Category Archives: Panfish

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.

 

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

On the Brandywine.

I’d planned to creep into the Brandywine River a week earlier, but rain had seen to that. A storm moved across the state from the south-west, plodding it’s way out to sea and leaving behind buckets of rain. It would be a near two hour drive north an an overnight with my parents who live nearby, the river would be high and cloudy, and I wanted better conditions. A week would do it, and by the following Tuesday I was winding through the  back roads of Chadd’s Ford on my way to  rendezvous with Terry at A Marblehead FlyFisher, the best place to pick up word from the river, and to my knowledge, the only surviving fly shop in the state of Delaware. Terry had just returned from a trip up north to cast at False Albacore. He had fished for three days, casting a two-handed rod and hooking up with several Albies on just one baitfish imitation which he now kept in a Ziploc bag to show curious customers, it’s hook shank bent and dressing crumpled and abused – a spent fly.

After a round of fishing talk and an examination of his terminally damaged waders, Terry was digging through shelves of flies and pointing out what had been working on the Smallmouth Bass I had come to chase. From streamers to poppers, the only common theme was rubber legs. Anything with rubber legs. I loaded up on crayfish imitations, poppers with enough rubber legs to strangle themselves, bait fish imitations, and woolly buggers with……rubber legs. Armed with tips, directions, information and ammunition, I thanked Terry and promised to send saltwater reports from down south, and set out for river.


After parking in the wooded lot and throwing on my waders and sling pack, I picked up the trail Terry suggested I follow to a good drop-in point on the steep banks of a low running Brandywine. I found the narrow confluence I was looking for and stepped down onto the rocky creek bed. Only a few feet in, the river reached in to the alcove and I waded in ankle deep water as juvenile panfish scattered in every direction in the gin clear water. Targeting smallmouth, I started on the surface. A blue heron was at rest on the far bank, and, taking him as a good omen – not to mention an indication of fish – I cast a sneaky pete popper onto the faster moving water along the bank – a process I was to repeat in several pools and runs along the banks for the next 30 minutes without so much as an indication of feeding bass.

I waded downstream and, looking ahead, noticed an area of light ripples on the otherwise glassy river surface. The glare prevented me from identifying what structure lay ahead – it turned out to be several large boulders – but casting the popper just before the ripples and letting it drift over the turbulence prompted a soft, slurping take.  The rod bent and I thought I’d hooked into a smallmouth. Yet to catch one on the fly, and having never tried, I was anxious to hook up early, but as the fish came to hand I could see I hadn’t hit my target. None the less, I had a Rock Bass on the line. I’d also somehow managed to avoid catching one of those before, too.

I walked a good length of the river that afternoon – casting to downed trees, rock piles and rips, and still haven’t managed to check the smallmouth bass off of my list. I know they are there. I usually walk away from such an event with some inclination, or excuse, if you like, about why I didn’t catch what I was fishing for. Usually there is a condition to consider, a case of inappropriate equipment, an unavoidable obstacle. On this day, I was out of ideas. It is my inclination to blame user error, or just one of those days, but in hindsight I can’t think of anything I’d have done differently. I cast floaters, slider, poppers, streamers and bugs. I fished deep and high, fast and slow. I exhausted my options, and eventually, my time on the river.  I burned the remaining light of day casting poppers to a stack of bluegills I’d found while probing for bass earlier in the afternoon. I caught plenty of fish, but the smallmouth remains unchecked. A matter of time.

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Panfish, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

The Last Fish of the Year.

New Years Day, and the wind is gusting upwards of 20mph, which does not bode well for the fly caster. None the less, knowing my chances of getting out on the water tomorrow, after I’ve gone twelve rounds with the impending festivities that lie ahead, I went to the water anyway. I could use the practice while I can still feel my legs.

 

The wind did make my casting life a little more difficult, and it was the icy cold kind of wind that slips up your sleeve, but when the gusts would let up, and I could find a second to feel the sun, it was another unseasonably warm day, especially for the last day of the year. The water was capped and frothing from being whipped up by the westerlies, but most of the fish were indifferent. The Bass stayed out of sight, and eventually out of mind, but my Zap Bug was in the water only briefly before the little bluegills started eating it at regular intervals. This is not abnormal,not surprising. The surprises of the day were that the Calico were nowhere to be found. They are usually abundant here, and it was them I was fishing for. Also of surprise was that I was also catching a good number of Golden Shiners, basically a big minnow, but to describe it like that does it a disservice. It glitters in a silvery gold, it’s red dorsal fin in stark contrast, and it fights a lot harder than calico, bluegill, and sometimes, even bass. I only learned this now, having caught a grand total of one of these fish in all my time fishing here, and today, I find five. They are a heavily schooling fish, and I can only assume the school was in shallows and therefore in reach of my cast; an unusual phenomenon here, but a welcome one.

 

 

I hadn’t set out to have a day of reflection; a mental log book of a fisherman’s year, but thats the way it goes sometimes. I thought of all the memories made on the water this year, all those willing fish. The Bluefish blitzes off of Fenwick Island over summer, where we reeled them in one after the other. The big flounder I caught from the beach at the state park. The countless bass, pickerel, bluegill, and calico from my local grounds. The occasional trout from Newtons Pond. No Striped Bass, so far. They are late. But this is another reason for optimism for the coming year, as if a fisherman approaching spring needs such a thing. My bet is that the striper will arrive early on in the new year, and if I’m right, it could be a January to remember. I plan on spending some parts of that month knee -deep in trout streams, too. So much ahead.

 

 

As the afternoon drew to a close, all too early as we often complain at this time of year, a final tug on the line produced a tiny calico, among the smallest I’ve seen. I admired him briefly, let him know he would never be a big fish if he let clumsy fisherman like me catch him so easily, and sent him back to the deep. And that is how the reliable calico, savior of winter, become the last fish of this fisherman’s year.

 

My Best wishes for a Happy New Year!!

-Neil @ Fly & Gin

 

 

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Calico Bass, Crappie, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Seasons, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds, Winter

Give ’em Green.

Walking through the woods on a thick layer of crunching brown leaves last week, in the dying light of a rather unproductive afternoon of fishing, I came across two men at the make-shift boat ramp, red faced and soaked to the waist, attempting to remove their small Jon boat from the lake. It was particularly cold, but I was dry and well layered, and had been fishing from the shore in the lee of a small stand of woods that had kept me comfortable. These two exhausted looking gentleman had been skating across the lakes surface, in direct contact with the elements, and now were standing in lake water looking ever more as if they were about to croak. I walked down to the boat ramp and grabbed a free line and helped muscle the boat toward the waiting trailer. Without a word, one of the men, his beard collecting ice crystals, waded out of the water and around me, and into the truck. He lurched the trailer from the drink, and the boat transitioned from vessel to cargo.

The man climbed out from the truck and smiled at me, offering his hand, which was icy to the touch. Catching his breath, he thanked me for helping, and then looked at me with wide eyes, and said. “Chartreuse. It’s Chartreuse this  year. Bass, Crappie, whatever. Try Chartreuse”.

Of course, I knew what he meant. He had noticed my fly rod and the brown and olive colored woolly in the hook keeper. He was a spinning reel fisherman, but this was his home water, and he knew what the fish were biting at any given time, fly or Rapala, it didn’t matter. The way he relayed that information, though, made me think perhaps he didn’t give it away very often or very easily.

The next day, I once again found myself with time to fish. I considered my options, and decided that I’d go back to that same lake, and try some form of chartreuse fly on the frozen man’s advice. I looked in my fly boxes, and realized I didn’t even have anything in that color, other than a couple of poppers that weren’t the best choice for winter fishing when the fish are low and slow. With the truck warming up in the driveway, I sat down at my vice and very quickly tied up some flies; the kind I though might be of use. A small woolly worm, and a couple of my own creations I like to call zap bugs. Simple affairs; some pearl and chartreuse chenille wrapped around a size 8 hook, and tail tipped with a small, but sturdy piece of hackle. I find that, if tied well, this fly can stay on the surface and be fished dry, or can be retrieved and fished as a small streamer. In fact, I’ve often found that the transition from floating to the diving and swimming action it produces when retrieved is when most of the strikes take place.

I had ignored chartreuse, as the search of my fly boxes proved. I’d been relying on more natural colors of browns and olives, and the occasional white in my tying and fishing. Complacency.

I would soon learn that this was an oversight, as I went on to catch enough fish to lose count of, and four species; Bluegill, Calico Bass, Largemouth Bass and a Golden Shiner, a big minnow I’d never taken on a fly rod before.

Not big fish, but fish none the less, and that’s the point in the end. For a dark, cold day in late december, this was a treat.

The moral of this tale? Don’t forget to change something when what you’re doing isn’t working; advice I knew, yet foolishly neglected. If your local freshwater isn’t giving up fish, chartreuse and white with a sparkle have been the ticket for me. You can tie up flies in any number of ways with any number of materials and have a good day catching fish.

Oh, and always help a man with his boat……

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Filed under Bluegill, Bug, Calico Bass, Crappie, DIY, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Winter, Woolly Bugger

20 Ponds. – Tussock

While recently browsing the fishing section of the DNREC website, I came across a listing of state owned public ponds, and it was only then that I discovered that there are twenty of them in my county alone, and I’d only fished three of them. Water is everywhere in Sussex county, with the bays, tributaries, rivers, and of course, the big pond we call the Atlantic, so my oversight can perhaps only be explained by an abundance of good locations near home; the ocean alone enough to keep me fishing without visiting the same couple of locations every other day. But twenty is a nice round number, and Sussex is not a big county, so like Mallory’s mountain, I’ll fish them all because they are there.

While I’d take note of where I’d been and fully intended to visit all of them, I must stress that this was not a gonzo fishing operation aimed at high fish body-counts or a reason to claim I’d “fished ’em all”. It would simply take me to new places that have been right under my nose the entire time, as fishing often does. If the fish wanted to contribute by willingly taking a fly from a stranger now and again, that would be fine, but having not known that some of these  ponds even existed, let alone that they have fish in them, made me feel lazy and dumb about my surroundings. It is also an excuse to write about local waters from the perspective of the bank fisherman. I find that most fishing information left online or in books in regards to my local area begins by assuming the reader owned a boat. But what if you don’t?

Finding each pond on Google maps was easy enough, and I found that several were scattered around the lower third of Delaware in clusters; some mill-ponds, some man-made, others the remnants of when this neck of the woods was blanketed in Cypress Swamp. I was going fishing in the morning, and I had the day, so I marked a couple of ponds I could fish for a few hours each, and I’d see what I could see.

After a wrong turn that left me staring at an empty cul-de-sac, I found my way into the empty parking lot of Tussock Pond. It was unseasonably warm, and I was down to a long sleeved t-shirt before I finished rigging up.

According to my reading, Tussock had suffered from fluctuating water levels and this had contributed to a lower-than-average growth among fish. 400 largemouth bass fingerlings were introduced to the water on 2007 in an effort to boost the population, but the pond lost so much water in the fall of the same year that these efforts were probably hampered. The information trail goes cold here, but the pond and it’s waterline certainly looked very healthy to me, so the only thing to do is go fish it as well as you can, and see what it produces. This is not the best way to go into the fishing of a new water; with ‘below average’ stamped neatly on your expectations, but you also may think you can prove that theory wrong; at least by your own standards.

Most of the shoreline here is thick with brush, so good opportunities for casting a fly rod are slim. Working from the boat ramp wasn’t too difficult, especially with the nearby trees now bare and the leaves under my feet, but the area I could cover was small, and didn’t look promising. I searched it with a woolly anyway, feeling for bass, and finding none. I could see an open stretch of bank across the water; probably a good 40 feet of blue sky bookended by trees. Some stumps protruded from the still water before it. I reeled in and started my walk to the opposite side, which took me along a country road, where I stopped and leaned on a guard rail and made lazy casts to the far side of a rocky spillway, it’s very working existence confirming that water levels had returned to good health.

As I continued on, along the edge of a farm field and towards my spot, a noisy Dehavilland Twin Otter took of from nearby Kent Airport, and clawed it’s way into the air. I’d noted the airport on my map, and new it to be a small grass strip. Such an airplane, out in the countryside and operating from a grass strip, led me to surmise that it was for a sky diving operation. At least, I knew he wasn’t dusting crops.

There had been an optical illusion form the boat ramp on the other side of the pond. Those stumps weren’t nearly as close as they had appeared, but the bank was indeed clear of obstruction and I liked the view.

I tied on a small Clouser and began to send long casts out to the stumps; letting the fly sink and then beginning a swimming retrieve. If the bass were home, they weren’t interested, and I began to cast out to other water, or up along the bank, but the stumps were just classic bass cover and I returned the fly there with every third cast or so. Nothing came of it.

When I’m not catching fish where I thought I might, I tend to do one of three things: I change my fly, though I try to do this as little as possible, for the sake of my leader, and my sanity. I might move. Or, I’ll choose to take a moment to just sit and watch.

Moving wasn’t going to happen. I’d found my preffered spot on the shoreline, from where I could work the most water, and I was happy there. So I watched.

The sun was directly in my eyes, but not too high in the sky, and if I crouched and put the tree line between us I could watch the shady part of the water off to my left. The water lay as still and flat as tightly tucked sheets with the litter of fall motionless on it’s surface. Woolies and Clousers hadn’t produced any fish from the deeper water, and I knew there was a population of bluegill and reader sunfish here, although both are said to live with the bass in the ‘below’ average numbers’ category. So I tied on an Adams parachute, a favorite of mine for bluegill, and sent it softly into the shady water. The fly sat up on the dutifully, drunk on floatant, and before it’s concentric circles had dissipated, it was snatched angrily by a scrappy bluegill.

I thanked him for playing, then lowered him back to the water, as over my shoulder, parachutes, – red, blue, yellow – , drifted lazily from the sky.

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Filed under Adams, Bluegill, Clouser, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Scenery, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Woolly Bugger

Good Problems.

The biggest dilemma that confronts me on a daily basis is the decision on where to fish, and for what.

In a world of economic woes, high unemployment and a touch of civil unrest, this dilemma should be filed under “A Good Problem to Have”.

My home state is frequently snubbed, or at least not mentioned, as a quality fishing ground, but quite erroneously so. It’s true that I don’t have any Blue Ribbon trout streams within a days drive, and the states to the north tend to get the bulk of the saltwater game fish that pass off-shore during migration, but I tend to be the type to prefer the case of good liquor over the bottle of great liquor.

I live on a tidal creek that floods or falls when the tides of the Atlantic Ocean traverse the inland bays.  Here, I can fish for a wide variety of saltwater species from flounder and bluefish to perch and croaker, to the migratory striped bass that if, had you’d read certain fishing books, you’d think never swim south of New Jersey.

By boat, you can drift the Indian River Inlet, or Massey’s Ditch, or explore the hundreds of sandbars, coves, creeks and canals that make up the Rehoboth and Indian River bays.

By land, I can drive my 4×4 onto the soft sand of picturesque coastal beaches, and, with a surf rod, or a fly rod, cast for all mid-Atlantic inshore species. The majority of the coastline here is without a significant sandbar as with other east coast beaches. This denies you the simplicity of tossing some meat onto a sandbar and waiting for fish to bite, and encourages the

dedicated fisherman to learn to read the water, fishing rips and eddies, and learning to identify good water, and a good place to toss a fly.

Close to home, when I want to approach freshwater species, I have panfish, bass, pickeral, perch , carp and trout within twenty minutes drive, and in a range of settings, each with it’s own mood and character. A little further away, I can find wooded trout streams, some designated for fly fisherman only, where rainbow and brown trout appear in deep pools.

A wide variety of species, a variety of water and endless, year-round opportunities to catch fish. Yet, my state and it’s significant number of fisherman remain largely ignored.

If it sounds as if I have a chip on my shoulder, you may have a point. But it’s not without reason. Orvis has a fly fishing application that reports from Belize and Brazil, but not Delaware. The aforementioned book, and several like it,  ignore this state as they write their way down the striper coast. And yes, naturally, I’d complain just as loud if my local grounds were suddenly fished out by shoulder-to-shoulder fisherman in designer shirts an $400 sunglasses. So, perhaps I should take some solace in the fact that the fertile waters of home remain below the radar. Instead, I’ll continue to wake early, go out to the garage, stare at the saltwater and freshwater rods and flies, and wonder….

“Where will I fish today”?

A good problem to have.

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Books, Carp, Crappie, Croaker, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Places, Striped Bass, White Perch

Toothy Critter.

On a crisp October day with a stiff, variable wind, I’m atop a spillway hunting Largemouth Bass. The Action on surface poppers, my favorite of all the bass baits, appears to be slowing as the lake collects Fall’s leaves and other debris. But, having fashioned some cork and deer hair into new poppers at my tying desk, I’m eager to see if my latest concoctions can draw a strike.

Like many bass waters, there are also Chain Pickerel haunting the hollow logs and weed beds where I toss my bugs and streamers. On the occasion that they choose to take a fly I intended for a bass, there is no mistaking them. They strike with a suddenness and ferocity that the largemouth cannot quite match, and their sharp teeth can lay waste to a fly. It’s because of this, and other telling clues, that I know I’ve been hit by a pickerel, even when I don’t land the fish.

I shared a photograph in this space just last week; a black popper, small enough to take Sunfish, but excellent at luring bass, that I was swimming beneath the surface before my line was violently yanked at my feet, and, just as quickly, released, to lay limp on the surface.  A brief inspection at the smashed fly confirmed my suspicion. I had found a pickerel.

The following day, while fishing a red streamer around the same location, I had again been yanked, but this time only to retrieve a frayed and spliced line, absent my newly tied Red Squirrel.

Days passed, and I fished other waters for trout, unsuccessfully. A day of poor weather here and there allowed me time in the garage, where I replaced my lost flies, including a selection of newly tied poppers of all sizes and descriptions, some designed for pan fish, others for bass and trout.

I returned to the spillway yesterday morning, eager to launch a black deer hair popper to the far bank, to fish around a fallen branch where I believed I would find rising bass. My cast was slightly short, but I let the bait sit until the concentric circles dissipated, and longer. After what passed as a satisfactory period of time, I gave the bug a quick tug, causing the cupped nose to gurgle, and again, let it rest. I repeated this process across the front of the spillway as I retrieved the bait slowly to my feet, where it met with the jaws of a pickerel. This time, I saw the offending fish. It was surprisingly small, but moved like a torpedo and was gone as soon as I was able to process it’s explosive arrival.

I put the headless bug in the streamer box instead of the bug box. I located a wire leader.

On a crisp October day with a stiff, variable wind, I’m atop a spillway hunting Pickerel…….

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Filed under Bluegill, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Poppers