Fly fishing is often thought of as an elitist sport that costs tons of money and is beyond the skill level of the average angler. Nothing could be further from the truth and pan fishing is as good a way to get started in the sport as any. Even better, if your real objective is to fly fish for trout, fly fishing for bluegill, perch, and crappie is a great learning experience in preparation and you will need to spend hardly any extra for what you need.
First, if you do not fly fish, let me encourage you to use my author resource box below to seek some basic guidance on getting started. I promise you that you need not spend thousands of dollars, not even hundreds. Here I will simply say that the basics include a 5 or 6 weight rod, line and leaders, and a very few flies. In this article I will focus on tactics and flies.
Over the past 4 fishing trips, I have fished on a local lake for about two hours each time. I have fished from the bank and from a canoe and john-boat. I have averaged fifteen bluegill per trip and used essentially one fly. Later in the year I will begin to utilize another fly more often which I will get into next.
Currently, with the water temperatures running a bit on the cool side, the pan fish I am after are not feeding much on the surface except for a brief period in the mornings and evenings. The go to fly for me is a #10 black wooly bugger. The ones I use are extremely cheap. They are made by Cortland and can be bought in packages of three at a large store we all know based in Bentonville, Arkansas. If your local store does not carry them, look online. These wooly buggers are not weighted properly in my mind and do not sink until they have been casted and you begin to strip line (the retrieve method when fly fishing). Once they do begin to sink, they do so very slowly.
When you retrieve, do so very slowly. Cast as close to the bank and brushy cover as your skill allows. Often, a hookup will occur immediately. If not, as you strip line on the retrieve, pause after each strip. The pause will likely be when the hookup occurs in these circumstances. Be prepared for big fish too. Yesterday I hooked up with a 2-3 pound largemouth. You definitely will catch a few bass too. As this bass was caught off its spawning bed, it was immediately returned to the water. Your own ethical considerations will have to guide your decisions on that. The wooly bugger will also occasionally even produce channel cats.
Once the water warms up, begin experimenting with small poppers. These flies are available from the same source as mentioned above. I recently bought a six-pack made by Eagle Claw for under $ 2. These flies are fished in a similar manner; however there are a few subtle differences.
Cast to the same sort of places as I mentioned before. However, this time, allow your popper to sit 10 full seconds before you do anything. Once you begin your retrieve, do so in short and aggressive strips so as to create a “pop” with the fly. After each pop allow a short period for the fly to sit. The strikes will be aggressive. You will likely not have to hook the fish. Again, be prepared for bigger fish.
You can easily catch enough pan fish using these methods in a relatively short period for a nice fish fry. In most places, bluegill and many other pan fish are an almost unlimited resource so harvesting them is not an issue. There are many methods for preparing them. I like to fillet them and cook them in oil with Andy’s seasoning. I prepare fired potatoes and a green vegetable to accompany them. This is not the healthiest of recipes, but boy is it good. Great fishing to you and most of all, enjoy the great outdoors.