Summer heat and late day thunderstorms often play havoc with my favorite outdoor activities. On an evening earmarked for mountain biking, a late day thunder boomer shut down my local single track. Once the storm had passed, the coolness of air begged me outside. I was still in need of some sort of outdoor fix to release tension of the day. I turned to my other outdoor passion, grabbed my five weight and headed to a local pond.
When I arrived, the pond was alive with activity. Dragon flies buzzed and hovered, small bugs skirted across the water, turtles grabbed a breath, then headed back under the water. As I watched, I noticed dimple after dimple…rise forms…caused by what I surmised were big bream. “A hatch,” I giddily said to myself. Something was definitely happening…there were some pushes from what looked like really big bream…probably bluegill or as the big ones are called “bull gills.”
I grabbed a flybox and looked through it. I had to find a match for the hatch. There were some winged ants on the water and I guessed that’s what the fish were taking. Several casts proved me wrong. I went with a small black and brown popper to match the small dragon flies I noticed, but again no takers. I was getting anxious…this was not a good way to relieve my stress. I HAD to figure out what these fish were taking.
I decided that these fish were indeed feeding on the small dragon flies, but using some of my trout stream tactics when fish won’t take the dry fly version, I went with the “emerger” pattern. I figured that these fish were feeding on the bug as it was “hatching”. So I tied on a small black and brown wooly bugger and cast to a rise. I put the first cast right in the middle of the rings left from the rise. My line tightened immediately, but I wasn’t quick enough on the set. I casted at another rise and this time my timing was perfect. The rod bowed under the weight and for a moment I thought I was “under gunned.” Big bluegills fight well for their size…there’s an old adage among fly fishers that says, “if bluegills (or shell crackers, long ear, red breast or any other sunfish species, we often refer to as bream) got any bigger, I wouldn’t fish for anything else.”
After a few minutes I had the fish in hand…well not really…he was much bigger than my hand, nearly dinner plate size! For the next hour I continued casting to rise forms and whacking the heck out of huge bluegills and shell cracker sunfish. Now when I say big, I don’t mean “hand size.” I mean rod bending, drag pulling big ‘ole bream that use their dorsal fin spines, not as protection, but as a weapon! I couldn’t get my hand around most of these fish. On average they weighed a pound and a half, and a few were even bigger!
I don’t know how many of these fish I caught…I didn’t bother counting. I don’t know how long it lasted…I didn’t bother with my watch or cell phone. I just fly fished and it was just as rewarding as any trout stream or salt water flat I had ever fished. As the hatch ended and the dimples disappeared, I thought I had experienced fly fishing nirvana. I was wrong…nirvana was yet to come.
While the stress of the day had long left my muscles and mind, I was in fly fishing predator mode and was ready to catch more fish. As I pondered what to try now that fish had stopped rising, I realized that not a single largemouth bass found my fly…not even a small one. Something told me that the bass in the pond were ready to eat, now that the bream had left the buffet.
By now, the sun had set and darkness was making its way to the pond. This is magic time for sportsmen. I tied on a stealth bomber…a surface bass bug I learned to tie earlier this year. It has proven to be quite effective…this night proved no different. I started working the fly along edges, near structure and even in the middle of the pond. Bass were apparently cruising. Bass were apparently hungry.
The strikes ranged from subtle slurps to thrashing gulps. These were healthy largemouth bass…nice color and the iconic football shape. While none of these fish put my biggest bass record in danger or fight quite as hard as their buddies that live in my revered Eno River, they did like to jump and pulled hard. I easily caught over a dozen in this thirty minute twilight period, the biggest going four pounds.
Then it was done. It was dark. I was thirsty. I headed home where my wonderful wife had kept back some dinner for me, which is no easy task with three teenage boys in the house. Equally wonderful was the magic elixir of malted grains that accompanied my late dinner, a great way to end the day. And while I probably didn’t burn as many calories as I may have shredding single track, it was good to be blessed with such a great fly fishing evening.
And that’s the point of this story…I feel blessed every time I’m lucky enough to catch a fish on the fly. I don’t even need pictures to prove it. Fly fishing is always exciting, whether it’s bass and bream from a local pond or bones and big permit from an exotic flat. I don’t bad mouth any fish I catch on the fly, it’s bad karma. Maybe that’s why I’ve been on a roll this year. As long as I get to fly fish, it will always be a great year fishing, but so far this year has also been a great year catching.
I hope it continues especially when I head off to one of my favorite fly fishing trips of the year when I get to combine biking on the New River trail with fly fishing for river smallies!