A blue sky enabled deep sunlight penetration into the clear pools of my chosen stream. Casting practice would be the only benefit of fishing then, so I reclined on a streamside log and waited for the west side bluff to cast its shadow over the fish-holding structure. The observation time revealed a caddis hatch that prompted me to remove the small streamer I had chosen to begin fishing and knot a size-10 soft hackle to the business end of my 3-weight setup. I hoped that sizeable bluegills would be feeding on the caddis larva as they rose to the surface to hatch. Gentle casts to the extended branches of a deadfall were counted into the deepest pocket and slowly stripped. Eleven chunky bluegills were coaxed from the site before repositioning. Two branches extending at right angles created a perfect ambush location, but four casts there were ignored. On the fifth presentation, the countdown was extended from 5 to 8. Upon fly activation, a gentle tug was soul-satisfying, but as the rod was lifted into a hookset, it was apparent this fish was larger than the others. My 8 1/2 3–weight had a deep bend that created doubt about the light tippet I’d chosen. A foamy spray sent rivulets of silver across the surface that removed any doubt that a hefty largemouth had intercepted the fly. Two strong surges toward the protection of the deadfall were halted by palming the reel spool. A run into deeper water accompanied by a series of head shakes were subdued before a circular tug of war ended by lipping the 16-inch fish. When snow is blowing against the window beside my tying bench, I will cherish the memory of that bass.
Cool evenings and low river levels have concentrated fish into smaller areas. Armed with a 4-wt. and intermediate line that sinks at 2 i.p.s. (inches per second) I waded downstream to a deep hole with a series of deadfalls. I was hopeful that fish had moved from the large reservoir 2 miles away into the river to feed before retiring to the lake for the winter. My initial casts to the edges of submerged branches brought two small bluegills to hand that I suspected of being river residents. Finally, I cast my size-8 Crappie Bully toward the extended trunk of a tree with large branches that were visible near the surface. The fly was counted into the depths and at the count of seven, the line lurched forward indicating it had been inhaled. I was surprised by both the strike and that my fly had survived the heavy brush. I set the hook much too late and missed the fish. The next cast made just a couple of steps downstream brought another hit, and this time the 9-inch crappie was netted and released. Two hours of constant action accounted for more than two dozen fish my Louisiana friends call Sac-au-lait (Sack-a-lay).
There’s been little rain here for a long while, and the small pond I at its lowest level of the year. Three mid-forty degree nights caused the pond to turn over, and the northeast wind blew the oxygen-depleted water against the dam. I could not induce a single strike from that end of the pond, but the eat side weedline produced a robust 17-inch bass and several of 10 to 12 inches. The east side water was unusually clear, and as a result, I actually “lined” small groups of these school bass that were moving along the weedline. That’s a very unusual occurrence in ponds. Most of the bass and the few bluegills I caught inhaled a size-8 chartreuse Bully Spider including the big bass, while a Black Ghost streamer caught the rest. This unusual trip concluded as I slowly finned my float tube toward my takeout while trolling the streamer. At midpoint, the fly came to a sudden stop, and my 6-wt. rod acquired a deep bend. I assumed that I had hooked a submerged stump or log until it began moving sideways. The pressure from my forward movement caused the fish to erupt from the water in thrashing head shakes that dislodged the fly, and the big bass was gone. It had been big, really big, but I won’t venture a guess as my eyes were as big as silver dollars.
When a fishing friend is nicknamed “Catch” you realize that he’s impressed contemporaries with his fishing prowess. One might assume that he catches a lot of fish. He does. This Louisiana native is equally at home on the salt flats, a pristine trout stream, or a freshwater pond full of bass and bluegills. Once, I told Catch how much I enjoyed fishing light flyrods for big bluegills. He nodded, stating that he has always liked “gobbules.” I was confused, as I frequently am when listening to my Louisiana buddies because they often inject a few French or Cajun phrases into the conversation. Catch explained that his Daddy called bluegills “gobbules” because they “gobbule up da worms.”
It’s been a long, long time since I threaded a piece of worm onto a hook and watched a bobber dance, but my fascination with the species remains unchanged. A three-weight rod and size-12 olive Bully’s Bluegill Spiders accompanied me to a large river pool where a spring branch entered the stream creating an eddy at the edge of an upstream deadfall. A pile-cast allowed the fly to be slowly swept near the deepest branches of the submerged wood. Often the floating line lurched forward necessitating a hook set. The evening was filled with lots of beautiful vibrations and an equal number of smiles. You’ve got to love those “gobbules.”
Have you been missing too many strikes lately? That’s a common problem often caused by the angle of the hook at the moment of the hook set. The usual hook set technique is to simultaneously pull down with the line hand while lifting the rod tip. It creates one of the most exciting split seconds in all of sports as those “beautiful vibrations” are transmitted to the angler instantaneously. If the fish’s mouth closes after inhaling the fly, the hookup is successful. But, if its mouth is open at the moment of the hookset, the angle of the hook can be pulled free without contacting the mouth’s interior. My experience is that this type of missed strike occurs at a higher percentage of the time while fishing the surface. The reason is that it takes longer to detect and react to subsurface strikes which enable the fish to turn at an angle upon the hook set, which exposes the hook point to the inner mouth surfaces. Surface strikes are visual, which enables quicker hooksets more often executed while the fish’s mouth is still open. Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s called the “strip set” and it’s performed by keeping the rod tip pointed at the fly upon the strike and executing a firm strip with the line hand before lifting the rod tip. Are strikes still missed? Yes, but these issues are attributable to a late hook set which enables the fish to expel the fly before the hook is set.