habits and food preferences of bluegills and crappies can't be said
to differ drastically from East to West, yet
Tom Keith has for years panfished the Western waters with consistent
success using just two wet-fly patterns more often-throughout the
year and under varying conditions-than any other flies. Without
question, the patterns are excellent (and not for panfish alone)
but we suspect that a large measure of his success also stems from
his methods of prospecting and presentation. Here's how Tom uses...
fishermen have been discovering what the bait-and-bobber crowd has
known all along-that despite their diminutive size, bluegills and
crappies can always be counted on to provide king-sized fishing
pleasure. These two species possess all the qualities of top notch
game fish, they're available in good numbers in most areas of the
country, they're energetic fighters, and because of their preference
for relatively shallow water they're usually easily accessible to
the fly fisherman.
aren't among the most difficult species to catch, but don't let
anyone tell you bluegills and crappies are pushovers. Although most
anyone can catch a few small fish during an afternoon on the water,
a good deal more skill and knowledge are required to catch large
fish consistently at different times of the year, from diverse types
of aquatic habitat, and under various weather conditions. Most fishermen
know that a ½-pound bluegill is a good catch but don't realize
that 'gills of more than a pound aren't uncommon-the record was
closer to 5! Likewise, most crappies (both the white and black species)
weigh less than a pound, but quite a few 2- to 3-pounders are waiting
in some waters if only the angler can find them.
of the keys to taking both species is to use fly patterns that have
proven to be consistent producers. This eliminates time lost switching
from pattern to pattern and allows you to spend that time fishing.
A lot of bluegill fishermen seem to use poppers most of the time,
but they seldom catch the most and largest fish. Versatility is
of prime importance for consistent success, and wet flies are the
most versatile of all fly types. Depending on how they're manipulated
in the water, they can imitate nymphs moving along the bottom or
nymphs hatching and rising on the water's surface. There's even
a species of caddis fly that lands on the surface and swims to the
bottom to lay her eggs, and a wet fly may adequately mimic this
caddis fly's movements.
and crappies are primarily sight-feeders, so fly size and color
are important. The majority of bluegill and crappie fishing occurs
in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, waters that swiftly fluctuate in
clarity due to wind, run-off, character of the impoundment, and
other such factors. Keep in mind that lighter-colored flies are
usually more visible in stained water, while darker patterns get
the nod in clearer water.
know of a "perfect" fly pattern for any type of fishing,
but I do know there are two patterns that come darn close to being
perfect for catching bluegills and crappies. Both are improved versions
of traditional patterns.
Improved McGinty is the best choice under most conditions. It reminds
me of a bee, and though I've never seen a fish take a bee, they
go after the Improved McGinty with a vengeance. It's tied in sizes
10 to 14, which are just about right for a bluegill to take in its
small mouth, yet the fly's small size doesn't hinder its ability
to attract and hook the bigger-mouthed crappie.
Improved Black Gnat is an easier- to-tie rendition of the original
Black Gnat, a pattern long renowned as a bluegill slayer. It still
is a great producer of big 'gills, but is actually a more effective
crappie pattern. The Improved Black Gnat is also tied in sizes 10
use a 5 weight graphite rod. I might go lighter if I didn't use
the same rod for Western trout. On the other hand, 5 weight is a
bare minimum if you might encounter bass in the same pond or lake.
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. When the fish move into
deeper water and suspend along drop-offs or move into submergent
weedbeds, it's important that the fly sinks rapidly and rides deeper,
so I switch to a weight-forward fast-sinking line and a short leader.
bluegills can be found in shallows from a foot to a yard deep most
of the time, but larger fish prefer deeper, darker water to feed,
escape the sun, and hide from predators. The best spots have an
abundance of cover such as a weedbed or stump field. Large bluegills
favor the deep-water outside edge of a weedbed, and the portion
of a stump field that's closest to deeper water.
fly fisherman who's after large fish handicaps himself greatly if
he casts only from the bank. To fish a weedbed
effectively it's necessary to wade or use a float tube or a boat
to position yourself on the deep-water side of the weeds and cast
back to them. This puts you into position to cast parallel to the
outside deep-water edge of the weedbed and allows you to keep your
fly in potentially productive water for the longest period of time
during each retrieve.
tactic for bluegills is to cast a size 12 Improved McGinty as close
to the weedbed's outside edge as possible and retrieve it slowly
along the weed edge. Retrieve the fly by stripping 6 to 12 inches
of line at a time and pausing for a few seconds-not just momentarily-between
won't be a savage strike when a bluegill inhales an Improved McGinty.
You'll see the line straighten, and when you apply pressure the
fish will turn his broad, flat side against the direction of the
pull and dart back toward the weeds. Try to keep him away from the
vegetation to avoid tangles. When he realizes he can't get into
the weeds, he'll make a dash for deeper water. Play him slowly rather
than just cranking him in, and remember he'll never surrender to
you, even when you have him in your hand. A bluegill always saves
enough strength for a final flop as you hold him to admire his bright
colors. That strong flop has won the freedom of more bluegills than
have ever been fried or released.
the fish are holding among the weeds, concentrate your casts on
small open pockets and indentations where you can place your fly.
After the cast, resist the urge to take up the slack in your line
immediately, because that will move the fly forward a few inches,
may be out of the target area. Avoid touching the line for a few
seconds while the Im proved McGinty slowly sinks, or let out a few
inches of line to insure that the fly doesn't move forward until
you start the retrieve.
no need to jerk the rod to set the hook when you feel a strike.
The bluegill's mouth is so small that the fly
has no place to go except into tissue as the line becomes tight
and, in essence, the fish hooks itself. But once the fish is on,
it's best to keep the line tight so the hook won't work free as
the fish fights to escape. Remember to pinch down your barbs to
ease hook removal and release of fish.
Look for crappies near rocks, timber, and shady shoreline areas
where there's a sand, gravel, or hard clay bottom. Some of the best
crappie fishing is dur ing the hottest parts of the day in mid summer
when other still-water fish may provide little or no activity. Look
for spots where heavily-leaved branches of trees growing along the
bank bend out over the water. The closer the branches and leaves
come to touching the water, the better. The ideal spot will also
have grasses and aquatic weeds growing in the water, under or near
the overhanging branches, and will be located a short distance from
deeper water. Spots like this attract crappies because they pro
vide shade from the heat and glare of the summer sun, and because
insects that associate with the trees, weeds, and grasses are attractive
forage for the fish.
is another situation that requires the fisherman to get away from
shore and cast back toward the bank. In this case the target is
the shaded area beneath the free. If the branches hang very low,
you can use a sidearm cast to place the Improved Black Gnat in under
the leaves and make it land against the bank. The most consistently
productive retrieve isn't at all the same as for bluegills. Retrieve
the fly in short, darting motions by wiggling the rod tip from side
to side and stripping line simultaneously. Also cast near the overhanging
leaves so the fly lands as if it fell from the vegetation into the
grassy areas along rocky shorelines are another spot where you'll
find large crappies. Cast as close to the rocks as possible and
let the fly sink as you slowly retrieve it by pulling in just 2
to 3 inches of line, then pause before pulling in more line. An
alternative method that's often effective is to cast near the rocks
and retrieve the Improved Black Gnat rapidly so it swims just beneath
may, of course, encounter all sorts of other situations, but the
flies and methods I've described will cover most of them. Add a
bit of experimentation on your own and you're likely to be hooking
feisty panfish even when bass and trout are least cooperative. .