Friday, August 16, 2013

When It’s Hot, Feed Panfish and Bass A Fat Grasshopper

In late summer and early fall hot temperatures slow fishing success and frustrated anglers swear the fish are suffering from severe cases of lockjaw. But, fly flingers can dial-up the action by casting grasshopper patterns to spots where panfish and bass wait to feed on live hoppers that are blown off of shoreline vegetation or otherwise fall into the water.

It’s not hard to find grasshoppers in late summer when the afternoons and evenings are dry and hot. Great numbers of them can be found in grassy spots along rivers, streams, creeks, lakes and ponds and some always fall or are blown from vegetation along the banks into shallow water. It doesn’t take long for a fat, slow-swimming hopper to become a meal for bluegill or largemouth bass.

There are many types, colors and sizes of grasshoppers and all the angler has to do is choose a hopper fly that is the approximate shape, color and size of those living in the area being fished.  

You don’t have to be too careful when fishing with hopper patterns, just find a spot with lots of vegetation growing on the bank or where tree branches hang out over the water and cast near those spots.

When a hopper falls or is blown into the water, it lands with a noticeable “splat” and almost immediately starts to kick along the surface towards the safety of dry land. When you cast, don’t be afraid to “slam” that hopper fly down onto the surface, you want to demand the bluegill or bass’s attention. Then skitter the fly slowly and erratically across the water’s surface towards shore as if it is anxious to make dry land.

It is important that the fly floats on the water’s surface after the cast and during the retrieve. If the hopper sinks in the water the fish will ignore it. After every cast, and especially after I’ve landed a fish, I squeeze the water from the fly and add floatant if necessary to keep it afloat.

One of Maggie’s and my favorite grasshopper patterns for largemouth bass and bluegill is a knock-off from an old fly I found in one of my dad’s fly boxes. I don’t know the actual name of the fly, but Maggie and I call it “Dad’s Hopper.”
Dad’s Hopper
Hook --  Mustad 9671 #8
Thread – Danville’s Black Flat Waxed Nylon
Body – Medium Olive Chenille
Legs – Olive Green Raffia  Straw
Hackle – Olive Green Rooster Hackle Feather

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cure for the Dog Days of Summer

It’s mid-July.
It’s HOT in southeast Nebraska and other parts of the country.

Mulberries on the bush. Dark purple and black berries are ripe. 
Days when the temperature tops out in the high-80s are a welcome relief from other days when temperatures approach the three-digit mark. The humidity reading is often almost identical to the temperature. It can be hard to breathe as you shuffle from the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned house.

The old-timers call these “the dog days of summer,” when heat from the sun drives the fish into cooler areas such as weed beds and stump fields , deeper water, and shaded flowing water where there are cooler temperatures. That makes the fish less active during daylight hours and the spots where they go to avoid the sun and warmer temperatures more difficult for the fly angler to fish.

That means the fish move to places where there is protection from the direct rays of the sun, which makes the water cooler (shade), where there is an acceptable level of oxygen in the water, and where there are aquatic insects, small fish or other food sources. It also often means they are hiding in submerged growing vegetation where the angler finds it difficult to present a fly, or to fight the fish after a strike.

The “dog days” mean tough fishing.

But, late yesterday morning when I was taking Gabe, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, on a short walk in the pasture, slipping from the shade of one tree to the next, I noticed the mulberry bushes growing near our barn were still producing fruit. The branches were loaded with berries and the ground beneath them was littered with dark purple and black mulberries.

“Mulberries!” I said out-loud, “It’s time to go carp fishing!”

Gabe looked at me out of the corner of his eye, as if to say, “Hey Boss, I do ducks, geese, pheasants, quail, maybe a dove or two, but I draw the line at scales. You’re on your own on this one, buddy.”

If you’ve never caught a carp on your fly rod, you’re missing some great action. Carp have kind of a bad reputation in this country (more because of their social skills than their sporting qualities), but in many other countries they are considered to be superior game fish.

I’m not going to go into all of the carp’s attributes here, other than to say they are abundant in most areas of the country, they grow to large size, fight well when hooked, and are great at the table after being smoked, grilled, fried or baked.

During “the dog days,” carp are easy to find and aren’t affected by the heat as are other species. One of my favorite ways to catch them when nothing else will even look at my fly, is with mulberry flies.

Mulberry flies fool hungry carp.
Mulberries grow along the banks of creeks, streams, rivers, farm ponds and  the quiet coves of many lakes.  The plant’s branches bend and reach out over then water and ripe berries fall into the water where carp often gather and suck them up.

When I’m fishing a creek, stream or river, I like to cast into the current flowing along the bank above the mulberry bushes and let the current carry my fly over feeding carp.

Carp don’t make dramatic strikes at the fly like a bass or northern pike, instead it slowly sucks the fly into it’s soft mouth, feels and mouths it a little and then leisurely turns and moves away.  That’s when you should set the hook and be prepared for a fight. A carp is best described as a “brawler”. Think late nights at Irish pubs.

As I mentioned earlier, the carp is not known as America’s most popular sport fish, but it is one scrappy fish well worth the attention of warmwater fly angler.



Mulberry Fly
Hook -- Mustad 3367 #6
Thread -- Danville’s Black Flat Waxed Nylon
Body -- Medium Black Chenille
Rib – Purple Krystal Flash
Stem -- Black Goose Biot Fiber

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy, Tasty Fried Panfish

Bluegill, crappie or other panfish, filleted or pan-dressed
Cold milk or buttermilk
Peanut oil, vegetable oil or bacon drippings from breakfast
Flour, yellow cornmeal or pancake mix
Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper

Fillet fish in normal manner or clean them by gutting, removing the head, tail, fins and scales. Wash fish well in cool water and place them in an ice chest or refrigerator for 15-30 minutes before frying.

Mix dry ingredients well and place in shallow bowl or plastic bag.
Mix egg and small amount of milk or buttermilk in a second bowl. Completely cover pieces of fish with mixture and then dredge them in the dry ingredients.

Fry the fish in the hot oil or grease in a cast iron or other heavy skillet until the flesh easily flakes with a fork at its thickest point.
Drain the fish on a paper towel and serve with potato, salad, your favorite vegetable and an appropriate beverage.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

LM Bass Candy – The Orange and Yellow Spook Diver

It’s time to be on the water getting after the largemouth bass.
The last couple of weeks Maggie and I have found bass hanging along the edges of shallow water weedbeds and along banks where trees and tree limbs have fallen into the water, especially in coves which are protected from winds. Bass feed heavily during the approach of a cold front , then shut down when the front actually arrives. The rule of  thumb at our house is, “when the barometer is falling, head for the lake and start casting surface and diving lures towards shallow-water cover.” Oh yeah, one more thing ….  Hang on to your rod….tight!
One of the flies that has produced well for us is the Orange and Yellow Spook Diver. It is easy to tie, casts well and produces strikes. We cast “the Spook” parallel to and as close as we can to the shallow-water cover and retrieve it with quick, short jerks of the line to make the fly dive a short distance and then pop back to the surface. It sits there for several seconds (the old standard is to let it sit motionless until the disturbance it made in the water is gone) and then jerk the line again to repeat the performance. Continue that retrieve along the edge of the cover.  

The Orange and Yellow Spook Diver
Hook: Mustad 9674 size 4-2
Thread: Black 3/0 monocord, waxed
Tail: Yellow and orange marabou fibers, gold Krystal Flash:
Collar: Yellow, orange and red deer hair
Eyes: 7 mm doll eyes  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Howdy, Glad To See You Again!

It’s been a while since my last post and I apologize for that. A lot has happened while I was away, but now things have settled down and returned to normal, and I’m finally able to get back to talking with you about fly fishing.

Spring came to southeast Nebraska late this year and brought with it several days of heavy rains which replenished reservoirs, lakes and ponds that had been shrunken and crippled by last year’s drought. Thanks to those storms, we have plenty of water and it’s time to go fishing.

Have you tried using a black woolly leech to catch largemouth bass in the spring?

The black woolly leech is not a new pattern by any means, but for some reason many fly fishermen after bass overlook it in favor of more “flashy” patterns. The woolly leech is the best imitation of a small fish I’ve found. It can be fished in a variety of ways and is at its best when moving slowly through the water with short jerks and pauses.

I like to fish this pattern in turbid water when bass are working shallow weed beds trying to locate small fish near the bank. Wade out into the water and cast parallel along the outside (deep water) edge of the weedbed and retrieve the fly just a few inches from that edge. Vary the depth and speed of the retrieve and make the fly imitate the erratic movements of a small fish darting in and out of the weeds.

The black woolly leech is weighted so it will sink to the depth you want to work and the materials it is made with provide plenty of attractive action as it is retrieved through the water.

Weighted Black Woolly Leech
Thread: Black waxed 3/0 monocord
Hook: Mustad 9672, size 4-8
Tail: Black marabou
Body: Black chenille
Hackle: Black rooster saddle
Eyes: Small bead chain
Weight: Additional weight may be added to front portion of fly with lead wire
Head: Black waxed monochord
Weedguard: 20# monofilament line

Friday, November 27, 2009

It’s Time to Start Tying Flies for Spring

The nights are getting cold here in southeast Nebraska, water temperatures are falling
and your chances of catching anything on a fly rod are getting pretty slim. On top of that, it’s getting harder to find a place to fish. The last time I was out I found duck decoys floating in a couple of my favorite spots. I’ve decided it’s time to stick a little closer to the fire and concentrate on tying flies for next year.

The first flies I’ll tie will be the Improved Black Gnat and the Improved McGinty, two of my favorite panfish flies. Both are easy-to-tie wet fly patterns, just what I need to get my aging fingers back in shape for four or five months of intense tying.

The Improved Black Gnat and the Improved McGinty are my versions of two traditional wet flies – the Black Gnat and the McGinty – created to take trout. I call them "improved" for a couple of reasons. One is that each of the original patterns requires more materials, each is a little more difficult to tie in its original form, and each of the original patterns takes a little longer to tie than my down-and-dirty variations. I also believe that bluegill and crappie are less selective than trout and in my experience they like the more-simply tied versions at least as well as the originals. To me, that’s an improvement and I renamed them, not in an attempt to claim any ownership to the patterns, but to identify them as being knock-offs of the originals. In answer to the obvious question, I have not tried the improved versions of either of the "improved" versions for trout fishing and I don’t have any idea how trout would respond to them. I’m just really happy that bluegill and crappie like them.

I’ll start fishing again next spring just as soon as there is open water and panfish move into shallow water looking for forage. Fishing in the spring can be pretty tough, thanks melting snow and ice which raise water levels and turn normally clear waters the color of semi-stout coffee. Then, just as the water starts to clear again, roller-coaster cold and warm fronts produce strong spring storms that result in high winds and heavy runoff that again result in stained water.

In stained water, bluegill and crappie can see dark-colored flies such as the Improved Black Gnat, easier and at greater distances than lighter-colored patterns. I’ve also found that larger flies, such as size 8 or 10, produce more fish than those size 12-14.

The Improved Black Gnat Wet FlyThread: Black, pre-waxed
Hook: Mustad 3906, sizes 8-14
Tail: Black goose biot
Body: Small black chenille
Weight: (Optional) 3-5 turns of small lead wire
Collar: Black hackle
Head: Black thread
I don’t know if this pattern imitates any insect in particular, but it seems to be easy for the fish to locate when it is retrieved slowly with a short jerk-stop-short jerk motion near some type of cover, such as vegetation standing in shallow water.

The Improved McGinty Wet Fly
Thread: Black, pre-waxed
Hook: Mustad 3906, sizes 8-14
Tail: Red hackle feathers
Body: Small black and yellow chenille
Weight: (Optional) 3-5 turns of small lead wire
Collar: Yellow hackle
Head: Black thread

The Improved McGinty roughly resembles a honey or bumble bee in shape, color and size, and though I've never seen a bluegill eat a bee, they sure go after this fly. Its three colors – red, yellow and black -- seem to attract bluegill.

I prefer to use the Improved Black Gnat in stained water, but when the water is clearer and visibility is better, I change to the Improved McGinty.

When spring does finally roll around, fly anglers can start taking bluegill on flies shortly after ice-out. Concentrate your efforts in shallow water with vegetation or other cover near shore on the north and west sides of the lake or pond because those spots will warm quicker than other areas.

Later in the spring, when the water warms and vegetation begins growing, I can usually find bluegill around healthy, green weedbeds in water two to eight feet deep, where the fish congregate because of the shade, protective cover where they can hide from predators, and because the weeds provide forage such as zooplankton, insects and small minnows.

My wife, Maggie, is shown with a few bluegill she took on an Improved McGinty while fishing near shallow-water vegetation last spring.

I think that a 4 or 5-weight graphite rod with a weight-forward floating line and tapered leader is an ideal setup for spring bluegill fishing. I like a weight-forward floating line and a 7½-foot tapered leader with 7X tippet for both bluegills and crappies in shallow water. You can cast accurately and comfortably with this combination all day, and it doesn't overpower the fish.

In the early spring, I use an unweighted fly because it sinks slowly to about two feet below the surface and hangs there, shimmering in the water. Later, in early summer when the fish move to deeper water, I often use a weighted fly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Big Fish Eat Smaller Fish

Most warmwater fish routinely feed on smaller fish, including those of their own species. During the spring and summer, fish also feed on insects and other assorted food items, but in the fall the availability of most insects quickly declines as air and water temperatures cool, making minnows and small fish an important food source.
From the time leaves start changing colors and falling from the trees until the pond or lake ices over, I use streamers and other types of minnow-imitating flies to take largemouth bass and crappie.
Among my favorite fall largemouth bass flies are the Gray Woolhead Minnow and the Gray Woolhead Marabou Minnow. Here’s how I tie them:

Gray Woolhead Minnow
Thread: Gray or white pre-waxed
Hook: Mustad 9672 or comparable, size 6 or larger
Tail: A pair of matched pale gray hackle feathers
Collar: Light gray or pale yellow wool flared back towards tail
Eyes: Black/white doll eyes in appropriate size
Head: Gray wool
* I’ve had good luck fishing this pattern along the outside edge of vegetation growing in shallow water. Cast beyond the weed line and retrieve the fly slowly and erratically along the outside edge of the bed.

The Gray Woolhead Marabou Minnow
Thread: Gray or white pre-waxed
Hook: Mustad 9672 or comparable, size 6 or larger
Body: Small, dense bunches of marabou hackle fibers in various colors, such as yellow, orange, green and purple
Wing: A pair of mallard breast feathers tied flat to cover marabou fibers
Gills: Red hackle fibers tied below hook shank
Eyes: Small (dumbbell) black lead eyes
Head: Gray wool
* I really like the way the marabou fibers move in the water and give the illusion of light reflecting off a fish’s scales. I’ve taken several bass by fishing this pattern along the sides of submerged logs, and along the edges of shallow flats where the flat drops sharply into deeper water, such as along the steep side of a creek channel.

The Super Silver Minnow
Thread: Black pre-waxed
Hook: Mustad 9672 or comparable, size 10 or larger
Weight: Three-five turns of small lead wire behind the hook eye to add weight to front
Body: Silver tinsel
Underwiing: A few marabou hackle fibers in various colors, such as yellow, orange, green and purple
Wing: A pair of mallard breast feathers tied flat to cover marabou fibers
* This is an excellent pattern for taking crappie in the fall. It is easy to tie and moves realistically when retrieved slowly and erratically through the water. Weighting behind the head helps the fly sink below the surface and move naturally through the water. I like to fish this fly along the edges of rocky flats or submerged rock piles, along weedy flats that drop sharply into deeper water, and near partially submerged brush piles, partially submerged timber and stump fields during the warmest parts of the day.