The British invaded Bayou Bienvenue in the fall, but the fish invade it in the spring.
As we pulled our boat into Black Lake Lodge near Campti last April, one glance at the water told Master Jake and I it might be a tough day. The owner confirmed our fears.“Water is still a bit up, and the perch aren’t biting too well. Fly fishing hasn’t been very good,” he said.
Inside the bait shop there were two fly rods strung out ready for action. At the end of each leader were familiar panfish flies — a ligon on one and a popping bug on the other.
The ligon, a.k.a. sponge spider, is one of the most attractive lures to a bluegill sitting under docks and trees. Numerous varieties of spiders occupy structures, and the ligon with its rubber legs and rounded body is a good imitation.
The popping bug is the panfish equivalent of the dry fly for trout or the topwater lure for bass. Few things in life exude more excitement than watching a surface lure get attacked by an underwater predator.
For generations, these two flies were the staple for catching bream on the fly rod. There were other flies, mostly rubber crickets and hoppers, and a few ‘real flies’ like damsels and McGintys (which still work great at times). But nearly all the bluegill flies were some form of surface or near-surface pattern.
The proliferation of clubs in our state changed that. They exposed many fly-rodders to western nymph patterns, such as the prince nymphs and gold ribbed hare’s ear. These weighted flies take advantage of the fact that 90 percent of a trout’s diet is subsurface. Since that same fact holds true for bluegill, it was obvious these flies would be very successful.
Clubs also perpetuate fly-tying. Give a tier a challenge, and he’ll root out materials at the local fly shop or nearest hobby store, and come up with some fish-nabbing creation.
On this less than perfect day on Black Lake, Master Jake and I came armed with our best submergent panfish flies. The wind was a bit up, and since the water was a bit muddy, we started off with a white/red jitterbee suspended 18 inches under a strike float, and worked it slowly with a strip-pause retrieve.
The jitterbee is tied on an Eagle Claw 180 hook size 10, has a rubber split tail, and a body of two color strands of ultra-chenille or vernille wrapped together. The 4 millimeter size bead head gives it a fast sink rate. Best colors are black/yellow and black/orange.
Bead heads have revolutionized fly fishing since their introduction from Europe in the early 1980s. First used for trout flies, they soon were applied to blugill and crappie flies as well. Beads give the fly weight, but more importantly, help keep the fly in a more horizontal position. Fly-tying instructor Skip Morris once stated that putting beads on flies makes as much sense as having golf balls for the heads of duck decoys, but as long as they work, who cares?
Back to the fishing. After I hooked into a pair of redears with the jitterbee under one cypress tree, Jake switched to a yellow cap spider with no float. Jake began to catch several big redears and in no time, we had a nice mess of fish.
The cap spider was created by Mike Verduin of Fort Worth. Like the jitterbee, it has a vernille body, but instead of a tail it has rubber legs behind the head. The long hook is bent up near the eye so the cap spider rides hook up. This allows it to be fished on the bottom.
After working one bed out, we moved to another set of trees, and this time a crappie hit the Master just as he was bringing his cap spider out the water. Without hesitation, I then tied on my favorite crappie fly — a fluff butt.
Fluff butts evolved from the 1/80- or 1/100-ounce marabou jigs used by pole fishermen. They’re tied on either a micro jighead or a hook with beadhead. Best colors are olive, black, black/chartreuse and gray.
Another version of the fluff butt was created by Gary Peterson. This uses a body of metallic braid as found in hobby stores. The reflective nature of this material gives it a minnow-like appeal.
Fluff butts are also excellent bream flies, and on this day, Master Jake and I used them to put some of the bigger bream in our box. But about 4 p.m., the wind settled down, the water went flat, and we found a nice shallow cove that had been exposed to the sun. It was time to fish the popping bugs. Sure, weighted flies catch more fish, but surface flies will always be more enjoyable to fish with.
After returning home a few days later, we hit the neighborhood pond with our usual set of trout flies — scud and sowbug imitations, prince nymphs, San Juan worms, and even dry flies. Which proves that trout and bluegill have more in common than just their good looks.
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