Crappie, or as my Louisiana friends prefer, sac-a-lait usually are not well suited to ponds. They are prolific spawners, and without a massive food supply and sizeable predator species, they tend to over-populate and stunted growth results. Ponds that are the exception, however, are to be cherished. One of those big, deep crappie sweet spots is located just a short drive from my home. Even despite the late spring, I knew this would be a post-spawn trip and that locating my target species might not be easy. It was heavily over-cast in mid-afternoon when I began airing my float tube. A 6-wt. rod, a reel spooled with 3-4 i.p.s. (inches per second) full-sinking line, and a gold Squirrel-spin that could be trolled at various depths as a searching pattern accompanied my launch. Six trolling passes produced but one small bass and a possible hit that may have only been an encounter with submerged brush or limbs. After a long drink of iced tea from my on-board cold cup, I started the next pass by moving slower and employing a presentation with a “lift, drop, lift” action. As I reached mid-pond, the dropping fly suddenly felt heavy. A swift rod lift revealed the fight of a broad-shouldered “Spec,” and the bouncing rod tip brought a smile. After two more crappies from the same location, I switched to a size-8 Crappie Bully, anchored my float tube, and enjoyed another hour of twisting battles before the action slowed and my ration of tea was exhausted.
The receding river water finally allowed a downstream wade to a series of deadfalls. My arrival provoked a Red Wing Blackbird to assault me with a raspy-throated tongue-lashing for the intrusion. This pool is my favorite place to intercept crappies intent upon migrating from the reservoir to spawn. Repeated cold fronts, including a 3-inch snowfall only ten days before, had postponed the process. Finally, the water had warmed to 65-degrees which offered a promising opportunity for both the crappies and my proposed efforts. I chose a 4-wt rod, a reel spooled with an intermediate sinking line, and a 7½-foot leader with 4X tippet to deliver a size-6 Crappie Bully to the edge of the entanglements. The countdown of my initial cast was interrupted, and a quick strip-set revealed a strong fish that put a deep bow in my light rod and a smile on my face. The scene was repeated 21 times before the calls of a pair of Barred Owls reminded me to retreat. Each rod-bouncing battle seemed to excite the remaining population into attacking my offerings with increased vigor. Even two fish that pulled free and escaped didn’t slow the action. Most of the crappies were 9 to 11 inches in length, with a few smaller and a couple that were larger. As John Gierach said, “Just another lousy day in paradise.”
Locally severe storms were forecast for late evening, so I bank-stalked a local pond hoping the unsettled weather would promote a fish feeding frenzy. While assembling a 4-wt rod, I noticed several rises, which were taken as a good omen. The initial cast of a size-10 yellow sponge spider into the expanding rings of a rise was greeted by a lusty strike that preceded a rod-tip-bouncing tug of war. The thick 8-inch bluegill that came to hand convinced me that a bountiful evening was at hand. That conclusion initially proved to be inaccurate. Multiple casts to other rises were ignored, leading me to conclude that the fish were cruising, which meant they were absent by the time the fly arrived on the scene. Random fan casts were at least as productive as rise casts, but the fish often missed even the infrequent hits. Changes of fly size and color failed to improve the situation. Finally, 10 bluegills were caught and released, but many more were missed. Perhaps the approaching storm and rapidly dropping barometer were to blame, but my frustration escalated when a tsunami-sized swirl captured my attention. Two false casts and a single haul sent the spider to the receding ripples, where it disappeared in a frothy spray of white water and shredded moss. The hook-set bent the 4-wt. rod nearly double as the head-shaking largemouth bass tail-walked across the surface before diving into the depths. A minutes-long stand-off ended as the bass was lipped, admired, and released. What frustration?
Recent rains eliminated a planned river trip and redirected my grandson and me to a favorite pond. It was a warm afternoon with cloud cover, but the water remained cool. Predictably, the fish were scattered, so we opted for 5-weight rods, floating line, extended 12-foot leaders with the ability to explore a variety of depths, and 4X tippet. Our hope was to interest a few bluegills in our size-10 bead-head Cracklebacks. We began by fan-casting deep areas near shallow flats and experimented with different retrieves at various depths. Within minutes we were hooking up with bluegills and small bass along the first breakline. The fish appeared to be scattered along the edge of the flats at three feet of depth. Our slowly stripped retrieves were irregularly intercepted, and the fish were played and released. Eddie had caught three fish when his rod acquired a deep bend that foretold a monster. After a brief run, an explosive head-shaking leap removed any speculation concerning the bass’s size. The leap, quickly followed by two more equally spectacular quick-silver showers, also ratcheted up the tension we both felt. I couldn’t help but smile at my grandson’s evident fish-fighting skills as he patiently kept tension on the line during runs and regained line when it was possible. He has learned his lessons well. Once eventually in hand, the bass was measured at 23 inches, photographed, and carefully released. That beautiful memory will live on through two lifetimes.
An unseasonably warm day after a week-long siege of record-breaking temperatures urged me to visit a favorite small pond. I was hopeful of catching a few fish, of course, but frankly, I anticipated nothing more than casting practice because the water was still quite cold. At one corner of the earthen dam, fan casts to relatively deep water with a size-10 bead head Crackleback was counted down to a depth of 4 feet. After a half-dozen fruitless retrieves, the line acquired a “heavy” feel, and instinctively I set the hook. A throbbing, rod-tip bouncing tug-of-war provided a clear reminder of why so many of us are addicted to fly fishing for the warmwater species. Finally, a 16-inch largemouth bass was held, admired, and released. The next 2 hours were agreeably spent probing the depths of the little pond for the widely scattered feeding fish. Three smaller bass and a half-dozen 7-inch bluegills were brought to hand before the action abated. Three of the fish inhaled the fly on the vertical drop. My fly countdown was interrupted by a telltale twitch of the fly line. Had I failed to watch the line, those fish would have expelled the fly so quickly that I’d never have known that the fish was there. All of the other fish hit my snail-like retrieve so passively that the only indication of it was that “heavy” sensation from the line. Successful fly fishing induces satisfaction so complete it improves mental and physical health.
Bitter cold and drifting snow have confined me to the tying bench awash in self-pity. My shaking hands are symptomatic either of the cold or withdrawal from fishing as three weeks have passed since my last cast. Oh sure, I could have dressed in my warmest layered clothes and spent the day dipping my rod after each cast to prevent ice buildup in the guides. I’ve done that plenty of times while experiencing both satisfying success and exasperating failure. A sip of steaming coffee accompanied by a wistful glance at my rod rack almost persuades me to abandon caution and begin pulling on long underwear and wool stockings. Almost, but not entirely. Can it be that advancing age is responsible for my reluctance? That uncomfortable thought led me to resolve to schedule my next fishing trip. Regardless of the weather, I will, in five days, wade a favored stretch of spring branch in search of smallmouth bass, rock bass, and other panfish that I suspect have moved there from the river to feed in the warmer water. I feel better already. I will face whatever fierce winter weather nature has in store. I’ll arm myself with fingerless gloves, packs of hand-warmers, a goose-down vest, a few high-energy bars, and a thermos of coffee. It will be a great adventure. I can’t wait. First, let me check the future weather forecast so I will know how to prepare. Oh good! The Weather Channel is predicting 58-degrees.