Tag Archives: Fly Fishing

Float and Fly for Lethargic Fish

If there is one fly fishing technique that I love to fish most that would be float and fly fishing. This is simple 101 fishing. Basically, it’s suspending a fly (usually a tied on a jig hook) underneath an indicator and fished like live bait. Any time of year this method catches fish like crazy but in cool or cold water it really shines.

In the colder water periods of the year the fish get really lethargic and do not move far or quickly to a bait. It’s like they have to think about it for a while if they really want to move any distance to eat something. So, the closer you can get and can keep your fly to their face, the better chance you stand of her taking it.

Craig_bass_3-1-17_1And oh, I am usually trying to catch “her”, the females tend to be bigger in the first place. Winter into early spring and the pre-spawn period of time is when the females are not only full of eggs but are fattening up in preparation of the spawn. This IS big fish time.

No other technique can put a fly in the fish’s faces and keep it there better than float and fly. Not only that but it also will detect the most subtle of strikes. Let me explain. Fishing with any other method, be it with a floating or a sinking line you develop an arch or bow in your line. You make a cast and the fly sinks to the bottom pulling the leader or sinking line with it. The slower you fish or especially if you come to a complete stop this bow is exaggerated as the leader or the fly line itself continues to sink. From your fly to your rod tip you end up with a half a bell curve or a full “L” in your line. This will negate any sense of feel from a strike and if the wind is blowing, good luck seeing a twitch in your line.

Not only that but if you continue stripping the fly to keep contact with it, you are moving it away from that lethargic fish. If you stop stripping, the fly will sink to the bottom and possible get hung up or disappear from view in any weeds that may be growing there.

But with a float and fly rig your fly is always at a straight-line connection from the fly to the indicator. If a fish as much as breathes on your fly the indicator will move. Plus, if you weight the rig properly that there is enough weight in the fly itself or with added split shots, the indicator will stand erect when the fly reaches its maximum set depth. Set this way even if a fish lightly picks up the fly and rises in the water column rather than turning or going down, the resistance removed from the indicator will cause it to fall over on its side. Any change in attitude to the indicator that you do not directly cause is most likely a strike…and hooksets are free.

Another beauty of this system is it takes nothing fancy or expensive to do it. In fact, the flies used for this are so easy to tie that you don’t mind putting them in harm’s way (close to cover) in order to catch more fish. All the patterns that I use are tied on ninety-degree jig hooks to help them hang perfectly horizontal underneath the indicator. That is very important to keep the fly looking natural like a small baitfish just suspending motionless in place. You do not want the pattern hanging either nose or tail downward.

float_n_fly_selection_3-1-17_3I have designed several flies to fish just this way. Patterns like my M & M, Wee Willy Wiggler, Big Willy, the Sonic Boom and the Magic Bullet are all designed specifically for float and fly. Not that you cannot fish them other ways but just their origins were for this method. This is finesse fishing so these flies are relatively small, one to three inches. Yet surprisingly these same small flies are responsible for some of my largest fish of all time, much less the largest of the year.

Any rod and reel will work doing this. The only thing to remember is that the deeper you want to fish, the further you have to set the indicator from the fly. Not only do you have to cast this but you must be able to reach your fish to land it when your indicator is butted up against your rod tip. This is the reason for the use of a slip indicator if you plan on fishing much below eight or ten feet. The longer the rod you use, the deeper you can fish easier. I will admit that I use a variety of rods from seven and a half feet to nine feet in length most of the time when fishing three to eight feet deep. It’s only when I want to exceed the ten-foot depth mark do I move up to a ten or eleven-foot rod. I have fished this method down to twenty feet with success. Again, being finesse fishing with hook sizes from #12 to #2 I typically fish rod weights between a 3-wt to a 7-wt. Tippet strength varies with fish size and cover. 3X or 4X are pretty standard with the little flies but I’m not afraid to jump up to 0X if I’m casting at bass.

Craig_crappie_3-1-17_4The fishing technique itself is simple. First determine how deep the fish are or the cover is that you wish to fish over. Then adjust your indicator (or as I prefer to say for this very reason, depth regulator) to the depth you wish the fly to suspend at. This should be slightly above the cover or fish as most species tend to feed up. At its deepest the fly should hover just off the bottom like some small creature swimming along and not dragging on the bottom. Yes, as in everything thing in life there is an exception to this rule but it applies most of the time. Then simply cast the rig towards the likely area and wait. I’m a fairly impatient person so I usually let it sit in place for about ten seconds without a strike before stripping it six to twelve inches and waiting again. I continue this for as long as I feel that I am still fishing inside the strike zone before picking it up and casting at another target. Sometimes when it’s really cold or a cold front has just pushed through, it pays off to let the fly remain motionless for up to a minute before moving it at all. You have to experiment with the timing and let the fish tell you what is right.

Well there you have it in a nutshell, the basics of float and fly fishing. Nothing can be simpler or more effective most of the time. The big bonus is that you’re never quite sure of what you might get hooked into on the next cast. Even with the smallest of flies you could catch a three-inch bream on one cast and the trophy of your life on the next. This season so far alone these flies have accounted for an eleven pound plus largemouth bass, a three-pound crappie and a fifteen-pound catfish. So just remember to keep a good grip on your fly rod every time your indicator dips under because you never know what might be on the other end of your line!Adrian_catfish_3-1-17_2

Staying Warm While Winter Fly Fishing

Just the title alone sounds like an oxymoron. I’ve pretty much become a wuss since moving south some years ago. I get cold at about sixty degrees nowadays, so much for my Canadian heritage. But we do get our fair share of actual cold weather here in the south. Maybe it’s not enough to freeze our lakes over but it does drop the water temperatures into the high or at times even the low forties. The fish do get a little lethargic in those temperatures but they still eat every day. So in the south it’s not a matter of if the fish are biting but rather just how much of the elements are you willing to endure?

I guess one of the biggest things to remember in winter fly fishing is to dress in layers. You can always take something off if it gets a little warmer but you can’t add on what you don’t have. Wear thermal underwear, preferably the wicking kind that draws the moisture away from your body to keep you dry. Moisture is the biggest problem with staying warm so do everything to avoid get wet in the first place. Put a tee-shirt over those and add a sweat shirt or flannel shirt next. Follow those up with an insulated vest then a hooded jacket.

Adrian catching fish staying warmBe sure to have at least one pair of gloves with you. There are two kinds of good gloves for fishing. First there are the neoprene ones that are water proof and keep you from getting wet and hold in heat like a wet suit. Then there are the wool versions. These you can get wet yet they still retain heat keeping you warm. Just wring them out if you do immerse them in the water and they’re as good as new.

With both of these types there is then the consideration of full fingered, half fingered and ones with removable mitten tips. While they’re the warmest, with the full fingered gloves it can be difficult to handle fly line making the half fingered more casting friendly. With half your finger expose you have both feel and dexterity. But at times you can get cold with these and may want the full fingered ones to warm you up making the removable mitten ones appear just right. Yet the folded back mittens are magnets for catching fly line coils or at least they are with my casting abilities. Any glove beats no glove and then there’s always your pocket with a butane heater in it to warm you up no matter which glove you choose.

A good wool cap or Gore-Tex hat will go a long way in keeping you warm. Most body heat is lost through the tops of our heads so keep it covered. Some of us have more of a problem with this than others if you know what I mean. A wind stopping neck/face gaitor is great on windy days or when motoring down a lake. Wind chill is a big deal when the temps are already near freezing.

Don’t neglect your lower body when dressing for the cold. Again, thermal underwear and/or insulated pants will keep you warm and happy throughout the day. Even if it isn’t raining or snowing, wear your rain suit as a wind break to keep the heat in and the cold out. Sometimes I just wear my waders in the boat as a wind, rain and snow deterrent. Bib overall type rain suits are awesome for cold weather fishing. Just add a good pair of boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Staying dry is one of the keys to staying warm which will go a long way to keeping you happy on the water on a cold winter’s day. The fish cooperating can almost make up for being cold…almost.

And part two of a successful time out on the water is to make sure you’re using a cold water fly line and not a tropical one. Having the wrong line will aggravate you to no end as the tropical line will behave as well as a frozen garden hose being stiff and wound in little curls as it comes off the spool making it incapable of shooting through the guides at all. Even with a cold water line, after you pull it off the spool, stretch it. This one minute act will save you from tons of frustration. Stretch out three feet of line at a time and hold it tight for several seconds before slowly releasing the tension. This will ensure that you have a straight and limp line that will shoot through your rod guides smoothly.Staying warm in winter

If I were to add one last bit of advice from the, I wish I would do this myself file, it would be to pre-rig flies BEFORE you get to the lake. By this I mean to take several of your favorite fly patterns and a couple of spares and tie them to a length of tippet material with a loop to loop connection on the other end. Coil these in loops and put them into individual Ziploc bags for storage. Now when you want to change flies, colors or sizes, or even if you break a fly off, all you have to do to re- rig is loop the tippet to the matching loop on the end of your leader. This way you don’t have to try and tie multiple knots with stiff fingers. I always remember that I should have done this after I’ve been trying for ten minutes to make just one blood knot on a blustery day. You’ve been told.

It’s getting into the heart of winter but the diehards among us never stop fishing. In fact, many of the largest warm water fish are caught at this time of year! So prepare yourself and your gear for the cold and get out there and do me proud! Anyone else out there winter fishing, send me a photo of your catch (info@offthedeepedge.com) and I’ll get it out there for all to see. Good luck!

A Really Crappie Day

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. But during the last week of the month that lion ambushed me one last time to bite me on my a*# during my latest fishing trip. What was predicted to be a perfect picnic weather early spring day ended up going south (even further south than Georgia where I live) and turned into a day where temps stayed twenty degrees below what I was expecting and offered winds that would dislodge just about every anchor hold I attempted to make.

Casting was also a challenge having to aim a good fifteen feet upwind of your target in hopes of getting anywhere close. Having exchanged my six weight out of my boat the night before for my three at the forecast of good weather, I found myself doing a lot of side arm double haul casting in an attempt to stay below the wind and of reaching my target.

Let me regress a little. Spring was a week old and down here in the south that means everything is biting. I had headed out to High Falls Lake just south of Atlanta, it’s a lake that I had been meaning to try for years. Not knowing what to expect I planned on doing “just a little fishing”. By that I mean I’m rigged for multiple species and whoever wants to bite, I’ll fish for. This particular body of water is noted for larger than average bass and if I had to pick one species they would be my fish of choice. But as fate would have it, as I was launching my boat that morning I kept seeing small rises fifty yards offshore on the lee side of the point the ramp was on. I figure it may be bluegill or maybe even crappie and I’d give them a few minutes before I set out for the bass because hey, whatever they are, they were active.

Being just after sunrise, the wind was only blowing moderately then, still a little disconcerting for this early in the day. As I drifted across the flat where I had seen the rises I blind casted a #8 Sonic Boom fly on a slow sinking line hoping to connect with whatever had been feeding there just ten minutes before but to no avail. It was then I spied several brush piles lining the nearby bank. I thought to myself, “If those were crappie out here, that brush would surely hold more of them.” Moving in close to the brush I dropped anchor a short cast away (and it held, this would be the only time on this trip I could say that). I changed to a floating line with a small ½” strike indicator above the fly to suspend it near the brush piles and whatever lay beneath. Three casts in I had my first fish of the day, a nice foot long crappie. Thinking I was on to something I continued down the brushy bank for forty minutes with only two missed strikes to show for it.

Needing a change I surveyed the bay I was in. I was just off the ramp and hadn’t even turned my outboard on yet. I could see docks lining the opposite bank and more shoreline brush further down the bank the side I was on. But it was the three stumps I saw protruding mid lake that caught my eye. It was still early and maybe the water hadn’t warmed enough yet to bring the crappie to the bank in numbers. I idled out to the stumps and found them surrounded by eight feet of water, nearly the deepest in the bay. It was a perfect holding spot for pre-spawn crappie. By now the wind had picked up some since I started fishing near an hour before. Swinging the boat to the downwind side of the first stump, actually a twenty foot pine lying on its side with only one large branch reaching out of the water, I dropped an anchor within casting distance. By time I stripped out and stretched my fly line the boat was no longer in casting distance as the ten pound anchor failed to find something to hold to against the pressure of the wind. I moved the boat back upwind this time being more even with the tree’s center and off to its side figuring to slowly be blown parallel with it.

Quickly I got out a #8 chartreuse Sonic Boom set four foot under an indicator. Just as fast I was into a beautiful thirteen inch crappie. It pulled hard against my three weight rod and was tough to keep out of the tree branches. With each successive cast two amazing things happened. First I caught another beautiful crappie, some up to fifteen inches and second, the wind would get stronger. By time I put the twentieth crappie in the live well I had repositioned the boat at least six times and it had become almost impossible to hold bottom at this depth, at least in this bay. My casts had become shorter and less frequent with the wind. Whereas I had been making six or eight casts before I was out of position, it now was one and done. It was time to move on.

Seven hours later, with dozens of spots tried some deep on sunken logs or creek channels others shallow near docks or brush but all still in the wind, I had yet to draw another strike. If this were fishing a large flat or expansive weed bed, a sea anchor could have slowed the boat enough to fan cast the area. But here it was fishing “spots”, a log, a dock, a brush pile, you had to get the boat to stop to fish it effectively and that just wasn’t happening.
As the sun neared the tree tops I figured I had one more stop before I’d have to call it a day. That’s when I decided to go back to that brush pile I had caught my very first fish out of. The water temperature had risen four degrees since morning and the wind direction had shifted some giving that little bay a slight respite from the gale. Maybe the fish had moved in. This is when the day got really crappie. Yes I mean crappie, not crappy.

I put two anchors down holding me parallel to the brush pile. It lay in five feet of water with the actual bank twenty feet behind it and lined with water willows. The first five or six casts at the brush pile got nothing. Extending my cast I put the next right against the water willows, not taking the time to reposition the boat to take the brush out of my way. In went a #8 chartreuse Wee Willy Wiggler set two foot under an indicator and back came a fourteen inch slab crappie. Next cast had the same result and so did the next and the next. In the last ninety minutes of day light, thirty more gorgeous slab crappie crossed over my gunnel. None was smaller than twelve inches and the best nudged two pounds. Yes I lost a couple of beauties to that brush pile not moving the boat away from it but it added to the excitement. It turned into the crappiest day of fishing I had in some time. I think earning them made it oh the sweeter.

Carter’s Lake – Hot Spot for Cold Weather Fishing

Craig and bass from Carters Lake

As our fall season progresses deeper into cool or even down right cold weather, many of us hang up our warm water gear until the warmth of spring (or shear boredom) ignites our interests to head out onto the waters again. Well I have news for ya’ll, the warm water season never ends, at least south of the Mason – Dixon. If there’s no ice on the lake, there are still fish to be caught without drilling a hole. Making a hole in the ice big enough to fly cast in is just a pain.

Wooded Point at Carters Lake

Certain species and bodies of water just lend themselves to better action at this time of year. One of my favorite cold weather, warm water species is the spotted bass. Here in north Georgia the spots just seem to continue to feed heavily all fall and winter just gorging on shad and turning into footballs. Though many of the fish will be hanging off deep points and timber, thirty to forty feet down, which is still do-able, there are times and places that bring the bait and bass anywhere from twenty feet deep all the way to the surface to feed. One of my favorite lakes for this is Carter’s Lake near Ellijay Georgia.

Carter’s is a 3220 acre Army Corp of Engineers lake on the Coosawatee River in northwest Georgia. Being a Corp lakes means that there is no development (meaning docks) along the 62 miles of shoreline. But the Corp and the state have added an abundance of submerged cover and fish cribs to enhance the fishing. Check the Georgia DNR website for a map of just where they planted all of these. The lake has largemouth, spotted, hybrid, striped and yellow bass, crappie, bluegill, walleyes and catfish in it. But it’s the spotted bass we’re concerned with now. There is one commercial marina and six Corp boat ramps on the lake. There are three campgrounds with sites from completely primitive to those with electricity, laundry and showers. Plus the marina has full housekeeping cabins for rent.

Although being a fairly large and deep body of water, Carter’s has plenty of arms and coves to escape the wind if it chances to blow or you are fishing out of a smaller boat or kayak. But it definitely is boating water with only limited shoreline opportunities.

Depth finder view

If you want to talk about off the deep edge, this is the place. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Carter’s is about 450 feet deep. This is one of the deepest and steepest lakes in the state and what makes it great for cold weather fishing. I hear the “whats?” already. In cold weather the fish do move slower and less than in the warmer seasons. So traveling long distances from deep water to shallower water to chase bait just isn’t going to happen. The easy route is vertical. No swimming involved, just fill your air bladder and rise in the water column. That’s why steep banks or bluff walls that abound in Carter’s Lake excel in the cold waters.

The absolute best method for fishing this time of year and type of structure is something we all been doing forever, float and fly. Nothing more than an exaggerated indicator/nymph rig. A jig type fly under an indicator is deadly on fish suspended off vertical structure or bait. My favorite patterns to do this with are my M & M’s or Sonic Booms. Both are tied on a 90 degree jig hooks and are balanced to hang horizontally in the water when suspended under an indicator. The smaller size #8 may bring more strikes, often from panfish. It’s the larger #4 or #2 that get the interest of the bigger fish. These are still finesse sized baits perfect for cold water at about 2 1/2′” long each.

M&M

I typically use a fifteen foot leader doing this but lengths of twenty feet are not out of the question. A half to three quarter inch diameter indicator is used to suspend the fly. The fly itself has enough weight to get to those depths relatively quickly. A longer fly rod, say ten foot or more in the six to seven weight range will help in managing fish landings and casting with such lengthy leaders. Though I usually use a cork and tooth pick type indicator, there is a new one called the Plumbobber (www.PinsAndFins.com) that acts like a slip bobber allowing it to slide down the line when trying to land a fish. I see great promise in these when fishing deep. When fishing this technique shallower, a typical tapered leader is just fine but when going for more depth a leader of straight tippet material or one with a much finer taper would be better. Just keep a tight loop when casting or this set up will create quite a mess in a hurry. Over lining by one weight or pre-over weighted lines such as a Clouser, a Rio Grand or a Wulff Ambush line help deliver this rig with the minimum of false casts.

I fished here last week looking to see if the float and fly bite was on yet. With the first real cold front of the year having just pushed through, it did cool the waters some but not yet to the degree that the bass would be stacked on vertical structure. In fact, the spots were still hanging in the backs of creek arms chasing shad. Not a bad thing as I was still able to catch a few on top with a Flypala as they busted on bait. To play chase the bait, you have to move around a lot hoping to be wherever it is that they just happen to pop up next. As with float and fly you find several channel swings or bluff banks and rotate between them looking to catch the bass when they become active. I did manage to find schools of fish suspended twelve feet down in little pockets or “hollers” half way back the creek arms. To my surprise I found them to be channel catfish. Which readily hit flies and they bend a rod pretty well too!

Spotted bass with Flypala

There was a mid-afternoon surprise going on. Along a windswept bluff fish started to make large splashy rises right against the bank. From what I could make out, these were large panfish, bass and carp taking something right off the surface. I threw everything in my box at them without even a passing look from them at it. I figured it was small minnows or young of the year shad. Finally giving up, I moved in right on top of the action to find out what it was they were keying in on to the exclusion of everything else. With Carter’s Lake being so deep and infertile I never suspected there was a midge hatch going on. But here were these fairly large, maybe a size 16 jet black insects being blown against the bluff. Sad story is I was rigged for bear and had not a one insect type pattern on me. Lesson learned!

As the weather cools more, the float and fly fishing on Carter’s Lake should pick up for those of you who still brave the elements and get yourself out there. Use your electronic to find suspended fish and fish very slowly over them. Did I mention you might run into stripers chasing bait too? Some hot fishing in cold waters.

Flypala

The Rise of the Darth Baiter (or I am not your Hairy Fodder)

I am not a black woolly bugger!Da dant da-da dant da-da…don’t you already hear the theme song to Darth Vader just by the title? Maybe I’ve been unknowingly hanging out with members of the Sith to have done something so sinister to move fly fishing closer to the dark side. I’m sure Yoda will not be happy with me. OK, enough dramatics, what in the hay am I talking about?

What else? I’ve got a new fly or at least I call it a fly, the Darth Baiter. Some of you “purists” my have different thoughts about it. But then we all have our own ideas of what is or is not a fly so I will continue on. Ever since moving to the glorious south I have done well catching bass, big bass on flies but even on some of my best days have been humbled by my dark side fishing buddies and their plastic worms. Let me be first in line to say that you just can’t beat those things in their fish catching abilities. So I finally did something about it. I can hear you already, “Oh Craig, what did you go and do now?” No I didn’t go thread a Yum Trick Worm on a wide gap hook and toss it on a fly rod…that truly would be sacrilegious. I just created a PLASTIC fly rod worm fly that looks, acts and feels like something coming straight from the dark side of fishing. But it’s not factory molded, scented, salted or sold in bags of twenty-five. It is hand tied (for the most part) and the majority of the parts are available in fly shops plus with a little help from a larger cousin of the Wee Willie Wiggler (let’s see how up on things you are) I’ve created, probably a monster but the most dang bass catching fly one could ever ask for.

Darth Baiter will lure you to the darkest side of fly fishingMy new creation, which I’m calling Darth Baiter for its proximity to dark side fishing, and its uncanny resemblance to the Overlord, comes with my standard interchangeable weighting system so you can fish this pattern at any depth or speed combination you can think of. Ironically I use more weight when using a floating line to get a jigging action to the fly and no weight at all on a sinking line when scratching the bottom at deeper depths. The stretchy plastic tail is nearly indestructible but is replaceable if it did get damaged. With a double weed guard it is capable of crawling through the thickest of weeds or over logs without hanging up (too much). Tied on a #2/0 or #2 Gamakatsu hook it is streamlined and light, easily casts with a seven weight rod. The smaller version casts well even with a five weight. As with all bass fly fishing, learning to strip strike rather than lifting the rod will get you many times more hook ups.

Choose your Darth Baiter colorFished on a floating line it is more of a jig fly as it sinks to the bottom and any stripping will cause it to hop upwards then dive back down. On a sinking line it crawls across the lake bottom the same way as a standard plastic worm with a slip sinker. Or a Rainy’s Boobie Barbell Eye can be put in place of the weight causing the fly to float and it can be fished on a sinking line much like a Carolina rig or as a top water with a floating line. With any of these methods, always fish it with your rod pointed directly at the fly to keep a straight line connection to aid in strike detection. Strikes can vary from a hard thump to a soft tap-tap or simply the line starts to move off in some direction you didn’t cause it to. Follow any of these with a strong strip strike and the battle will be on.

Just how well does it really work? Let me tell you a fishing story from last season and I’ll try to keep the exaggerating down to a minimum. I got an invite to fish with someone from down state who at the time I only knew from internet fishing sites. He knew of my flies and was relatively new to bass bugging and wanted some pointers. He happens to live on a hunting plantation with several private bass ponds on it so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. Let me tell you that Southern hospitality still lives for he put me up for the night in their private hunting lodge and invited me to dinner along with his wife, kids and granddad. They had fried up some fresh caught bass fillets (told you I’m no purist) and homemade hushpuppies.

Darth Baiter rules the galaxy...er... the lakeThe next morning we got on the pond only to find the water more than four feet low and most of the shoreline cover sitting high and dry on land. I had planned on trying my Shimmy Fish or my Dixie Wigglers (If you’re a bass bugger you should know these patterns) but quickly it became apparent that this would be an offshore bite. So staying true to my fly fishing background, out came the depth finder, marker buoys and sinking fly lines armed with my Darth Baiter. I spent the first thirty minutes of the day cruising around the lake with the aid of my 3 HP trolling motor scanning with my depth finder to learn the structure layout of the thirty acre pond. After settling on which areas appeared to be most favorable to hold fish, this narrowed down the search. In these areas I proceeded to mark any sunken cover I could find with a buoy then we made milk runs fishing them alternately.

Anchoring a short cast away from these “stumps” we’d cast our sinking lines past them then slowly crawled the fly over them hoping to get a thump. My friend said in the end it was a tough days fishing for this pond due to water conditions but I can only dream of what a good day there must be like. He was disappointed that I only got eight bass between two and five pounds. Personally, I thought it was a great day because he offered me to come back when the fishing was better to make up for it. Want to know the best part? My friend was having a tough time with the sinking line so he went back to his standard casting gear and “real” plastic worms expecting to clean house. He only got two small bass. I feel a disturbance in the force!

I may not be your father but... who's your daddy now

Bluegill Done Right

I guess the best place to start these articles is “in the beginning”. Once upon a time when we all started our fishing careers, it probably was fishing for bluegill. It didn’t matter if our first pole was a cane pole, a spinning rod or a fly rod the target was bream, oops! I mean bluegill. OK, let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m a Yankee living in the south. A damn Yankee at that because I like it here so much that I won’t leave so give me a break if a little southern influence comes out and I switch between bluegill and bream sometimes, all right? Anyway the “B” fish were numerous and easy to catch back then…at least in the spring.

But we all have a fond spot in our hearts for these feisty little fighters. Who among us wouldn’t trade a day away to feel the pulsing of a light rod as a bull bream pulled deep circles against your best effort to get him off the bottom? Then have the thrill of repeating that feeling over and over throughout the day. Of course we all would. But it isn’t spring and even the second spawn in the summer has past, how could we still catch big bluegill?

I’m glad you asked because I know just how to do this. I’ll admit that I’m a bluegill addict. I don’t care what I’m fishing for, if big bream start biting, I’m all in! Sometime early in my addiction I developed a fly and a system that effectively catches bluegill, big ones, all year long. I call it the Wee Willy Wiggler and the Depth Regulating System. Or float and fly fishing for short. Little has changed since I caught my first bream sometime in the last century. A bait under a bobber just kills bream. But how and where you fish it makes a difference.

Gone are the slimy night crawlers, gooey wax worms and even the pieces of hot dogs. These have been replaced with an only slightly more sophisticated type of bait, the Wee Willy Wiggler. These are small, brightly colored (for the most part) worm bodied jig flies. Almost a gummy bear on a hook, I guess. But they have everything to attract a bull bream into biting. First they’re small and bite size as even a big bull has a small mouth.

A selection of Wee Willy Wigglers and different indicators

Second, they sink relatively slowly giving them a good chance to see them, plus they’re colorful and attract attention. How fish perceive these colors and how we do is not necessarily the same, especially in low light or dirty water. Either way bream are a curious beast and lucky for us they don’t have fingers. If they want to test something to see what it is they have to bite it. Then the softness of the plastic body keeps them holding on long enough for us to detect a strike and set the hook. What they could think the flies are ranges from nymphs, blood worms, grass shrimp or plankton to small bait fish or fry. But basically Wee Willy Wigglers draw attention to themselves as something small, edible and helpless, the trifecta in bream baits.

As important as the fly is, the where and how you fish it means even more. Wee Willy Wigglers can be cast and stripped much like a streamer or nymph but I find them much more effective when fished under an indicator, or as I prefer to say, a depth regulator. Aiding in the detection of a strike is a bonus feature for as far as I’m concerned. The corks main purpose is to keep the fly at a specific depth or place for the longest duration possible without hanging up or leaving the strike zone. A cast fly sinks when you stop stripping and will hang up on the bottom unless you continue to strip the fly and then it leaves the strike zone quickly giving the fish only a brief moment to decide to eat it or not. (Which at times can be a trigger for more aggressive fish. That is another story for another day!) Where as a fly suspended under an indicator maintains a controlled depth and will stay in one spot almost indefinitely thus giving the fish a long time to make up his mind to eat it or to just get curious or fed up with the fly and bite it. Remember, bluegills are not an ambush feeder like top line predators, they’re more like grazers. They just slowly wander about seeing what type of food is just floating around for them to eat. So the longer you can keep the fly in front of them, the better chance you have that they will eat it. As the Wee Willie Wiggler hangs horizontal and looking natural under an indicator, any wind and wave action will add just enough life to the fly to make it seem alive without you doing a thing. 

Places to find bigger bluegill starts with deeper water. See I didn’t say deep water but rather the relative term deeper. By deeper I mean deeper than where the little guys are to start. Bluegill typically school by size so if you find a grass flat or weed bed full of small bream in say, in four feet of water you’re close. Small fish and large fish are both looking for the same thing, food and security. Just the bigger you are the more water you need to feel secure. Now start looking for the outer edges of the surface weeds or bottom grass you found the little guys in (you can sometimes visually see weed edges but electronics really help). This usually indicates the end of light penetration or the change in bottom composition. Sometimes deeper is just a depression on that weed flat the little fish are roaming on. The weeds all look the same on the surface but there is a pot hole on the flat that may be just a foot or two deeper. Bigger fish will gravitate towards this. So now you’re getting closer. Add a change in direction in the weed growth. An inside or outside bend in the weeds and you’re really onto something. If you can find this with a log, stump, rock, a dock or other obstruction on it, you’ve hit the jack pot. Put all of this in close proximity to actual deep water and you’re probably sitting on the biggest bluegills in the lake. Remember, the weed edge/bottom transition/cover does not have to be in “deep” water itself, just close to it to be the home of the big boys. They always want to have a quick exit if needed. I guess you could say that the bruisers tend to sit in the back row of the theater. Deep is relative to a lake and or area. In a shallow lake or pond, a two foot drop is huge! Really deep might only be eight feet in some lakes. In truly deep and clear lakes, look for coves with a dirty water creek inflow, heavy cover or fish the windy side of the lake to help draw the fish shallower into more comfortable fly fishing range.

To fish these spots, tie on your Wee Willy Wiggler under a half inch diameter indicator. For me, the starting depth is usually two-thirds the depth of the water (unless I’m trying to suspend over some underwater obstruction that rises off the true bottom. Then set the indicator as near the obstruction without getting hung up). Six feet of water means a four foot leader setting, twelve foot of water means setting the indicator at eight foot and so on. The bigger fish tend to hold lower in the water column. Shellcrackers tend to be right on the bottom so adjust for them. For open water suspended fish, set the indicator for a foot above them. Bream tend to be looking up when not directly on the bottom. I fish this technique down to about fifteen foot. This is a “starting depth” as insect activity or rising plankton later in the day could bring the fish shallower, a cold front or blood worms (midge larva) could put them on the bottom. Play around with depth more than color. Change colors when you’ve been on fish and they suddenly stop hitting or start “nibbling”.

Cast your rig into “the promised land” and wait. Let the fly sink fully under the indicator and just hang there awhile. The Wee Willy Wiggler with suspend horizontally and bob in the current looking alive and vulnerable while you’re doing nothing. Wait maybe ten seconds (sometimes less, sometimes up to a full minute in cold water) before giving the rig a six to twelve inch strip. Repeat this until you believe your fly is out of the strike zone then recast. If you notice that you’re getting most of your strikes before the fly sinks all the way down, you may have your indicator set too deep. If you’re not getting hits, try a little deep before moving to a new spot.

Well, that’s it. I told you its’ simple, bobber fishing minus the messy bait. Yes it’s my fly pattern and I’m partial to it and I sell them but that doesn’t change the fact that they work and well. Also, don’t be surprised with what other species of fish you may end up with while targeting bream with “Wigglers”. Give them a try and I’ll bet you’ll become addicted to this type of fishing too.

Good fishin’!

Wee Willy Wigglers also may attract bass!

Welcome!

Hey ya’ll and welcome to Off the Deep Edge Warm Water Fly Fishing! My name is Craig Riendeau and I’ll be your host for these adventures into fly fishing. Not just any type of fly fishing I may add but specifically warm water fly fishing…all of it. I don’t care if you like bass, bream, crappie, musky, cats or carp or anything else for that matter, you’re welcomed here. If it swims in warm waters we’re going to look for the where and how to catch it and find the flies that do it best. And we’re going to do this mostly in less than exotic locations. We aren’t going to tell you that you need to go to Canada to catch a big musky or that you need to go into the heart of Mexico to have a good day bass fishing. We want to show that warm water fishing, good warm water fly fishing existing in each of our own backyards if we only look around a little and try some techniques you probably haven’t before. We’d also like to show those who are new to the sport that fly fishing doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to catch a decent fish, that it’s not a rich man’s sport. Not that it isn’t fun to or that we won’t ever go somewhere “nice” but show that warm water fly fishing is available to us all in one form or another. So again welcome and follow along with our articles and videos. With the help of a few friends hopefully we all can learn a new wrinkle or two on how to do better in the sport we all so love. Above all else, let’s have some fun trying!