About Bluegill
Woven Flies for Bluegills

Article By Dirk Burton


Jack turned off the outboard engine and quietly eased the trolling motor into the cool springtime water of the big oxbow lake. As our boat glided into the pocket of calm water by the cypress trees, I spotted some movement by a partially exposed cluster of downed branches. I made a couple of false casts and dropped the "Clay's Hopper" and Tussle Bug dropper combination at the outer edge of the area of movement. The hopper was pulled under so swiftly that I almost couldn't keep up with it. I was happy to discover when I pulled the slack out of the fly line that the fish was still on, and after a couple of mini tarpon-like jumps, I landed the big bluegill. We caught bluegill on almost every cast for the next ten minutes. Several times we each had doubles. Jack and I worked the hopper- dropper rigs from the outside edges inward until we finally got to the middle of the bed.

We fished for several more hours in the morning, finding more bedding fish, until we were ready for lunch and then headed back to the lodge. Except for the flies we lost on underwater stumps and other cover, the ones we had used all morning were ready to be used again in the afternoon. Unlike many of the other commonly used flies for panfish which tend to fall apart after ten or twenty good fish, these woven flies are so durable; they can catch up to 100 fish and still look like new.

There are many weaving techniques utilized by fly tiers. There is the shuttle weave, commonly used in Polish nymphs, the Potts weave, the half hitch weave which produces nice vertical stripes, and the checker weave sometimes used for insect bodies. I am sure I am leaving out a few others. My favorite for simplicity, durability, and overall appearance is the overhand knot weave.

The overhand knot weave is just a series of overhand knots using two strands of material. The finished body of a fly done with this type of weave has a dark top section, two lateral stripes running the length of the body on each side, and a light colored belly. I first saw the overhand knot weaving technique demonstrated by Mike Verduin. It impressed me so much that I went home the very evening I watched him tie, and practiced the weave over and over until I was able to tie a reasonable replica of his Catalpa Worm. Soon I began to formulate some original ideas for flies using the overhand knot weave. The Tussle Bug was the culmination of several prototypes that all caught fish.

My first problem was that the resulting flies coming from of some of those early experiments in weaving were just plain unattractive. I thought that I might have to thread a worm on the end of the hook to get the fish to eat them, but amazingly, that old cliché proved to be right about ugly flies catching fish- which led to a second problem. If tied correctly woven flies don't wear out. You have to lose them to get rid of them.

Eventually I settled for a cross between a Clouser minnow, a Charlie, and a jig. I call the little fly a Tussle Bug. Not only is it attractive to the fish, but it is also attractive to the fisherman. It probably works best in the spring and fall for bedding bream and crappie, although I am told that a friend caught a speckled trout on one about a year ago. It can be fished by simply letting it fall nearly to the bottom and then stripping it back in, or it can be fished under the Clay's Hopper for a slower presentation. The Tussle Bug was originally tied with micro dumbbell eyes, however later versions were tied with bead chain eyes, or with melted mono eyes for varying rates of descent.

On one trip to the lake, Jack and I caught about as many bluegill and Chinquapin (red ears) as we were interested in cleaning -all on Tussle Bugs. We let them fall nearly to the bottom and used a short, strip style retrieve. We released probably as many fish as we kept. Two weeks later, we returned to the same area and the results were abysmal. I decided to try to come up with a pattern that dropped more slowly through the water column and had some wiggle to it. The result was the "Cajun Tickler". This fly has a bead head, six legs, a thorax that is palmered with peacock herl, and a woven abdomen section.

The next trip to the lake proved to be as action packed as the first. The "tickler's" legs slowed the drop and created movement. The peacock herl provided just a bit of flash that wouldn't spook a more wary bream. The "Cajun Tickler" is probably even better suited for fishing under the "Clay's Hopper".

The "Clay's Hopper" is probably one of the happiest accidents I have ever encountered. I needed a hopper that would be able to float and suspend a Tussle Bug with dumbbell eyes. Those made me look to craft foam because of its high buoyancy. A lot of the foam patterns out there look two dimensional to me. I thought I could incorporate the woven butt section and make a really nice looking hopper that would be more realistic. As it turned out, this fly exceeded my expectations. I love to fish with just the hopper alone. Bass love it, bream love it, and I think it is one of the most "realistic- attractor" patterns that I have had the pleasure of fishing with. My five year old son Clay loves it too, for obvious reasons. He keeps one clamped in his vise on his desk" just for show".

If you desire to fish the Clay's Hopper with a dropper, I would suggest connecting the dropper fly to the eye of the hopper with about 12 inches of lighter line in between. That way if you get hung up, you may be able to break the dropper off and save your hopper. I like connecting the dropper to the eye of the hopper as opposed to the hook bend because I think it gives both flies' better actions.

In summary I believe that bream, like bass, sometimes desire a top water fly, sometimes they want one near the bottom almost stirring up mud, at other times they prefer a suspended fly, and still other times they will aggressively strike a fly that descends slowly through the water column. Of course, fly color and, or hue is also a factor here. The fly fisherman needs to be able to determine which type of presentation their quarry will be most receptive to. Sometimes it may be just a single fly, and at other times a combination of two types, like the dropper sequence described, will work best. Always work from the outside of a bream bed inward. That way you stand a better chance of not spooking the other bream in the area. The larger males are generally hanging around the middle of the bed and if you cast there first, the resulting battle will likely scatter the rest of the fish.

A little experimentation mixed in with some woven flies can't help but produce frequent successful fishing trips and many great memories.

The patterns for the Tussle Bug, Cajun Tickler and Clay's Hopper can be found in the Bluegill Jar of Flies.

Dirk Burton does most of his fly fishing from his kayak and canoe. He likes to fish for both warmwater and saltwater species in his home state of Louisiana. He enjoys experimenting with new patterns, and sometimes does tying demonstrations for his local club. He is currently teaching his son Clay to fly fish and tie flies.