It's 3 p.m. Nov. 5th: At the lake a surprising number of
people are fishing this afternoon, both from the bank and
from boats. "Surprising" because it's Sunday and lots of
good NFL football games are on TV. I was happy to find
nobody fishing the spot I had in mind when I drove out here.
Well, no wonder they weren't fishing it: At my shoreline
spot a 20-mph south wind was blowing straight in. It had
been blowing this hard all day. This being the fall season,
since morning, leaves had been getting dislodged from trees
that border the opposite shore. The result, along my
downwind shoreline, was a foot-high windrow of leaves piled
high and dry. More incoming leaves were lying dense on the
lake surface ten feet out, waiting to get pushed in then
flipped up onto the windrow by wave and wind action.
At the water's edge this pretty windrow of leaves made
footing tricky because along this shoreline a fisherman
must walk on loose rocks. With those rocks covered by
leaves, I couldn't tell where to place my feet for
stability and stealth. Sneaking along from spot to spot
became an exercise in caution, no amount of which kept
loud noises from getting generated when concealed rocks
clattered against one another upon receiving my blindly
applied body weight.
I hoped this unnatural racket would be ignored by the fish
once they spotted my shrewd choice of flies. Today was
windy but I wanted to fish this exposed location regardless;
its depth might encourage visits by crappie. Before driving
to the lake I'd prepared for these hostile conditions by
stopping at K&K Flyfishers in Kansas City and purchasing
four tungsten beadhead Hare's Ear Nymphs, size #12. These
heavier, fast-sinking nymphs would let me throw into the
wind and explore the deep water before me.
On the fourth cast, my long-countdown exploration found
hard bottom. After breaking off I was down to three
tungsten HENs. Knotting another to my leader, for over
an hour I fished from my starting point 100 feet east
then an equal distance back west along the curving shoreline.
For my trouble I caught exactly one keeper-sized bluegill.
And wouldn't you know it, that fish took the tungsten HEN
near the end of a deep-water retrieve, in shallowing water
only three feet deep.
As my hitless casts accumulated, I realized I was doing
my usual hard-headed thing: trying to make fish bite on
a fly I wanted them to take, in water where I wanted them
to bite, and when I wanted them to bite. Sometimes this
stubbornness pays off, but today it wasn't. So I made
two tactical moves: I changed locations to a spot with
approximately half the wind speed and much smaller waves,
then switched from the #12 tungsten HEN to a brass beadhead
At this new spot, the bottom slopes gradually to around 6
feet deep at 40 feet out. I began picking up bluegill,
nothing spectacular action-wise but steady enough to satisfy.
I also, at this "easier spot" began having some of the worst
casting problems I've ever suffered.
Glancing east, I spotted another fly fisher operating along
the same shoreline. I never saw him land any fish, but I
wasn't watching him that close, either. Around 4:45 p.m.
he quit, got in his truck and was driving past me when he
suddenly slowed and stopped. It was Larry McGuire, a guy
I've run into at this lake a number of times. He got out
of his truck and walked down to visit.
One morning this spring I watched Larry casting a spey rod
- first spey I'd seen on the hoof. Very impressive rods,
are speys. Larry was throwing casts that morning that
reached out at least 100 feet, maybe 120 feet. Damnest
thing I ever saw.
"I couldn't tell because you were too far off, but was that
your spey rod you were using back there?" I asked him.
"No; I don't use that spey much anymore," Larry replied.
"Ever tried throwing one of these?" I asked, extending my
7'10" 00-wt. Sage his direction as an invitation to try
He took it, looked it over, worked out a bit of false cast
line, then a bit more line…then more line...and before I
knew what was happening Larry was throwing my #16 bead
head nymph at least 30 feet farther than I've ever thrown
it, and seemingly doing so with no effort at all. What
was weird is that his backcasts looked too quick, too
short. He wasn't letting the loop lay out behind him
in classic textbook fashion; nevertheless, on his final
forward casts the line would shoot out over the water
like it was fired from a gun.
"I don't know," Larry offered cautiously, "this thing
would take some getting used to. It doesn't feel right."
That remark took me by surprise. Like, if he ever got
use to a 00-Sage ultralight rod to where it "felt right"
could he send a #16 beadhead nymph flying 100 yards clear
across this lake arm? I couldn't believe how far he was
casting...and with MY ROD, too!
He handed my rod back and I resumed my expert demonstration
of how not to cast. In two minutes Larry saw some seriously
skunky stuff. Line piling against my chest, fly snagging
on weeds during backcasts, line piling on the water after
forward casts, leader wrapping the rod tip on pickup. A
cornucopia of screwups. My mechanics felt okay but the
results were a disgrace.
"Just keep working at it, keep practicing," Larry suggested
as he turned to leave.
Oh, and lest I forget, there was one last little suggestion
he offered before getting into his pickup: "You should clip
off that nymph and go with a dry fly."
Right. And don't people who drive Fords think Fords are better?
The only thing I ended up practicing after Larry left was
how to clip off one nymph and tie on a different one. Ever
since switching to that #16 beadhead I'd been bothered by
the sharp tug that even a little #16 wire-wrapped beadhead
puts on your leader during false casts. Larry's casting
prowess aside, I decided the beadhead's weight might be
contributing to my casting difficulties. Not the main
cause to be sure, but a contributing cause. Maybe changing
nymphs would help somehow.
More to the point, by now I'd detected a trend in how the
fish were hitting. The 'gillies would attack my little nymph
in the first few seconds after touchdown, but the longer I
counted down the deeper the beadhead sank and the fewer hits
I got. I tried compensating by commencing my retrieve almost
immediately after splashdown, stripping the beadhead in quicker
and keeping the rod tip high (to make the nymph run shallower)
but the bluegills were having none of that.
These two bits of behavioral evidence added up to one conclusion:
this evening the 'gills were occupying a narrow zone near the
surface and they preferred slow-moving prey. They were not
exhibiting much eagerness in surface feeding, else I'd have
been seeing and hearing lots of swirling activity. So a dry
fly didn't seem the right thing to use.
Solution? I changed to a no-bead unweighted #12 gold-ribbed
Hare's Ear Nymph, one built around a light-gauge hook. I
knotted it on and sent it out into the lake. Slowly, slow...
sink...CRUNCH! A 9-inch bluegill buck grabbed the gently
descending nymph, put me in his rear-view mirror and hit
the gas pedal. Thus began a 45-minute frenzy of panfish
catching that involved big bluegills, red ears and a couple
of crappie. Everything I landed was unhooked and released.
This action commenced close to 5:00 p.m. I quit the lake
at 5:45 p.m. after catching perhaps 30 very good panfish
in 45-minutes of nymphing. There was a thin overcast this
evening that was making the sky go dark quicker than usual.
The darkening sky coincided with the strikes becoming less
frequent. The question in my mind was whether the action
slowdown was the result of dimming light or if the ruckus
stirred up by all the fish I'd hooked had warned off the
remaining unhooked ones.
Let me pause here to voice a gripe. I'm not a big fan of
how Daylight Savings Time gets used in the United States.
Seems to me DST ought to happen in the winter, not the
summer. Hunters and fishers who work day jobs could make
good use of an extra hour of daylight in the late fall and
Look, the days are naturally longer in late spring, summer
and early fall, right? Okay, so why do we overload these
naturally longer days with another hour of sunlight, making
it where the evening sky is still brightly lit when we're
trying to go to sleep at 9:30 p.m.? How stupid is that?
Wouldn't it be better to spread the sun's wealth across the
board? Stay on Standard Time until late fall. Wait until
the planet's axis tilts us into fewer hours of sunlight per
day and THEN switch to Daylight Savings Time. Come the
official first day of Fall everybody wakes up an hour earlier,
we go to work and school an hour earlier, thereby getting an
extra hour of late afternoon outdoors play time. Instead of
"Spring-forward, Fall-back" the new drill would be: "Spring-back,
How come we fishers and hunters never get put in charge
of making society's truly important policy decisions?
At any rate, the wonderful action I enjoyed nymph - repeat,
nymph - fishing Sunday evening kept me distracted all day
Monday at work. Could my spirit survive without catching
another bluegill until the next weekend? No, it could not.
Monday after work I drove as fast as KC Metro Area rush hour
traffic and speed limit signs allowed, arriving at Sunday
evening's hot spot at 5:20 p.m. A dense cloud bank from
the northwest had arrived 30 minutes before me and covered
the lake in gloom. At least tonight the lake surface was
a mirror; not a breath of wind was blowing. Before rigging
up, I put on my Petzl 3-LED headlamp; its beam was needed
to illuminate my leader so that I could tie on a no-bead
#16 unweighted gold ribbed Hares Ear.
It quickly became clear that my choice of a small lightweight
nymph wasn't tickling the panfish pectorals pink. In the
rapidly dimming light I could tell the tiny nymph was barely
sinking. Indeed, it was leaving a v-shaped wake behind itself
during retrieves. This wasn't the nymph's fault; I was using
a leader with a 5-lb. test tippet: surface tension was keeping
the leader afloat. Before I could think about changing flies,
I broke off this #16 GRHEN when I snagged something on a
backcast. Another fly bites the dust.
Okay, time for a slightly heavier (but unweighted) #12 GRHEN
- the same nymph I'd enjoyed 45 Minutes of Paradise with
just 24 hours ago. With expectations of a strike on every
cast, I threw the #12 HEN for an hour and caught just 3
bluegills. Wow! What a difference a day makes!
I've heard and read that bluegills are almost exclusively
daytime feeders; they won't hit in the dark. Well, I had
maybe six hits after it got dark, which confirms that some
'gills do remain active after lights out.
Was there another reason for this slow action tonight,
another reason besides darkness? Perhaps not having any
wind blowing had altered the underwater insect prey
distribution; the 'gills may have simply been someplace
else looking for their evening din-din. Or maybe they
were actually out there in strength but were giving me
the cold shoulder, recalling all those nymphs they'd
grabbed the evening before - nymphs with a hook.
This was my longest effort yet night angling with fly
tackle. I didn't feel very comfortable doing it. Part
of the reason being I was fishing from the bank and this
provoked worries of snagging my back cast.
On the plus side: Here it's an early November night and
my LED headlamp is attracting a swarm of flying insects.
This was totally unexpected. Bugs were landing on my
face, crawling down my neck, running around the inside
surface of my eyeglass lenses, generally making a nuisance
of themselves. But they weren't biting insects. I'm
embarrassed to say that I'm ignorant enough about insects
and can't report what species they were. More than one
What impressed me most is that winged insects were present
in abundance, actively flying about on a dark, cold Kansas
November night, making themselves available as food item
targets for every hungry panfish in this lake. This
definitely made an impact.
If I ever make the leap of faith into regular night-time
fly angling, the effort surely will require a fair number
of tactical adjustments. One thing: if winged insects
aflight on cold fall and winter nights is a common
occurrence, Larry McGuire's advice to go with a dry fly
around sundown starts to make a lot of sense. (Very
likely many of the insects I saw tonight hatched tonight.)
The problem: how do you fish a dry fly once it gets so
dark out that you can't see where the fly lands, when
you can't see the take if the dry gets grabbed? Fly
angling at night - it's got to be a different and far
more difficult world. ~ 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