Tag Archives: Wee Willy Wiggler

When the Going Gets Tough

Craig with smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

Smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

I sat by my computer for a good ten minutes before I came up with this title. I could have gone several directions with the information I’m about to disclose. We were fishing for smallmouth bass in Door County, Wisconsin right after opening day of the season. The bass were in all stages of the spawn…pre, spawn and some post-spawn. The weather had been yo-yoing up and down twenty-five degrees. The wind couldn’t make up its mind on which direction to blow from but it had decided to blow hard from whichever was the direction of the moment. The warm tannic waters of the Mink River would be blown out of the river mouth and onto the rocky flat at its mouth only to be blown back up river several hours later. Plus, the word was out that the bass were in and there was a parade of boats of all sizes going up, down, in and out of the river. The conditions weren’t good and were constantly changing, rarely for the better.

There was a crowd at the lake looking for smallmouth

The word was out that the bass were in

How to deal with any of these situations individually is a story of its own. But the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they make the angling tough. Tough is tough and I’ve got a one size fits all solution to them. Just how good is this? In less than favorable conditions I managed one hundred smallmouth in three days with most bass over three pounds, a third over four and half a dozen at the magic five-pound mark. Got your attention now?

The greatest part of what I was doing was its simplicity. I guess that saying of keep it simple is true. All I was doing was an extension of my favorite way to fish, with a float and fly system. If you follow my website you already know of the Wee Willy Wiggler. Well, welcome his cousin, Big Willy and his brother Double-Wide. Before you go thinking I’ve been out in the sun too long, these are the names of two of my latest fly patterns.

Wee Willy is a size #8 jig type fly with a one-inch long rubber tail made from a child’s toy, a Googly Ball to be exact. A Big Willy is the same pattern tied on a #4 hook and made with a two-inch rubber tail from a jumbo Puffer Ball. While a Double-Wide is a #2 jig hook with twin three- inch rubber tails, yes from a child’s toy with a silly name. Despite the goofy names of the toys and the odd names of the fly patterns, these are the single most effective fly patterns that you could fish under tough conditions. This isn’t bragging, exaggerating or alternative facts but the cold hard truth. No fly pattern that I have ever fished has worked so well and consistently under tough conditions. It’s no slouch under favorable conditions either.

Original Wee Willy Wigglers (bottom right), Big Willys (left) and Double-Wides (top right)

Original Wee Willy Wigglers (bottom right), Big Willys (left) and Double-Wides (top right)

Googly Ball and Jumbo Eyeball Creature toys

Where the Wee Willy Wigglers, Big Willys and Double-Wides come from

Now that you know the what, here’s the how. As I stated, float and fly. The Willy’s are all tied on ninety-degree jig hooks and weighted to rest in a horizontal position when strung under an indicator. A half inch round indicator will support a Wee Willy and either a three-quarter inch round or a two-inch crappie float will hold the two larger versions suspended. A six to seven weight fly outfit will cast the larger fly and float easily. My personal choice is a Sage II 290 gr smallmouth bass rod. This outfit (comes with a specially weighted line) will readily cast your fly effortlessly even into a stiff wind. Plus, I feel that the 7’11” rod length is less fatiguing to cast all day.

As tied all three versions are weighted enough to get themselves down most of the time. If I’m fishing deeper than five feet or if there is a fair amount of water or wind current I will add a small clam shot six inches above the fly. Getting the fly to get to and remain at the correct depth is crucial. Most of the time the smallmouth bass are hugging the bottom. Under unfavorable weather, water conditions or extreme fishing pressure they become reluctant to leave it.

Craig with one of many smallmouth averaging 4 lbs

The closer you can suspend the fly to the bottom without dragging on it the better this will work. Being no more than a foot off the bottom is key when it’s rough going. You can suspend the fly at mid depth when conditions are good because in clear water the bass are always looking up. Knowing the depth of the water around you is critical. A depth finder is a great help but just sticking your rod tip underwater to find bottom is by far the most accurate way to know where to set your indicator in water depths less than the length of your rod. At times I alligator clip a weight to my fly to find the depth but I’m constantly checking to be sure I’m still fishing the zone.

Here’s a tip about bass fishing and wind. Bass of all species love to be by or in weeds when they are available EXCEPT when the wind is blowing hard. This tidbit is worth the price of admission alone! Besides all the sediment and debris being tumbled about, the weeds themselves become the equivalent to sitting next to curtains by an open window on a windy day…annoying. The bass relate to hard structure in high winds. They relate to things like piers, seawalls, blow downs, fish cribs and oh, ROCKS!

The wind was blowing hard in Door County, WI

The wind was blowing hard in Door County, WI

All of Rowley’s Bay and the mouth of the Mink River is nothing but rock. The river itself has some rock but mostly sand and clay with substantial weed growth along the drop offs. There’s more places to hide and be secure along the weeds but only when it is relatively calmer. When the wind wants to gale, the many of the bass move out into the river delta or surrounding flats (which depending on water color and temperature). Smallmouth love current, so the wave action that is tossing your boat around and making anchoring difficult is heaven to them. This is also where you want to fish.

Picture of Craig with smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

This was just a small one

There are always some scattered fish along the flats searching for their next meal but the concentrations of bass are along the edges of the drops along the river delta. Fish these areas just as if they were on your favorite stream. Suspend the fly to work the depth needed, be aware of which way the current is going. There is a strange seiche type current at this river mouth that changes speed and direction with no rhyme or reason. Then cast your rig so that you achieve a downstream dead drift. If the current is slack or slow, give your indicator a foot-long strip periodically. I guess I could add to set the hook if the indictor stops or goes under but that’s about it.

Told you, simple. Put a relatively small bait in their face and keep it there for the longest amount of time possible without gluing it to the bottom. I believe that the vertical presentation keeps the fly line and most of the leader out of the fish’s view in clear water. This cannot hurt your cause. That’s how you catch fickle fish. Plus, it’s addicting to anticipate the indicator sliding under water when a fish takes it. It brings you back to being a kid watching a bobber over a cricket while fishing for bream… except these are five-pound bass.

Craig with one of many smallmouth averaging 4 lbs

It’s never really tough when you catch over 30 fish a day averaging 4 lbs.

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.

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!