Is it brim? Or bream? Or both? They’re known by different names — panfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish and shellcracker among others.
Semantics aside, theses small freshwater fish are known for their voracious appetites and fly-rod fun. Everyone who has ever held a cane pole in their youth probably caught one or two of these hand-sized creatures.
They’re everywhere in the Lower 48. You’ll find them in ponds, lakes and rivers. And there’s no better way to shake off the rust from a long-rod layoff. Panfish provide plenty of consistent action — on topwater or subsurface.
Below are a few tips for these feisty little guys.
When and Where for Panfish
Any pond or lake in the continental United States probably has panfish. Because they’re a warmwater species, they’re more prevalent in the south, southeast and mid-atlantic regions.
They’re not as sexy as trout, but they’re infinitely more accessible. Any retention pond or golf course pond likely will hold bream. With trout, you might have to travel. With brim, you might not have to leave your neighborhood.
The best time of year for panfish, in general, is in the spring, when the fish move into the shallows to spawn. The timing of this depends on geography and water temperature. A good rule of thumb is 60, 65 degrees.
How to Fish for Panfish
Once you find a body of water, look for shade and shoreline structure — logs, patches of grass, stumps, sticks, etc. Work these areas early and late in the day. You can catch panfish all day, but it’s tougher as the sun rises, particularly once summer arrives.
Once the air and water temperatures warm, the little fish will head for slightly deeper water. Look for drop-offs. You may need an intermediate line to find deeper fish, but you can keep things simple with a floating line and a longer leader.
Simply cast, count to 10, let your weighted fly sink, then slowly retrieve your offering. How long you count, of course, depends on the depth of the water and where the fish are holding. A bit of trial-and-error is usually required.
You can also use a strike indicator. The plop of the indicator often will cause curious fish to investigate and yield a strike.
Flies to Use for Panfish
Poppers, poppers and more poppers. You simply can’t have enough of these. Boogle bugs and Sneaky Petes and Bumble Bees are known for their productivity. Toss these toward cover, let the rings created by the impact of the offering hitting the water dissipate and strip. Repeat, varying the intensity of the strips and the length of the pauses. Fishing with poppers is a waiting game. Panfish like to study their prey before the strike. Wait as long as you can stand it.
For subsurface flies, you can’t go wrong with standard trout nymphs —- a hare’s ear, pheasant tail or a brassie. A hopper-dropper can be a productive tactic when crickets and beetles scurry about.
For streamers, you can’t beat a woolly bugger or a muddler minnow. Bass like both as well.
The Gear for Panfish
Some anglers prefer a 2 or 3-weight rod. Small fish, light rod. Not a bad choice. However, it’s not a bad idea to swing a 5-weight, which provides enough backbone to make those bigger poppers turn over. And if you happen to run into a bass, you will have enough stick to win that battle.
Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO ambassador Burnie Haney, who offers some interesting strategy for smallmouth bass.
Oftentimes in our conversations about smallies the topic of topwater plugs, jerkbaits or the drop shot get the most attention, and yes, they all catch fish. However, one technique that isn’t talked about as much is casting squarebill crankbaits for smallies. In many regions of the country bass anglers are well-versed in casting squarebills in and around wood or over rock rubble for largemouth, but there are also many anglers who have yet to pick up a squarebill when they’re specifically targeting smallies. Below are a few squarebill presentations I’ve used over the past 15 years when I’m out chasing Great Lakes smallies and clear-water smallies in general.
Smallies are a fish with big attitude, and they get pissed off when you hook em, which is why I like them so much. And once you get them in the net or in the boat, they’ll show you just how sassy they can be. For this very reason I have a couple recommendations that can better prepare you for this close encounter. Wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses; this allows you to see where and how well the fish is hooked as you get it near the boat, and should the fish throw the lure as you attempt to land it, the glasses prevent a treble hook from hitting you in the eye.
Another handy item is a good set of needle nose pliers or a hook-out device. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than trying to pop out a treble hook and it finds the flesh on your thumb or finger with a pissed off smallie still attached to the other end. Now I realize that may sound weird to some folks and you could be thinking if treble hooked baits are that dangerous why throw them at all? I can only say I throw them because they flat out catch fish and that’s what I’m all about. So being prepared for a hook in the hand should the unthinkable occur isn’t all together a bad thing, either. Now having said that, if you use the needle nose pliers, you’ll greatly reduce your odds of getting hooked in the hand.
Rigging Up & The Presentation
I do most of my squarebill fishing with theTPM CB 7105-1, 7-10 MH power rod. I keep two of these rods rigged, one with a 6.3:1 reel and the other with a 5.1:1 reel. Both reels are spooled with 8-pound. Cortland Master Braid (Moss Green). I set the drag so the line slips just a tad on the hookset. What I most enjoy about this setup is it lets me make 35 yard casts or longer which is super important whenever I’m chasing clear-water smallies and the rods moderate action doubles as a good shock absorber on the strike while the braided line provides rock-solid, long-distance hooksets.
As for the two different retrieve speeds, during low light conditions I’ll use the 5.1:1 reel and once the sun gets up good I prefer the 6.3:1. If I notice multiple fish are chasing the hooked fish back to the boat, then I may pull out an 8.3:1 reel and turn-on-the-burn. I’ve found with clear-water smallies you can use speed as a trigger, especially so when you’re around a bunch of actively feeding fish. It seems to make them more aggressive as they race each other to get to the bait first.
Most of my clear-water squarebill fishing for smallies is focused in 3 to 7 feet of water in and around slate shoals or rock rubble areas. And if the area has some scattered vertical vegetation near it, that’s even better. What works for me is firing a cast out employing a steady retrieve trying to contact the hardbottom area. When the lure contacts the tops of any perimeter vegetation, the braided line is great because a hard snap of the rod tip will make the lure explode out into open water, which can stimulate a strike from a following fish.
Early in the season when the water temps are 58-65 degrees, I usually start with a 1.5 squarebill. As the summer progresses and the water warms into the mid-70s to 80-degree range and the bait (baitfish and crayfish) get bigger, I’ll use the 2.5 squarebill more, but even then I usually start my day with the 1.5 and I’ll let the fish tell me what size they prefer.
I use Lucky Craft squarebills; keep in mind there are many brands available and for this style of fishing getting the bait to deflect off the hard-bottom area is what triggers the most strikes. I recommend you find a squarebill bait that you like best then try it out on different size lines and retrieve speeds until you find it regularly bumping bottom. Once you get that dialed in then it’s just a matter of locating what areas of your lake or river are holding the actively feeding smallies.
I try to keep my color choices simple. I’ll use a Mad Craw (Red Craw) early in the spring, switch up to a Chameleon Brown Craw in the warmer summer months and mix in a Perch or Shad imitator as the season progresses. Day in and day out those four colors will usually get you bit anywhere you go.
Remember with squarebills seeking hard-bottom areas that provide deflection opportunities with a steady retrieve is usually the best option, but on some days, they’ll also work along the weed lines with a stop-and-go retrieve. Let the fish tell you how they want it and don’t forget speed as a trigger anytime you’re around a group of feeding smallies because their competitive nature can get the better of them resulting in more hook ups for you.
Good luck and be sure to post photos of those catches. Comments, questions about fishing for smallmouth? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
Fish need the essentials — food, cover and current. Any angler worth his weight in split shot knows that.
But what if you happen to fly fish a lake and there’s no obvious current? One of the three variables is gone. What to do?
That’s one of the reasons many fly anglers bypass lakes and ponds. Typically, they learn to fish rivers and creeks and simply fail to try stillwater situations.
And if they do, they struggle and return to their comfort zone. Below are a few basics to help shorten that learning curve.
We’re not talking about buying a new SUV. To fish lakes, you will need a boat, float tube, canoe or kayak. Wading simply isn’t an option. Shoreline fishing is possible, but you’re limited by the amount of water you can cover. And stillwater fishing demands a bit of prospecting. You can only do so much on foot.
The Equipment for Stillwater
We’ll keep this simple. A 9-foot, 6-weight Axiom II rod is a good all-around choice. It’s big enough for bass, but not too heavy for trout. Rod weight is not set in stone. The species and size of the fish as well as the size of your fly will dictate rod selection.
You will need floating and sinking lines and a long leader. The depth of the fish dictates your choices. Sinking lines work better for deeper fish, but are cumbersome to cast. Floating lines cast better, but limit how deep you can fish.
The reel needs to more than a storage unit for line. Fish in lakes, in general, tend to be bigger than those in rivers and creeks. You will want a reel with a sealed drag. TFO’s Powerfits the bill.
How to Find Fish in Stillwater
An entire chapter coudn’t cover this topic, but here are some basics. Find the cover —- shoreline shade, rocks, logs, brushpiles and grass beds — and you’ll usually find the fish. Cover provides protection and yields food. This isn’t groundbreaking info, but the key is to find the cover near an inflow, which is possible a source of current. On many suburban ponds, this could be as subtle as a small culvert. Remember, the less energy fish have to expend, the more comfortable they are. A comfortable fish is a happy fish. Happy fish feed.
We’ve covered sinking and long leaders. Many times in ponds and lakes, you have to probe different depths. The countdown method is the best way to do this. Cast, let the fly sink and count to 10 and retrieve. Do this again, with a longer count until you reach the desired depth.
Retrieves need to vary. In many situations, slower and shorter is better, but there is no formula. Finding fish is a trial-and-error process. This is where experience matters.
Stillwater fishing can be intimidating. New challenges are never easy. But those perseverant enough to navigate the initial obstacles are often rewarded in spades.
Comments, questions about stillwater fishing on fly, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
Wanda Taylor is considered one of fly fishing’s female pioneers. The TFO advisor has now further etched her name in angling lore. It’s there in black and white.
A world record.
Propelled by the guidance of fellow TFOerJake Jordan, Taylor set the IGFA mark in early February when she bagged a 33-pound spearfish off Kona, Hawaii. Official confirmation came from the IGFA late last week when Taylor received a certificate, which noted the tippet class (20 pounds), along with the weight and date of the catch.
“I’ve never been one to chase world records, but I had the opportunity to (do so),” Taylor said. “I know what it means to Jake and the team. It was pretty special and for women in general. There are people who have a passion for it. I’m not sure I have a passion for it. I count it as a blessing to have that opportunity to do it. It wasn’t something where I woke up and wanted to break a world record.”
Jordan and his crew suspected the fish was a possible world record moments after the catch, but had to wait nearly four months for the IGFA to navigate the approval process.
“I had never experienced this before,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be a long wait or a short wait. I didn’t realize the process of a world record is from around the world, not just from Florida, Georgia or Hawaii. They have thousands and thousands of entries. It just takes a while to test the leaders, to make sure everything was correctly done. With all that in mind, it was really a short wait.”
Turns out, the wait was worth it.
“I was surprised how beautiful (the certificate) is,” Taylor said. “They are so well done. The fish is on the document. It’s raised, really beautifully done. I was really relieved for the captain (and crew). They had a lot of records on conventional tackle. This one was on fly and one that’s rare as a short-bill spearfish.”
Give Taylor credit for landing the fish; give the captain and crew credit for putting her in proper position.
“They were huge,” Taylor said. “It makes a difference if you have a captain that knows what he’s doing. It’s a team effort. The key is keeping your watch angle, so the captain can see what you’re doing. You have to keep calm, so you can hear what the captain is saying and know what he’s seeing because he’s the one with the view. You don’t have that view because you’re in the back of the boat. It’s important to have that communication.”
Comments on Wanda’s record? Questions? Feel free to check in one of our social media pages.
Editor’s Note: This post comes from TFO Ambassador Steve Lund, who provides insight on drop shotting for bass.
Drop shotting is a technique that any serious or novice angler shouldn’t overlook. Some will say that they only catch small fish with this technique and rarely catch quality fish. In some cases this may be true; however, there are times when drop shotting seems to outperform other baits in catching not only quantity but quality bass as well. I personally would rather catch fish other ways and often will only resort to drop shotting when other techniques aren’t getting the job done, but I’ll never rule it out. In fact this is one bait that I almost always have tied on and ready to go. I used to be one of the guys that would snub his nose at the thought of drop shotting or as some refer to using the “fairy wand.” After moving to back to Arizona, an area with many clear-water canyon lakes, I quickly learned that drop shotting can be a valuable technique in helping to not only fill out a limit, but also win tournaments. There are certain lakes that big fish just seem to eat the drop shot really well.
Drop shot is a versatile technique that can be fished in a wide range of water column depths, from right next to the bank to the deepest part of the lake. For those that are unfamiliar or new to drop shotting, there are several videos on the Internet that can help you get started with the basic setup.
The Right Setup
My main drop shot setup that I use 90 percent of the time is a Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s Tactical Series 6’9″ ML Spinning Rod (GTS DSS693-1), paired with a Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 2500 Spinning Reel, spooled with 10-pound P-LineTCB8 Braid with 8-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon 10-foot leader. I will use this set up when I’m fishing anywhere from about 1-30 feet, as I am usually throwing a 3/16 or 1/4-ounce weight. When I fish deeper than 30 feet, I will use heavier weights —- 3/8 or 1/2 ounce —- and also upsize my rod to the Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s TacticalSeries 7’3″ M Spinning Rod (GTS – S734-1). Increasing the rod power is necessary when fishing deeper so the rod sensitivity doesn’t feel as sluggish and provides more backbone for setting the hook with the heavier weights and more line out. I will fish the same line set up 10-pound braid to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. On rare instances I may drop to a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader when the bite is finicky in super clear water.
For hooks, I vary the type of hook I use depending on the lake I’m fishing. If I’m fishing a lake with brush trees or other snags, I will use a Gamakatsu Rebarb hook that I can rig a bait texposed, where if I’m fishing relatively open water I will use an Aaron Martens TGW Drop Shot hook and nose hook or wacky hook the worm. Most of the time I will fish with around a 12″ length line from bait to weight. Sometimes it may be necessary to adjust to a shorter length when the fish are lethargic and sitting on the bottom or a longer length to ensure your bait is above vegetation or when targeting suspended fish that are off the bottom.
What to Fish and How to Fish It
Try different types and sizes of baits; sometimes switching it up can make a big difference. I will usually start with a standard straight tail finesse worm in 4.5 – 6″ which works for most conditions. I have had success with curly tail worms also and sometimes prefer to throw curly tail worms when there is more wind or when the fish are more aggressive, the curly tail worm slows down the fall and provides action on the fall attracting active fish that will travel greater distances to your bait. I also like to try bigger baits like a 6-7″ fat worm or baby brush hog that provides a little more visibility in stained, deep water, or fishing at night.
For action I let the fish tell me how they want it. I vary between twitching, dragging, shaking, or even dead sticking until I can determine what seems to be working best. Dead sticking is so hard for me to do, but sometimes the fish just want it that way.
When it comes to colors, there are so many choices and I like to try all kinds of new colors and different color combinations, but some of my favorite colors that always seem to work are Morning Dawn, Aarons Magic, Oxblood/Red Flake, and Margarita Mutilator.
The main thing I would say to keep in mind is change things up and try different things until you figure out the best drop-shot combination for the conditions. Drop shot is not always the best technique, but there are times when it can be, and it is one of many highly effective tools to keep in your box.
Suggestions, comments about drop shotting for bass? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
Ever had trouble casting those big saltwater flies? I have. A Clouser Minnow with big dumbbell eyes is my kryptonite. Serviceable loops elude me.
It might be my casting. Might be my rod. The former is more likely; the latter is an easier fix. TFO’s Clouser rod might help me sling the heavy metal.
One Clouser meets another. And what better person to discuss the issue than the man who invented the Clouser Minnowand designed the Clouser Rod.
“It’s made to cast weighted flies,” TFO Advisor Bob Clouser said during an interview from his Pennsylvania home last week. “It’s not super fast; it’s not super slow. It’s in between. It has a moderately fast action. It also has built-in action that most people don’t notice or talk about. It’s called progressive (action). That aids in casting. The more line weight the rod picks up, the farther down the blank it bends. The farther down the blank it bends, it’s stronger than the next piece up. It’s going to bring the rod tip pretty much even. You can have 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet of line. It’s going to set it off as the same speed as the 20-foot of line. It’s all matched with weight moving weight.
“If you’re a really fast caster, you probably won’t like the rod. If you want the rod to work itself, you’ll love it.”
The idea for the Clouser rod was hatched from an obvious trend —- a fly rod market that caters to the angler who wants tight loops and long distance.
“Everything was too fast,” Clouser said. “You don’t have to work this thing hard. It will pick up all lengths of fly line because of its progressive speed.”
TFO’s Clouser is Clouser’s second crack at a rod designed to throw big flies. His first, which measured 8 feet, 9 inches, was with a TFO competitor.
“We built that same action into a 9-foot rod (with TFO),” Clouser said. “What we had to do was speed it up because of that 3 inches of rod tip. So it’s hair quicker than the 8-foot, 9-inch was. It’s not that noticeable, but we had to beef it up a little bit.”
The Clouser is suited for a variety of fish, in freshwater and saltwater.
“I use an 8-weight for just about everything,” Clouser said. “I fish a lot of saltwater. I fish a lot of jacks. A lot of redfish. Even albacore. Even with the albacore, I would recommend a 9 for them. But that 8-weight, if you fight them off the reel, that rod will handle any fish.”
And let’s not forget the smallmouth, one of Clouser’s favorite species.
“Oh my god yes,” he said. “The reason: The smallmouth will hit flies from 2 inches long to 6, 8 inches long. Of course the bigger the fly, heavier (the rod) is. The 8-weight will handle that casting.”
As for a complementary reel, there’s no better option than the TFO Power. You can’t beat it for durability.
“It’s very good if you’re going to do saltwater,” Clouser said. “It’s very good if you’re going to do heavy-duty fishing. If you’re just going to do freshwater fishing, the BVK will handle that.”
If you need security against that fish of a lifetime, the Power is the way to go.
“Super strong drag system,” Clouser said. “Just a super good reel.”
Comments on the Clouser rod or Power reel? Feel free to weigh in on one of our social media pages.
I have a problem. I have a to-do list and it’s not getting any shorter. At the top of my personal inventory.
Organize Fly-Fishing Stuff
When I started in fly fishing some 30 years ago, I had a box of gear. Now I have an entire room of angling accessories. Rods, reels, waders, boots and fly boxes have created a mountain of clutter. Do I really need all it? No. Does it make me feel better that I have it? Perhaps.
Fly fishing has a lot of cool stuff. And it’s fun to dabble with a different rod every now and then. But, there’s no doubt that I need to simplify.
The essence of Tenkara illustrates this point perfectly. I look like a pack mule when I go fishing. Centuries ago, the Japanese, the inventors of Tenkara, probably used a simple satchel. They caught fish with the essentials.
There’s something to be said for that elegant simplicity. Less is more when it comes to Tenkara. Below are a few reasons why.
With a traditional fly-fishing setup, you have a rod and a reel, fly line, backing and a leader.
With Tenkara, there’s your rod and, essentially, your leader. And each setup, because of the telescopic aspect of the rod, can be stored in a small sling-pack, backpack, or vest.
Ever dread having to put together your rod when you’re eager to fish after a long week at work? I have.
To me there’s nothing more frustrating than having to assemble a four-piece rod and rig everything before you make the first cast. And if you’re in a hurry, inevitably you will miss threading a guide, which means you will have to re-rig.
With Tenkara, you can set up in a minute, 90 seconds tops. Fewer moving parts means less can go wrong. I like that.
Fly-fishing success largely hinges on a line control. Because Tenkara rods extend to 11, 12, 13 feet, it’s ideal for maintaining long, drag-free floats not easily attainable with traditional 9-foot fly rods. Like high-stick nymphing? Tenkara may be the perfect fit for you.
Prices vary in the fly-fishing market, but, in general it’s difficult to find a high-quality freshwater setup — rod, reel and fly line — for less than $300, $400. Since you’re not paying for a reel, you can get started in Tenkara for less, in the neighborhood of $200, $250. The TFO Soft Hackle Cutthroat is great for small streams. It breaks down to 20 inches and extends to 8 feet, 6 inches.
You’ll Catch More Fish
Tenkara will improve your overall fishing ability. With traditional fly-fishing, we all crave tighter loops and more distance. Hence, many of us try to reach that streamside brown with a sizzling double haul of a cast. With Tenkara, you quickly learn to art of short casts and stealth. You can catch that same fish, but with different skills.
Any suggestions, comments about Tenkara, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages. Tight lines.
The next time you fish, take a look around, in the parking lot or on the water. You’ll no doubt see a few men and maybe a woman or two. But rarely will you see a youngster.
Fly fishing, without a doubt, is getting gray behind the ears, which begs the question: When this generation passes, who will replace them?
Many non-profits protect the water and resources, but will there be anyone to enjoy what’s left? Thanks to The Mayfly Projectanother generation will be ready to enjoy their time on the water. They just don’t take kids fishing. They take kids who need to fish. Kids who need direction and stability.
TFO blog editor Mike Hodge reached out to Mayfly founder Jess Westbrook and co-founder Kaitlin Barnhart to chat about The Mayfly Project. Both are passionate about their mission. Below are excerpts of last week’s phone interview.
TFO: Obvious question: When did The Mayfly Project start?
KB: “2015, in Arkansas. That’s when Jess started The Mayfly Project. I joined forces with Jess in 2016, when we decided to create a national program together. When we met, I think we talked for about for two hours, what our ideas were, what we were both doing. We had a lot of conversations since I’m in Idaho and he’s in Arkansas.”
TFO: What was the general catalyst for the idea and the mission?
KB: “For me, it was mental health for kids. I have a background in mental health working with foster kids. I used fly fishing to help them cope. I knew it would help with their mental health.”
JW: “The idea for me came from having a lot of anxiety. I had fly fished all of my life. It wasn’t until I used fly fishing to help with my anxiety when one day at church we had someone talk about foster children. I knew I wanted to give back. Once I heard that (in church) about foster kids, I knew that’s how I wanted to give back.”
TFO: Can you elaborate on The Mayfly Project’s mission? I know you all take kids fishing. But I know it’s obviously more than that.
KB: “Our goals are to take the kids fly fishing and to give them a break from a stressful life, to teach them the coping skills that come with fly fishing, to teach them about conservation and how to take care of the rivers. Those are our main goals with the kids. We have a conservation initiative where the kids earn buttons as they go through the programs. Then there’s a mental health part it where we help our mentees build self-confidence through fly-fishing success.
TFO: Where do the kids come from? How do you find them? How does all that work?
KB: “It takes work to find the kids because every state is different. (Foster kids) are a heavily protected population. We usually try to work with group homes. That way we can work with the staff there. Otherwise, we work with individual foster families with support from the Department of Health and Welfare.”
TFO: So, just foster kids. Not other kids?
KB: “Just foster kids. They don’t get out very often. It’s a population that usually doesn’t get these types of experiences. That’s the main reason. And it’s a group that has had to deal with mental illness. Fly fishing has proven to help with that.”
TFO: If you read on the internet and in magazines, there’s a movement afoot to get women involved in fly fishing. Kids just don’t get the publicity in that regard. Given that, how important is it to get kids involved, not just foster kids, but kids in general?
JW: “We have a motto: Our kids need rivers. Our rivers need kids. So the kids are definitely future stewards of our land. So getting them involved and having then get bit by the bug that we’re all bit by is important, so that they’ll continue to preserve our land. They’re the future. If they love it, they’ll take care of it.”
KB: “For them to connect with nature is our goal. Jess and I have talked about that: The rivers have become our home. For kids we work with, and the next generation, we want the outdoors to be their home, too. Because once you identify with the outdoors as your home, it becomes a place you want to protect.”
TFO: How rewarding is it for you all when you help kids make that connection?
JW: “It’s super rewarding. We find that our kids really buy into this. We’re finding that kids are really taking to it. Fly fishing tends to have people who are very passionate. The support we’ve had from everybody and the stuff we’re been able to outfit our kids with, our kids are set up to fly fish on their own once they leave our program. We’re finding that providing them with gear and knowledge, they fall in love with it just like we do. We see these success stories almost weekly. It’s cool seeing kids actually buying into it.”
TFO: You have sponsors. TFO is one of those? How much has that helped your program?
JW: “We actually had a TFO/Mayfly Project rod that just came out. We’ve been working on that for a little while. I actually got those in hand about three weeks ago. We haven’t released them on our website. But we’re really excited about that. TFO has been great supporting us. You guys have been awesome. Our sponsors are a huge part of why this thing happened.”
Questions, comments about The Mayfly Project, feel free to reach out on one of our social media pages.
Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO amabassador Will Dykstra, who is dialed in swimbaits. Enjoy.
When it comes to targeting large predator fish, few presentations match the subtlety of swimbaits. Technology has benefited this lure category as much as any on the market today. A big reason for the effectiveness of swimbaits is the ability to not only match the forage of large predators perfectly, but to be able to present these lures in a finesse manner that coaxes fish to strike in highly pressured waters.
In order to fish swimbaits effectively, it is imperative that you have the proper setup, or equipment. One of the biggest challenges for anglers throwing these heavy lures all day is the toll it can take on the body. For this reason, TFO offers several options that can accommodate just about any swimbait and any angler out there. The GTS Swimbait Rod, for example, is specifically designed to allow the angler to cast larger and heavier baits with ease due to the fact that the rod has a softer tip. This feature results in a better lure launch and provides a higher sensitivity that equips the angler to execute a more precise finesse approach. This means even the most subtle take from a large predator can be detected, leading to greater success. The bottom portion of the rod, however, is built with strength and power in mind. The long stout butt of the rod allows for maximum power for the cast, retrieval, and equally important, the hook-set.
Heavy braided line is essential for large predator swimbaits. In order to handle big baits and large fish, the line weight should be in the 65-80-pound range. The braided line has proven to be more effective than a copolymer in this application because it maximizes sensitivity for lure control and hook-setting power. Often times, muskies, pike, or even a big mackinaw, will bite down so hard on these large soft plastic baits that the lure won’t even move on a hook set without stout gear. This is largely due to the gauntlet of teeth in these predators’ mouths as well as the soft nature of the bait. Therefore, having very little stretch in the line is imperative.
Finally, a reel with a larger line capacity is critical to accommodate the heavier braid. Typically, this will require a 300 series or bigger. The gear ratios can range anywhere from a 5:2:1 to 6:4:1, and will be adequate in any situation for these large fish.
When targeting these large predators, choosing a bait that matches color and profile of the forage is key. In many western waters the trout profile and color is king, while in the midwest and farther north into Canada the forage is much more diverse, ranging from suckers, ciscoes, and walleye, to even small pike.
Typically, swimbaits have “Rate of Fall” (ROF) options that include slow, moderate, or fast-sinking. Simply put, the ROF indicates the sink rates of the lure, allowing accurate target zones for desired depths to fish. The bait packaging normally lists the feet-per-second that the baits will sink. The depth that you run a swimbait is vital to fishing success; most of these targeted predators are ambush feeders. Therefore, fishing adjacent to weed lines, or even through the weeds, is extremely effective. The same goes for other forms of cover like rock ledges and stacked timber. Getting the bait at the right depth and in the right position is absolutely critical and can mean the difference between triggering a strike and missing your target altogether.
The finesse aspect of these swimbaits allows them to be fished extremely slow while still achieving a realistic profile and action that mimics exactly what the forage fish look like in their natural habitat. Fishing these baits slow with occasional pauses followed by very short bursts with the crank of the reel can generate some bone-jarring strikes, while the slow and steady retrieves tend to provoke a lighter, softer take.
Paying attention to the line and rod tip is crucial when it comes to this finesse approach, as often times these large fish will grab the bait and swim with it at the exact speed the bait is being retrieved. Once the take has occurred it is imperative to reel through the hook-set to maximize leverage followed with a second hook-set to drive the hooks home.
Regardless of the time of year, a swimbait can be a producer of some of the largest predators day in and day out. With the right tackle, the right presentation, and a little finesse, your chances of landing that fish of a lifetime can become a knee-knocking, arm-wrenching reality.
Women are everywhere on the water. Fishing has long been a male-dominated pastime, but that trend has changed. Fly fishing, and fishing in general, is no longer your father’s sport. It’s your mother’s and your sister’s. It is, in essence, for everyone, male or female.
Few have really studied this phenomenon. Steve Kantner was astute enough write about it in depth with his new book, Fifty Women Who Fish. Published by Wild River Press, the book features lengthy profiles of some of the most famous women anglers, including legendary caster Joan Wulff, television host and guide April Vokey, DUN Magazine editor Jen Ripple, longtime Miami Herald outdoor writer Sue Cocking and world-record holder Meredith McCord among others.
Fifty Women Who Fish is due to be released later this spring.
Below are excerpts from the phone interview.
TFO: Here’s a simple question: How long did the book take, from start to finish?
SK: “Well, from its actual conception to its actual delivery, I started in January two years ago, and now we’re going into April, so you’d say about 28 months.”
TFO: Was this book more difficult than your first two books?
SK: “The level of depth. … You’ll see.”
TFO: The fly book is somewhat formulaic. But this is a series of in-depth profiles, right?
SK: “It’s a 200-and-something-page book. And you have to try do it right. A lot of the fly book, the problem was that I’m a lousy photographer, and I had to try to get all the photos done. … But here you’re talking about sweeping concepts and people’s lives. One girl was locked inside of her house until she was 9 years old.”
TFO: The profiles, did they take a long time to write and to do the interviewing?
SK: “The thing I worry about is sometimes you get to know these women and you’re talking to them, I wanted them to be comfortable. That’s why I let them see things as the process evolved. I didn’t want them to be afraid because this would have some longevity. It’s not like a Facebook post. No one knew them better than they did. I didn’t want the profiles to be press releases, but I wanted the women to be confident in what was presented.”
TFO: What was the most rewarding aspect of the process?
SK: “I got to know and understand women a lot better. I think the most rewarding thing is I gave these women a voice to their concerns and to their fears and to their aspirations. I tried to let them be all that they could be.”
TFO: What was it like talking to Joan Wulff?
“That was a couple times. (My publisher) Tom Pero knows her pretty well. I talked to her a bunch of times. Her stich is the First Lady of Fly Fishing. I’ve known her for years. She came pretty clean with her life. She’s a lovely lady, 92 years old. She was big not only for women’s fishing, but for everybody. She came from a large family. Her father was Jimmy Salvato. He had a sports store in a suburb of Patterson, N.J. That was back in the day when you sent your sons to college, but not your daughters. She always had a little edge about that. … From the first time she went fishing, she knew it was for her.
“I didn’t know her (late) husband Lee. But the guys that I know that knew him either liked him or they didn’t. Most of them really liked him a lot.”
TFO: Were most of the women pretty receptive to being profiled?
SK: “Yes. Once they realized I was authentic. In the beginning, imagine how it would be when someone calls you up and wants to ask you secrets? I came on slow, deliberately. You look at all the weird stuff we have in our society. I don’t know about you, but I get about 10 crank calls a day — ransom ware and locking up your computer. Imagine what it’s like getting a call where they might not know you.”
TFO: Did you have trouble coming up with 50 names to profile?
“No. The problem I really worried about was there’s one who’s particularly deserving that I would have liked to have added, but you can’t have a title like 51 Women Who Fish. I didn’t know this woman personally, but if there’s a sequel, she’s on my list.
“I’m kind of a sucker. I was sending stuff out and I really had to ride herd on it: ‘Are you interested. If you’re not, say so.’ But you know how it is, it’s not normal thinking. They don’t say, ‘No thanks. Not interested.’ What I was afraid of was getting 51 responses and I would have to tell someone no. That would be devastating. I would then defeat the purpose that I started out to do, which is to give them a fair shake. Fortunately everything fell into place.”