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Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at [email protected]

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July 30, 2015

Bluegills -- The Pride of the Panfish, Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Catching bluegills with a fly rod can be a real kick in the butt.

Using the long rod and flies might not work as well in as many different situations as the miniature jigs and curly tailed plastic worms I talked about in the last column. But rest assured you can have a ball catching bluegill with the long rod when conditions are right. It's also a great way to really polish your fly fishing skills.

As with spinning gear, your fly rod outfit should be scaled down to match the size of the fish you are after. My favorite fly rods for this purpose range from 7 to 8-feet. Fly-fishing for bluegill isn't long distance action. If you can cast 20 to 30-feet, you'll do just fine. Be sure the leaders you select have a tippet testing from two four pounds.

What I've said about finding bluegill while using spinning gear also applies to fly-fishing. You've got to find them before you can catch them. Once you get them pinned down, you're in for a fun day.

There he is! A bluegill has just gobbled my fly in this picture. I've taken hundreds of these interesting panfish from this very spot without ever moving my boat.

I recall an occasion years ago when I'd just come in from fly fishing for bluegill one day on my home lake. A well-known Seattle photographer happened to be at the dock when I came in. He was in the process of producing a film for the Evergreen State's Parks Department.

When this guy saw the nice string of bluegill I'd brought in he expressed his regret that he hadn't been around to shoot pictures of me catching them. "Dammit!," he said, "I wish I could have been out there when you were catching those little buggers."

"Don't sweat it," I said, "it's no problem. Get in another boat and follow me back out there and I'll catch some more for you."

As soon as I get my fly hook unpinned from this bluegill it will go into that fish keeper sack you see attached to my waist. From there it will go to my fish cleaning table and from there to the frying pan.

Now making a statement like that where fish are concerned is a good way to wind up with gravy in your whiskers, but the fish had still been hitting when I quit and I knew right where they were. The photographer followed as we went back to the same spot. I caught a fish on the first cast and many more after that. The photographer wound up with just what he wanted.

Your days won't always go that well, of course, with the fly rod or anything else. But there are things you can do to bend the odds in your favor. The first is to stick to Number 10 fly hook sizes. A Number 10 is small enough for the bluegills to get hold of easily. Go down in size and you'll be forever hooking little guys you don't want to mess with. Go larger and the ‘gills won't be able to get it into their tiny mouths.

One of my all-time favorite flies for bluegills is my own version of the McGinty. I tie it with a red tag and alternate bands of brown and yellow yarn. I finish it off with sparse brown hackle. Another favorite is a black ant.

Expert fly tiers might not be all that impressed with my own version of the McGinty pattern you see here but by golly the bluegills have been. It has been one of my most productive pattern for the bluegills.

Don't be in a hurry to do anything with whatever pattern you're using after you've made a cast. Get your fly out there and then let it sink through the surface film. When you begin your retrieve, bring the fly back with little twitches of the line.

I do that by holding the rod in my left hand rather than working the rod tip. Be especially alert each time you twitch the line that you're holding with your right hand. That's when your strikes are most likely to come.

There will be times when sponge-bodied spiders or tiny poppers catch fish off the surface. That's the most fun of all and it's always worth a try to find out if the fish will feed that way. As in any kind of fishing, don't hesitate to experiment in fly fishing for bluegill.

Try your poppers first but if they don't work don't stick with them for hours on end. Try a different approach. Bluegills aren't usually all that finicky. Sooner or later you'll find what they want.

You'll have more fun fly fishing for bluegills if you'll do it with a light outfit. I prefer rods in the 7 to 8-foot category and matched up with lightweight line and leader.

I've rarely killed a bass in many years. I've made some friends and relatives, including my wife, unhappy by no longer bringing home the largemouth I put in the boat. Lord knows I killed my share of them in the middle of the last century when those wonderful fish didn't face the ever building pressures they do today.

But bass are a slow growing fish, particularly in areas like the Pacific Northwest where the growing season is relatively short. It might take years to grow a 4-pound largemouth. It breaks my heart to see some of the bass that are still being killed in some of today's major catch-and-release tournaments.

It's a different story with bluegill. One of the dangers with bluegill can be over population. One lake I fished as a young man was loaded with yellow perch. Later the bluegill became even more numerous. They are among the most prolific of the panfish, so it doesn't hurt to invite some to dinner.

See that black ant fly attached to the mug of this nice bluegill? It's another pattern I've found particularly effective for my fly rod bluegill fishing.

If you decide to do that, don't fool around attempting to scale each fish. Here's how I do it: Cut off the dorsal fin as well as a strip of skin on the back from head to tail. Next slice through the skin in back of the gill covers on both sides of the fish. Use a pair of nippers to pull the skin back toward the tail on both sides of the fish.

Once you done this, cut the head halfway off. Now pull the head off with your hands and the guts will come out right along with it. Use a lightweight pair of canvas gloves while you're cleaning your bluegill. You'll find it simplifies the task by at least 50 per cent.

Clean your fish carefully and then roll it in cracker crumbs and flour and pop it into the frying pan. Fresh bluegill prepared in such a fashion and served along with hot French bread, coleslaw and a glass of chilled white wine will have your taste buds doing the cha-cha-cha and begging for more.

I think the Good Lord created bass to teach fishermen humility. I suspect He gave us bluegills to make up for the frustration He knew those darned bass would bring. He also made them for eating.

As said in my last column, if you know your butt from a barracuda, you've got to have a high regard for bluegills. And if you don't know about ‘em now, you're in for a treat when you discover ‘em.
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