Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Bluegill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bluegill. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Watching Bobbers

Bobbers. One of the more polarizing words in the sport of fly fishing. I actually saw a Craigslist ad for a drift boat one time where the guy mentioned that he wanted the boat to find a home with someone who wouldn't "bobber fish" out of it. Bobbers, strike indicators, all the same in most minds, but if you ask me they are also a useful tool.

A lot of us started our fishing journey with bobbers for that matter. I can still remember going fishing for the first time, probably around the age of 5. Staring for what seemed like an eternity at the bobber that my dad had rigged above a nice fat night crawler. The amount of patience it takes to stare at a bobber is probably a good indicator of whether someone will make it as an angler. Even at a young age I had it, or at least that is what my memory says. Probably as a result of the pleasant outings to the local state park as a kid, I still enjoy bobber fishing. In the Smokies I rarely use one although I did this past Sunday. High water made high sticking on the other side of the stream tough, but a strike indicator helped to suspend my nymphs in just the right spot to catch some trout. Drifting down the Caney in the drift boat while watching indicators is enjoyable as well. You just never know what will be on the other end of the line when that indicator goes down. I used a bobber today also, sort of.

The weather has felt like early spring now for the last week or more. Lots of birds have been heading north. The robins have arrived in large flocks, the daffodils are coming up, and in the Smokies, blue quills have started hatching. It was inevitable, then, that I eventually started thinking about fishing ponds and small lakes for panfish. It is probably a little early for good crappie fishing, but the only way to find out for sure is to go check.

On this particular water, I rarely ever feel the need to fish with anything other than a small bead head Simi Seal Leech. This little pattern catchings both the bluegill and crappie and even an occasional bass although I don't specifically target them with this fly. Today, I arrived rigged with the same four weight I had been fishing in the Smokies on Sunday afternoon, a nine foot four weight Sage Accel. Almost immediately I noticed fish spooking out of the shallows, and I had not even thrown a cast yet.

The water was still quite clear from the recent cold weather, but the fish were obviously on the prowl and hungry with pods of fish cruising just under the surface and even rising occasionally. I stripped the little leech pattern for a while trying various speeds. One or two half-hearted follows was the best I could do. I did get one unusually strong tug but assume it was just a lethargic but heavy crappie. I'll never know because the hook didn't stay in the fish's mouth. Otherwise, that was it. My magic fly wasn't working so well.

Rises occasionally could still be seen, mostly on the other side of the pond. The fish near me would congregate near the surface and then leave large ripples when I moved and they spooked. Then I noticed the bugs. A small midge hatch was in progress. Confident in what the fish were eating or at least hoping to eat, I dug out the small fly cup I had tossed some extra leeches into before shoving it in my pocket. Dry flies, beetles, a few nymphs, and one fly that might serve as a midge.

A knockoff of the Zebra Midge that I tie, similar to Higa's SOS nymph, was the only fly even remotely close in size and appearance. I figured that it would fish the best if I could suspend it under the surface. My cast tended to spook fish so I wanted to leave it in one spot for a while and give the fish a chance to move back in. Digging around in the fly cup again, I pulled out one of my Smoky Mountain Beetles. In the absence of any strike indicators, it would have to work as my bobber.

Thankfully I had tossed a couple of spools of tippet in my pocket as well. In no time I had rigged a dry/dropper rig. The beetle was my indicator and the small nymph would hopefully be close enough to a midge. Turns out that it was.

Fishing for bluegill near Crossville TN

In another 15 minutes of fishing, I finally caught three nice bluegill. Two of them hit soon after the fly hit the water, probably while the nymph was still falling. The third hit after the indicator had sat there for a while, just like I had originally intended, and I was satisfied with having solved the puzzle. Three fish seemed like enough for a quick outing just a couple of miles from home. Come to think about it, I caught exactly three fish my first time watching bobbers also.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Variety

There is a lake nearby that I've been fishing off and on for a few years. Despite a lot of pressure, it seems to always produce something, even if it is just big bluegill and redear sunfish. The lake is managed for quality bass fishing and in the winter it receives a stocking of trout. Oh, and it has a boat ramp, one that I've never used.

All of my previous forays have been on foot. The lake is relatively accessibly to the shore angler and there is something fun to me about sneaking around a lake with a fly rod and trying to quietly approach fish near the banks for a good presentation. Naturally, as soon as I got the boat last year, I started to wonder how the lake would fish if I could really get around and chase the fish properly. Fast forward to last week when a friend mentioned that they would be passing through and wanted to do a little fishing. I saw a great opportunity to get out and do some exploring and also have a good time catching fish.

When we dumped the boat in at the ramp, the first thing I noticed was a steady breeze out of the southwest. Wanting to row to the southwest end of the lake, I mentally prepared myself to fight the wind. Soon we were moving along nicely. I anchored up a bit off shore so he could tie on a lure. 

While he was busy, I started using one of the 3 fly rods I had along. A four weight, five weight, and seven weight would allow me to fish a variety of flies and hopefully target different fish. The four weight had a small bead head Simi Seal Leech, the five weight had a Clouser Minnow, and the 7 weight had a Diamond Hair Minnow in rainbow trout colors. Those bass grow big by feasting on the leftover stockers in the spring as the water warms.

After fishing a few minutes, I started rowing again and at our next stop, I quickly caught two small bass on the leech. Soon my buddy Alex was convinced to try the fly rod. After a brief description of the cast, he was casting well enough to catch fish and we kept fishing. Over the next 30 minutes, I found another bass, this one nice enough for a quick picture, and Alex lost or missed several fish including at least one nice trout and several bass. Thankfully he finally caught a good bluegill before he could get too frustrated.



We continued on around the lake, and eventually Alex caught the trout he was looking for which was his first ever as well as first on a fly rod obviously.


I rowed for the most part although when a particularly good section of bank would come along, down went the anchor and I fished the Clouser, catching a few nice bass in the process.


Finally, it was getting late. Alex had a long drive back home ahead of him so we headed back out. I'm sure he will be back because, when we finished, he told me that it "was the best fishing I've had in a long time!" I know for sure I'll be back. I never did find those big torpedo shaped bass that will chase the rainbow trout. The variety is also fun, and I can't wait to try it again!

If you are interested in a guided trip here, please contact me at (931) 261-1884 or via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Panfish Action Heats Up

Spring panfish crappie tail shot


What a difference a week makes if you are looking looking for panfish! 


When I took a few minutes to run to a nearby small lake last week looking for some crappie and bluegill, things were pretty slow and ice was still melting in a few spots. One hungry bass did grace the end of my line, but that was the only fish spotted.

Fast forward to this week and I'm naturally wondering whether things have improved. With much warmer air temperatures and at least a couple of sunny days since my last quick trip, I figured the fish might be more active. One rod was already rigged and I decided to string up the seven weight in case I found some larger bass willing to plan.

The lake was again devoid of other fishermen. That won't last very long with such nice spring weather finally here, but I'll take it and enjoy it while I can. When I first walked up on the big rock that I normally start fishing from and peaked over the edge, I saw fish spook every which way. That is always a good sign.

As it turns out, the fish had mostly moved up into the shallows, probably enjoying the warmer water where the sun could do the most good. Oh, and they were hungry. I caught more and larger fish than I have caught in a long time from that lake. All the larger bluegill and crappie were hungry and were the more aggressive than even the little guys which meant I only caught three smaller fish.

Spring panfish bluegill

spring panfish crappie

In the end, I didn't fish all that long but caught a lot of fish. From now on, things will only get even better for panfish. Along with the warming temperatures has come a huge increase in the number of migrating birds which leads me to believe that spring might actually be here for real this time. Sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and of course plenty of robins and other indicators of spring have been arriving. Some pass on to points much farther north, but every spring and fall I enjoy seeing the variety of feathered friends heading north and south respectively.

Even though spring appears to really be here, if we have learned anything from this winter it is to expect something unusual. In Tennessee, some of our largest snows have come in March so its not over until its over. Still, with hatching bugs and rising trout, not to mention hungry panfish, I'm fairly confident that we are starting to turn the corner.

spring panfish crappie

spring panfish crappie eye closeup

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local Trout Update

Yesterday, I took a brief scouting trip.  The goal was to see if TWRA had stocked any trout at Cumberland Mountain State Park.  Each year, the small lake is one of many winter stocking sites to provide a seasonal trout fishery.  With the tentative stocking date already past, I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least take a walk with my fly rod.

The trip didn't last long.  Either the trout were not stocked or they did not know how to behave like trout.  I didn't spot the first rise.  Normally those fresh stockers will rise well most of the winter so it looks like the fish may be delayed this year if we are lucky.

Where does luck come in?  Well, in the process of exploring the lake, I heard what sounded like an awful lot of water below the dam.  Upon closer investigation, I discovered that the drain seems to be open.  Now, I'm not sure why, but it seems like every year or two the lake is drained for some reason or another.  If that is what is happening right now, we may not even get the winter stocking at all.  So, there goes all the luck out the window....maybe.


At least there are still a few bluegill around and willing to play.  I managed a few like this one and one small bass that flopped off before I could manage a picture.


Also discouraging was the widespread algae coating the lake bottom.  Runoff from the golf course has been altering the lake for years now to the point that I'm wondering how it is affecting the fish population.  This lake used to put out some slab sized panfish and nice bass up to 8 or so pounds.  The last few years, I just can't find any fish over 2 or 3 pounds and even those seem to be few and far between.

Currently I'm looking into the possibility that the Park is illegally polluting their own lake with fertilizer rich runoff from the golf course. As of right now I'm not sure about all the regulations on such things, but the situation is getting bad enough that something needs to be done so I guess I'll be doing some legwork over the next few days.  More on that later if anything comes of it...

Sunday, June 01, 2014

New Fly Fishers

It has been my pleasure to help 5 different people catch their first fish on the fly rod this past week.  Some were friends, some were clients, but all did a great job of learning and applying what I taught them to catch their first fish on the fly rod.

The first were my friends Elizabeth and Antoinette.  I gave about a 30 second lecture on fly casting and they said, "Like this?" and started casting perfectly.  Complete naturals.  The bluegill were biting well that evening which made it even better...



The next was on a Smoky Mountain guide trip last Thursday.  I had the pleasure of taking two young men for their first fly fishing trip in the Smokies and they did great!



Perhaps the best was when I took my buddy Seth to the same spot where we were catching the bluegills shown above.  He also received the 30 second lecture on casting and started throwing right where I told him.  Before long a big bluegill had taken the fly.  We admired it, and then I told him to throw back in again.  Something hit with a huge swirl and started fighting really hard.  When he pulled it up to where we could see it, we realized it wasn't a bluegill.  What a pleasant surprise when you're bluegill fishing!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Mix

Have you ever been in the grocery store salad section and noticed how many types of salad mixes there are?  The one that always makes me wonder is called a "spring mix," but for some reason it is available year round.  Maybe there are just a bunch of confused plants somewhere.  As it turns out, my favorite spring mix is not the salad, but the mix of fish available this time of year in some of my warm water ponds and lakes.

Two good options exist nearby that are stocked with trout during the winter.  That means that as the waters warm, I can go on a trout trip and also scratch a bluegill itch while I'm at it or the other way around if that's what I'm feeling for that particular trip.  Anyway, this past Thursday it was a trout trip first of all.

Back at my local state park, I found the creek's waters even calmer than before, same thing with the lake for that matter.  So pictures of the reflections I found along the banks and shoreline were back on the agenda.


The midge hatch that was barely happening on my last trip has progressed nicely.  In fact, after brushing off one insect it occurred to me that I probably should have checked to see if it was actually a midge or a mosquito.  I'm hoping midge on this one, but I guess it is close to that time of year.

Anyway, so the fish were rising to a pretty decent midge hatch, but I wanted to watch them chase down my fly.  Since they are still relatively fresh stockers, I knew that I could count on them to chase whatever I tossed at them.  The bead head Simi Seal Leech was put back to work.  My success on this particular trip was tempered by much clearer and lower water than before, and I was glad that I had brought a 4 weight instead of the 5 weight I used on the last trip.


Just to be clear, I'm definitely not complaining at all.  Just stating the fact that I didn't catch as many trout as the last trip.  Of course, the locals are still hard at it, each person trying to catch their limit that I'm sure will be headed home for dinner.  To be fair, it is better that these particular trout are caught and consumed.  In another 3 months the water temperatures will be getting a bit warm for trout.  I've spooked trout in the summer that have run way up into the little tributaries and are gasping for cooler water near small springs.  We are talking about streams that are a couple inches deep and maybe 2 feet across.

In the meantime, the fish will continue to take on more natural coloration.  By May, the rainbows will be downright beautiful, at least the ones that are left.  After that, it is a shame that they have to die in the heat.  There are some BIG mayflies that hatch later in the year in the creek.  Imagine if there were 20 inch browns and rainbows in there.

By the time I decided I had entertained the rainbow trout enough, I started wanting to catch some bluegill.  No problem! I just needed to hike down to the lake and look for some sunny spots.  Along the way I paused for more pictures, then continued my hike.



As I hiked around the lake, I kept one eye on the trail and the other on the water.  The bluegill are grouped up right now, mostly in warmer sunny shallow spots.  They will be spreading out more and more over the next few weeks as they feed heavily right up until the spawn.  I finally found my fish and had a blast catching a few.


Each good fishing story has at least one tale about the one that got away.  I'll keep this brief, but will say that I never actually saw the fish so it could have been a true giant.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  The fish hit on the second strip after I had cast to a down tree along the shore.  I thought I saw a shadow racing after the fly but that could be my imagination.  The fish ran hard so it could have been a big 'gill using it's body to fight or it may have been an early season bass.  Either way the 4 weight couldn't turn the fish and the fly came loose shortly after.  At least I know where to go back and try again.

By this time, the sun was getting low, and I was getting both tired and hungry.  Heading back to my car, I was pleased with another successful outing and glad that I didn't have far to drive back home.  I'm sure I'll be back here again soon!




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Early Panfish

That time of year has snuck up on us again.  To chase trout or panfish...what a dilemma.  Trout, well they always win if I have the time and money.  Let's face it, that is probably why most of us fly fish.  Those panfish are hard to beat though.  I can be fishing for bluegill, crappie, and bass a mere 2-3 minutes from the house, probably closer if I would ask some more people about fishing their ponds.  Early spring can be tough.  The best fishing is directly correlated with water temperature as well as the general temperature trend.  Bluegill and crappie will bite even if the water is unusually cold if you slow down your presentation sufficiently, and that's what I did recently.

When I arrived at the small lake, my friend was already there ahead of me and was in the process of hauling in a bluegill.  "What's working?"

"That bead head pattern we tied the other night," he replied.

"The Simi Seal Leech?" I asked.

"Yeah, that one!"

I probably could have figured that out, mostly because that is pretty much all I fish for bluegill these days.  Crappie are a different story and get a special little white pattern that closely resembles a Clouser/Gotcha hybrid.  Since he was already pestering the bluegill, I decided to try for crappie.  After a rather quick assessment using the special crappie fly, I decided that bluegill would be the target of the day and switched over to the Leech.....and proceeded to slay them.  Seriously, I was catching fish on every cast for a while.  I finally quit because it was cold and windy, and honestly I just got bored catching so many fish.



That's bluegill fishin' for ya.  In another few weeks I'll get the float tube out and take it for a spin, or perhaps talk someone into helping me paddle my canoe around a nearby lake.  The same lake where I caught a 10 inch bluegill a couple of years back I might add.  For now, however, I'll be happy driving a couple of miles and catching bluegill and crappie (which can also be incredibly amazing).

Back to my fishing trip though, the funny thing is that the fish didn't know I quit fishing. That's right.  I tossed my fly about 5 feet back out on the water so the line would not get dirty while I reeled it up.  Wouldn't you know, as the line came tight, there was a crappie just dancing on the end of the line.  Not a bad way to finish up the short excursion!


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Leeches

One of my all time favorite flies for a variety of situations is the Simi Seal Leech.  This simply fly can be modified to look more like a nymph or left buggy to serve as a great leech pattern.  And did I mention that it catches fish?

For years, this has been a late winter/early spring staple on the trout streams.  Tied sparsely and without brushing the long fibers out, it is a good generic stonefly nymph.  I fish it in double nymph rigs and have had days where it out-fishes more precise patterns like a bead head Pheasant Tail nymph.  Then there are the bluegill....

Ah, the bluegill.  I still have not found a good bluegill lake or pond here in Colorado, but trust me I'm starting to look.  Back home, early season bluegill were a great way to pass the time in between trips to trout waters.  Last year, I caught some big ones, including this one.


Yes, you guessed it, this brute and many others were all caught on the Simi Seal Leech.  It is my secret bluegill fly.  Of course, bluegill will often eat just about anything, but this pattern seems to be particularly successful.  Recently, I sent an order for a half dozen of my Ultra Wire Soft Hackles to Bill over at Fishing Through Life.  I tossed in an extra bead head Simi Seal Leech to aid him in his quest to catch 100 big bull bluegill this spring.  It worked great, so good in fact that I just sent him another dozen with some new color schemes.



The best thing about this pattern is that it is super fast to tie.  I find myself caring less and less about a fly looking good and more and more about effectiveness and ease of tying.  These flies just look buggy.  If you are interested in trying this fly for yourself, you can purchase the material straight from the originator, John Rohmer.  He has lots of other good materials that are also worth checking out.  Personally, I use Black Simi Seal dubbing the most followed closely by Crystal although there are a LOT of other colors to check out.  Try the dubbing on stonefly and other nymph patterns as well as for bodies on streamers.

I'm hoping to add some big stillwater trout to the list of fish I've caught on this pattern now that I live in Colorado.  The float tube is ready for spring and it will be time to hit the mountain lakes before we know it!!!