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.
A cool evening lured me to a series of river pools so familiar that fishing there is like visiting an old friend. Armed with a 3 weight, I was determined to use dry flies to entice the Green Sunfish and brightly-colored Longear populations. A size-10 brown Bivisible skittered across still pockets between rocks was regularly inhaled. Thirty fish had fallen for the tactic before a cast behind a half-submerged log was met with a swirl that caused the fly to surf the wake. I suspected it was a sizeable bass and speculated that a larger fly was necessary. The largest fly in my dry fly box was a size-8 Muddler Minnow that I hoped would be mistaken for a large grasshopper. My cast landed with a “splat” and the fly was twitched immediately to mimic a grasshopper’s frantic attempts to escape. The Muddler disappeared in a foamy spray that caused the big smallmouth to vault toward open water. Even with this stroke of luck, I was seriously under-gunned both with my rod and the 5X tippet I was using. A tense battle fought in open water enabled steady, light pressure to tire the great fish. Finally, it swirled within arm’s length but as I reached hoping to “lip” the bass, a final head shake freed the bronzeback I’d estimated at 18 inches. As I regrouped on a streamside rock, wild turkeys flew overhead to the tall oak trees on the bluff across the river.
One of my favorite stream sections empties into a large reservoir three miles away. Weeks of river flooding delayed trips there and apparently altered the migration habits of some species. Initially, hopeful of encountering bass, I cast some large streamers without success before deciding to target the bluegill population. I expected to locate them among the branches of deadfalls and entice them with a Brim Reaper. Once again I was wrong. The flies were counted down into the branches and aggressively attacked by crappies. In thirty minutes of casting 11 slab-sized fish my Louisiana friends call “sac-a-lait” (which roughly translates to “sack of milk”) were wrenched from the structure before the action slowed. My move downstream to a similar location rekindled the action and 12 more of similar size were brought to hand and released. The crappies were all 3 1/2 to 4 feet deep and most inhaled the Brim Reaper as it was dropping vertically into their lairs. Line-watching for that telltale lurch or hesitation was imperative for a positive hookup. As darkness approached one of those “last casts” was hit immediately upon splashdown. It was a complete surprise that revealed the fly had been intercepted by a10-inch smallmouth bass. I drove home as a big, full, orange moon rose in the Eastern sky.
Intense heat accompanied a wet-wading trip to a favorite smallmouth stream. A huge gravel bar near the bridge access hosted sunbathers and swimmers that I bypassed to wade downstream. My 5-weight propelled a yellow Bully Spider toward the rocky shoreline. The third cast brought a violent strike that led to a stubborn fight that included two tail-walking leaps. The bronze beauty was admired and released before I made another cast back into the same rock pile. The first line strip came to an abrupt stop and the line began moving sideways. A second hookset turned the heavyweight toward the rod before reversing course and slowly but steadily diving into the pool’s deepest water. I wondered aloud if I had hooked a large catfish. I was mindful that my 4X tippet was strained to its limit, but I had to continue pressuring the “behemoth” if I was ever to get a look at it. The tug of war continued for several minutes until it began swimming toward me. My first clue to its identity was the sight of a huge shadowy figure that seemed to pulsate as it both powered and glided along its chosen path. Finally, it came into full view. It was a turtle with a shell that was easily two feet in diameter!?! I made the immediate decision to donate the fly to the turtle by executing a “long-distance release.”
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.