PANFISH ON A FLY
by
Lynden Huggins

I think many people started fishing with a cane pole and a can of worms. For me those precious moments were spent on a black water swamp bank behind our home. The worms were caught in a hurried frenzy and the gear took the abuse of continuous thrashing as I ran through the woods to the swamp. I remember the vivid colors of the red breast and the brilliant red fins of the chain pickerel like it was yesterday.

From these humble beginnings an angler was born. I have fished thousands of fishing holes in the southern United States chasing various species for one reason or another. With all my gear, my boats and my toys I still enjoy catching bluegills. To me there is little that compares to the fight of a pound-plus bluegill on an ultra light except a pound-plus bluegill on a four-weight fly rod.

The fly fishing bug bite me four years ago and I am hooked for life. My initial goal was to catch everything on a fly. If it swam I knew I could catch it on a fly. I was smart enough to know that I needed to start with the easy stuff and work my way up to the hard stuff, so I started fly fishing for bluegills. A nine-foot six-weight rod and some popping bugs were all I thought I would ever need. My flies consisted of a few store bought flies and a bunch of crude hand tied bugs. As with all things I do, I could not just participate, I had to go all out. I have never been good at just playing the game I have to give it my all, and my outdoor gear is a reflection of this commitment. Soon my meager gear gave way to an arsenal of "Fear No Fish" (Gloomis) state of the art gear. Never have I regretted this move, except for the price. My flies became a work of art thanks to my Dyna King and Norlander vises. Quickly I went from a couple of flies to a multitude of patterns and colors ranging form the classic to the radical self-designed flies. Float rubes were the next on my list and a call to The Creek Company and Wood River and I was sitting in my new water recliners. Time to fish!

My 20 years of experience with bluegills has taught me a lot about these crafty savages and I knew they could not resist a well-placed popping bug. This yielded many fish but the huge trophy bluegills just were not there. Sometimes the larger bluegills would take a surface fly but I thought I could catch them more frequently on a sinking fly. So I went to a tactic that I employ with all my fishing, go deep for larger fish. This lead to the inclusion of Clouser flies into my fly fishing arsenal. The Clouser fly is a standard saltwater fly but often over looked for panfish fishing. I began tying Clouser flies in a variety of colors and sizes with my own tying modifications. Clouser flies produced a lot of big fish because the fly sinks and appears to be an attractive meal for the larger bluegills. Big bluegills, the pound-plus kind, use the deeper water and spawn at a deeper depth (up to 10 feet deep if water is clear) than other bluegills. Most people never realize that the larger fish are in deeper water because they see the smaller fish bedding in shallow water.

My Clouser fly idea was a hit but I still love throwing a popping bug and watching them explode on it. Sometimes I will rig a dropper fly below my popping bug so I can cover both depths effectively and find the more productive pattern. I use this double up method to choose the most effective color because bluegills will let you know what they like real fast. Don’t be afraid to change flies and experiment, bluegills never cease to amaze me with their appetite and vigor. My bluegill fly selection is broken down into three groups: topwater, shallow and deep. Topwater flies are just as the name implies they ride on the top of the water and don’t sink. Among my topwater flies I carry a variety of popping bugs and various dry flies. My shallow flies sink slowly and almost suspend within five feet of the surface. These can be fished on a floating line to get the desired effect. Shallow water fly selection is a combination of wet flies, sliders, and Clouser minnows. Deep flies are flies that sink fast and cover the bottom layer of the lake. These flies are usually fished on a sinking line. Deep-water flies include Clouser flies and Deceivers. Fly sizes are determined by the size of the fish in the lake and how aggressively they are feeding. Regardless of species, larger flies usually catch larger fish. However fish can be in a non-aggressive feeding mode and you may have to go to a smaller lure to get the same bite. Let the fish dictate the lure and the lure sizes they want and your trip will be more successful. If you pay attention, the fish will tell you everything you need to know.

Whether you are in a boat, float tube or wading bluegills will give you all the challenges of saltwater flats fishing, if you take the time to fish for the bulls. Most people never see a bluegill over a pound but they can be there, it just takes a little work. Bluegills will not run you into backing or run for hundreds of yards but I love them. I have learned more from chasing bluegills than from any other species. They teach me to pay attention to my lure selection and how I fish it. Every lake does not hold "world class" bluegills that tip the pound scales but they all are fun. If you put in the time and pay attention to what the fish are telling you, you may catch a bull bluegill. Either way you will have a great time.

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