Cooler weather has prompted crappies to migrate from area reservoirs into the streams that feeder them. The purpose of their move is to feed heavily before returning to the lakes for the cold water season. Approaching a shaded pool with two deadfalls draped into its deepest waters, I waded into casting position with a 4 wt. rod, a reel spooled with floating line, and a 9 ft. leader. A size-8 white/silver Mini Minnie was counted down to a d3epth of 3 feet and slowly retrieved over the tops of the submerged branches. The third countdown was intercepted by a line lurch that was answered with a strip set that resulted in a deep rod bend and thrashing fight. After head-shaking at mid-depth, the strong fish made a run toward the deep branches of the deadfall. Both tactics failed to secure its freedom. Finally in hand, the beautifully speckled fish was laid along the rod’s handle to be measured at a robust 12 inches. Six more, a bit less in size, were captured before the action suddenly ceased, and I walked along the gravel bar downstream to a similar pool. Again, action came quickly. This grouping of crappies lacked the size of the first, but their shutdown was equally abrupt.
Excessive heat and a prolonged drought dramatically changed my favorite smallmouth stream. The water was low and clear with a sluggish flow. While there were fewer places for the fish to hide, I was concerned that the elevated water temperature would cause the fish to acquire lockjaw. I chose a 4X tippet and a 1½-inch crayfish pattern designed to replicate a young molting natural for the job. A careful wet wade into casting position enabled me to place the fly on a gravel bar just beyond a shaded pool chock full of bowling ball-sized rocks at a depth of 3 to 4 feet. A gentle tug caused the fly to enter the water and settle on the bottom. The first “lift, drop, strip” retrieve was interrupted by a line lurch as the fly dropped back to the bottom and was answered with a strip-set. The ensuing tug-of-war was waged in the depths until the fish ran downstream before coming to hand. I was surprised that the 12-inch fish was not a smallmouth. Instead, it was a Spotted Bass. Although Spots are common in this river, I had never caught one in this section. The reduced water level had apparently caused fish to share the remaining pools. More evidence that this was the case was revealed by the evening’s catch which consisted of Green Sunfish, large Bluegills, Smallmouth Bass, and a Crappie, in addition to the Spot.
A Great Blue Heron squawked in annoyance as it took flight, prompting the sun-bathing turtles to slide from their deadfall perch into the still pond. I maneuvered my float tube into the shade of bankside willows, and the 8-weight rod sent a purple/pink size-2 Hula-Diver into the branch-infested shallows. When the splashdown ripples faded, a firm strip sent the fly a few inches under water as the Sili-Legs tail wiggled seductively. I released my line tension, and the buoyant deer hair body returned the colorful lure to the surface with the flexible legs still gyrating. The fly’s return to the surface on the third cast was greeted with a violent moss-tossing explosion. The Largemouth Bass thrashed across the surface in 3 successive leaps before plunging into the pond’s deepest water to create a head-shaking stalemate. Finally, one last attempted jump indicated the bass was spent, and I led it to hand. The 16-inch fish was the day’s best, but I captured 14 other 10- to 15-inchers. One that was suspected to be larger was long-distance released.
A 95-degree afternoon led me to a rocky, shade-shrouded stretch of river clad in shorts and wading boots. Armed with a 5-wt. rod, I knotted a size-8 Mini Minnie to 4X tippet in response to my observation of small minnows leaping from the water to escape predation. Initial presentations were ignored. Speculation that my retrieves were not deep enough to be effective forced a streamside change of reel spools from one with a floating line to one with a slow-sinking intermediate line. Once the shift was completed, the fly was cast into the submerged shadows of mid-stream boulders. After allowing the minnow replication to settle, short but quick line strips were imparted, followed by pauses to allow the fly to return to its original level. The second retrieve was interrupted by a thumping strike. A firm hookset sent a 13-inch chunk of bronze energy into a head-shaking leap that sprayed water droplets into the air. Four more frantic leaps followed a tense underwater battle before the beautiful prize came to hand. Several chunky Green Sunfish and four more smallmouths were caught and released before the call of a Barred Owl served as a reminder that darkness was near. I do love summer evenings.
A pattern of near-constant rains has sidelined numerous fishing trips and removed the option of streams from the equation. Finally, a warm, windless afternoon sent me to a favorite pond in search of surface-feeding largemouth bass. I launched a float tube accompanied by a 9-foot 8wt rod, weight forward bass taper line, a 9-foot tapered leader, and a 16-pound tippet knotted to a weedless size-2 Bully’s Diving Frog. The first cast was left perched atop a tuft of grass at the pond’s edge and was easily tugged into the water in the shade of an over-hanging willow branch. The first short strip of line caused the fly to plunge a few inches below the surface as its legs gyrated wildly. Released tension enabled it to re-surface. At that instant, a huge swirl caused the fly to lurch in the wake like a drunken surfer. When the water re-settled, I pulled the diver under again. This time, as it came back to the surface, it was met by a violent white water explosion. A firm hook set resulted in a deeply bent rod in advance of tense moments as the bass leaped, then wallowed before the battle ended in a deep tug of war. The scene was repeated until darkness demanded that I head for home.
Many describe their fascination with fishing by stating that “the tug is the drug.” Likely, most anglers agree, but shouldn’t we then ask what provides the best tug? A heavy percentage of those I’ve asked believe it is the size of the hooked fish. In other words, they think that the larger the fish, the better the fight. I beg to differ. The fight of a 10-lb. bass wouldn’t be special if a rod used to catch a 300lb Yellow Fin Tuna were used in its capture. That leads me to conclude that the rod’s size produces those “beautiful vibrations.” A recent trip to a favorite pond with an 8-ft. 2 wt. rod and a size-12 soft hackle fly box provided all the confirmation I needed. After experimenting with ever-deepening vertical drop countdowns, I had fish contact at my count of 7 in the shade of an overhanging willow branch. The first caught bluegill was only 6 inches long, but its gyrations activated others in the area. Six of the next 12 captured specimens were broad-shouldered 8-inchers that fought lengthy rod tip-bouncing battles. Each of those fights left the question of whether that fish could be landed in doubt. The tug doesn’t get any better than that. I’m sure not opposed to catching big fish. I like it as much as anyone else, but matching the rod to our target species maximizes our enjoyment of every fishing trip, and isn’t that the point?