and eaten my lunch, too. ~ Joe

About 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 'day job.'

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