People typically equate fly fishing with stream trout and, indeed, fly fishing is the traditional way to catch rainbows, brown trout and brookies. But bluegills and pumpkinseeds will take a fly as readily as any trout.
I discovered long ago that stream trout opportunities in central Minnesota are not plentiful. So I learned the sport by wading on nearby lakes and catching sunfish and largemouth bass. Now a run-of-the-mill bluegill coming out of cabbage weeds to gulp a fly may not seem as romantic as a brilliantly colored brook trout in a mountain lake, but my pulse races at the strike and fight of a runty sunfish. When a bass smashes the fly it's pure heaven.
Most of my panfish flyrodding was done on a lake down the road from where I grew up. Last weekend I decided that a cruise down memory lane to the same lake was a good idea. It had been 35 years since I fly fished on this lake. My brothers and I were shocked to find new houses crammed side-by-side on the shore. Huge power boats raced everywhere. This was not the quiet fly fishing hole of my memory.
The fish didn't seem to mind the changes, however. Within a few casts we had sunfish hitting our flies, just like in the old days. We used balsa-bodied poppers and grasshopper imitations. After a few strikes regular dry flies get terribly matted and waterlogged. Balsa lures continue to float even after many hits.
The sunfish weren't big, but we caught enough to put a meal together. Occasionally a small bass smacked the poppers and gave a better struggle. We even added as crappie to the stringer. Then, as the sun settled below the tree tops, my fly disappeared in a serious swirl. The fish bent my rod in a huge arc as it raced back and forth. This was no sunnie! It was bass that pushed 2 pounds. On cue it leaped into the air just as I reached for its jaw. Water splashed and we laughed with joy.
It was a good trip. We caught fish and enjoyed the evening on a lovely little lake. But what was most appealing was the simplicity of it all. No fancy boat or electronics, no laborious drive to a far away lake, just some fly rods and some cooperative fish. Just like it was so many years ago.
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