Last week a warm, humid evening was adjusted to comfortable by float tubing a large pond renowned for producing big bluegills. Several 7-inch bluegills and an undersized crappie were caught and released before a yellow sponge spider landed in the shade of a backside willow. A short strip was greeted by an explosive strike and a deeply bent 4-wt. rod. When the fish’s initial lunge for shoreline branches was rebuffed it dove for the pond’s deepest water and towed the tube along a circular rod-throbbing path. Finally, the fight descended into the customary tightly wound circles before being lifted onto the apron of the float tube where it was measured at 9-3/4 inches. The release was more difficult than usual because I could not get my hand around it. It was a “two-handed” bluegill! Many other fish were caught and released including a 16-inch largemouth bass but the memory of that nearly 10-inch bluegill remains.
Revisiting an evening’s trip this week I enjoyed using a very productive pattern of mine. Here’s the recap: A deadfall interrupts a rocky shoreline on one of my favorite streams. A 5-weight rod delivered weedless streamers to the deep edge of the extended tree branches as slow-sinking intermediate line enabled it to remain unaffected by the wind-blown surface water. The first line strip stopped abruptly. I answered with a firm strip-set that resulted in a throbbing rod tip. Three head-shaking leaps and several dogged attempts to reach the wood structure later an 11-inch bronzeback was admired and released. Two more similarly-sized smallies and 7 green sunfish came to hand before the action slowed. On the hike back to the bridge access I encountered a quiet pool and noticed several small pygmy toads hopping across the gravel bar. I quickly switched reel spools to accommodate a floating line with our Diving Frog attached to the 3X tippet and cast to an exposed rock pile. The sponge-bodied frog floated until divining with wildly kicking legs when the line was stripped. A release of the line tension allowed the frog to float back to the surface where it was often greeted by an explosive strike. Four more smallmouths were landed and released including an evening’s best of 13 inches.
A summer late-afternoon wade trip to one of my favorite streams produced an unexpected surprise. The search for smallmouth bass was abandoned after I was distracted by fish activity on a shallow inside bend. Brightly-colored male Longear Sunfish, often misidentified as “pumpkinseeds,” were busy building and defending their nests. Streamers were replaced by black Brim Reapers which were cast to the extreme outer edges of the activity. The longears’ bright orange breasts are flecked with turquoise and they must be considered among nature’s most beautiful fish. Most casts resulted in a hookup and spirited fight before each was released into the deeper pool behind me. As the fish became more curious the action slowed and I waded further upstream to the next spawning site. I lost count of the catch but each brought a smile.
Earlier this week I float-tubed a small pond with great success. Shaded deadfalls held aggressive bass to 15 inches while shoreline weed beds delivered bug bluegills with three measuring a robust 9 inches. All were caught and released on a size-10 chartreuse sponge spider. Anxious for a repeat performance I returned two days later with the same equipment and tactics but quickly discovered the mood of the fish had drastically changed. Those few that remained near the same structure refused to chase after a meal. Either my offerings were refused altogether or were indifferently hit if no energy expenditure was necessary on their part. The sizes of the caught fish were also much smaller. The only discernible difference was that a persistent east wind which indicated a change in barometric pressure was in play. So, do I plan to avoid fishing east winds? Of course not, I go fishing whenever I can!
On an evening trip to a nearby reservoir, I was intent on hooking up with largemouth bass but the trip didn’t work out as planned. The bass population had a collective case of lockjaw, but green sunfish smashed my deer hair floater/diver aggressively. The green sunfish referred to by at least one angler we know as “the mean green fighting machine” has a muscular shape like a football. Their mouths, however, are much larger and enable them to go for an expansive menu. They rose to my size-2 Hula Divers regularly and fought well, but generally, they lack the staying power of bluegills. Casts to shoreline stickups were allowed to rest until the ripples faded before a strong line-hand strip pulled the fly under the surface several inches. A release of tension allowed the fly to resurface while the rubber legs continued to move seductively. That brought splashy strikes. When the bass thumb their noses at you aggressive green sunfish can be a trip saver.
I have been deprived of wading streams for smallmouth bass far too long. Every time the streams begin to drop and clear another heavy rain pushes the waters out of their banks again. I’ve already been pretty pouty about it but that failed to offer relief so a pond trip for largemouth bass was undertaken. It proved to be a terrific pacifier. An 8wt. rod, 2 reel spools with floating line on one and sink-tip line with a 10-ft. section of 6 to 7 i.p.s. on the other went with me to the pond. The sink-tip line with a 3-ft. leader of 16 lb. test and the sunfish pattern of our H.O.T. Streamer opened the trip along the deep edge of the riprap dam and wood structure. The fly was allowed to sink to the bottom (it has a double weedguard) among the wood and rock structure before an exaggerated “lift, drop, strip” retrieve was used. Nine bass were caught and released before the action slowed. A switch to floating line and Bully’s Diving Frog enabled casts to the weedline edge and pockets. Nine more bass including one of 18 inches were released before the onset of darkness.