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?
The sun danced among fluffy white clouds as I waded into the stream. The White Bass migrating from the nearby reservoir to spawn in the river were the target, but the fishing is shared with many others. The smashing strikes and wild, bull-dogging battles of these bass annually attract many anglers. Some fished from a wide variety of watercraft. Kayaks, canoes, and fully equipped bass boats are standard. Bank stalkers occupied most exposed gravel bars, and there were even a few clad in waders like myself. Bait casters and spin fishers dominated the crowd, but another couple of fly casters could be seen downstream. I found my favorite pool, a large eddy with a submerged brush pile unoccupied, and cast an olive/copper Mini Minnie, which replicates a small sunfish, on a 3 i.p.s. (inches per second) full-sinking line. A dozen retrieves were ignored before a solid hit put a deep rod-tip bouncing bend in my 7 wt. rod as the muscular fish headed into the deepest pool then switched tactics and sought the swiftest current before encircling my position and coming to hand. It was a 14-inch female swollen with eggs, and I quickly released her. Two dozen more White Bass were captured and released without moving to another location. About a third of the catch were females. Smaller males dominate the early portion of the season, but the larger females soon join them to create this unusual circus of fishing activity.
Warm days coupled with lengthening periods of sunlight convinced me that the crappie population would be staging at fishable depths at my favorite reservoir. Based on past experiences, I knew the fish would be located 8 to 15 feet deep and awaiting warmer water to lure them onto the shallow flats. I cut the outboard motor well out from a long stump-covered main-lake point, and the trolling motor was employed to approach within casting distance. A 7-wt. outfit armed with a fast-sinking line, 4 feet of 4X tippet material. and a size-6 Crappie Bully was chosen in the hope that the flash of the body and wiggling legs would seduce some hungry specs. The locator found a few scattered fish at 12 feet, but efforts to entice them to strike failed.
Further exploration of the extended point was fruitless, which prompted a move to a smaller brush-covered point. The locator indicated fish presence, and the 3rd cast was inhaled. I netted a broad-shouldered 10-incher after allowing it to fight among its buddies, which I hoped would excite the entire school into becoming more active. The ploy worked, and I boated another dozen speckled fish. The action ceased when I allowed the fly to sink too far into the brush and set the hook on a woody branch. Efforts to locate another active group of crappie resulted in but two more hookups.
It won’t be long now. A few weeks of increasingly shallow fishing for the species my Louisiana friends call Sac-au-Lait is on the horizon.
For the second consecutive day, the air temperature rose into the 70s, which prompted a trip to a small pond with the hope of encountering active bluegills. A persistent breeze convinced me to leave my favorite 3-weight rod encased in favor of a 9-foot 6 wt. A yellow size-10 Bully Spider was knotted to a 9-foot leader and cast into deep water adjacent to the shallow flats. The line lurched forward at the countdown of 5 on the first cast. The resulting hookset brought familiar vibrations and a bouncing rod tip which quickly became a smile. Irrespective of future weather changes, winter was in my rearview mirror. The fish were widely scattered and cruising but located in the water’s upper 2 to 3 feet. This allowed their metabolism to increase, which stimulated their appetites. This is the one circumstance that causes warmwater fish to tolerate the sun’s glare. They sacrifice their comfort for warmth and resulting sustenance. The action slowed appreciably after that fast start, but eventually, a couple of dozen bluegills came to hand. Several were broad-shouldered 8-inchers, but all year-classes were represented in the catch, indicating a healthy population.
Recent weather patterns have the fish as confused as anglers. A sunny 73-degree day followed by an ice storm the next has frustrated both of us. A quick check of my fishing log reveals that a year ago, on this date, crappies were located in the upper branches of submerged standing timber on a local reservoir. A slow survey of the area with the locator revealed fish at 8-feet. Knowing that the eyes of crappie are located high on their heads, I attached a strike indicator, set it for 7 feet, and loop-knotted a size-8 Crappie Bully to 4X tippet. The light tippet was chosen to break off hangups with the least disturbance. A gentle breeze created a ripple on the water’s surface, allowing the fly to undulate seductively and activate the rubber legs. Action came quickly and often. The submersion of the strike indicator became mesmerizing and reminiscent of childhood fishing trips with a cane pole. I well remember the twisting struggles of the broad-shouldered crappies as well as the young red fox that sat on the bluff above my position, watching intently. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fox wanted a meal of fresh crappie.
As I watched the Winter Olympic Games, it occurred to me that the athletes must think that riding through a tunnel of ice on your rear end at 90mph (luge) or doing a triple backflip with boards strapped to your feet (mogul) are great thrills. Those events are certainly death-defying feats but not thrilling. For me, thrilling was landing an 18-inch largemouth bass on my 3 weight last season. I was bluegill fishing when that behemoth gently sucked in my size-10 Bully Spider then exploded when the hook point found its mark. The secret to landing that fish was that I pressured the fish as little as possible. My goal was to keep her moving and tiring but not panic, which would exacerbate the fight. I knew I was badly under-gunned and that luck would have to be on my side to land that bass. Fortunately, it was. Throughout that long battle, it was within that fish’s power to dive into the branches of a deadfall, burrow into a weed-bed or leap to try to throw the hook. The bass didn’t try any of that because she never felt threatened. She just swam around in open water until her energy waned and eventually came to the net. She was admired, photographed, and released. I had never been more aware that we touch the future as anglers then let it go. How can it get more thrilling than that?