Fly high for scrappy bluegills

Bust out the bluegill bugs and fly rod for old-school sum­mer kicks

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - by JOE CERMELE

THERE ARE CER­TAIN things that seem to end up in the tackle box of ev­ery 7-year-old de­spite the fact that they’ll prob­a­bly never get used. There’s a gi­ant red-and-white Darde­vle that Grand­dad says is good for the pike that lit­tle you failed to re­al­ize didn’t ex­ist in your home lake. There’s a pack of pur­ple plas­tic worms that are longer than any fish you’d ever caught in your short life. And then there’s an as­sort­ment of color­ful foam bluegill pop­per flies. I had at least a dozen at that age, even though I was four years away from own­ing my first fly rod. Never in those early days would I have for­gone a gar­den worm to fish them. It was sim­ply a color­ful col­lec­tion. Years later, af­ter mas­ter­ing the ba­sics of fly cast­ing, I learned that bluegill pop­pers are the fastest way to find the kid in you while hon­ing your grown-up skills. No bob­bers or worms re­quired. All you need is a pocket full of bugs, a farm pond, and a few pre­sen­ta­tion tricks for hours of sum­mer fun.


Bluegill pop­pers might be car­bon copies of the heftier pop­pers made for tro­phy bass and pike, but they rep­re­sent an en­tirely dif­fer­ent food source. Whereas the big­ger flies are sup­posed to mimic a frog chug­ging across the sur­face or a mouse swim­ming along the bank, their mini cousins are pre­dom­i­nantly match­ing bugs, and bugs sim­ply don’t move with the same ur­gency as a freaked-out am­phib­ian or wa­ter­logged ro­dent. Think of the pop of a bluegill bug as a quick at­ten­tionget­ter. That sub­tle gur­gle alerts fish to its pres­ence, but it’s often dur­ing a long pause that the pop­per ac­tu­ally gets sucked un­der. The rub­ber legs and hack­les on these tiny flies cre­ate pro­files in the sur­face film like those of clas­sic trout dry flies, and you should fish them sim­i­larly by not over­work­ing a bluegill pop­per and giv­ing it plenty of time to just sit still be­tween light pops.


Just be­cause a bluegill pop­per is small doesn’t mean it’s ex­empt from the air-re­sis­tance is­sues you get with larger pop­pers. Fish­ing them on a 2- or 3-weight rod might be tempt­ing, but a 4- or 5-weight is go­ing to pro­vide smoother de­liv­ery. Skip light 5X and 6X lead­ers as well. I pre­fer cast­ing bluegill bugs on a 9-foot 3X monofil­a­ment leader with a 3X mono tip­pet. This line di­am­e­ter is thin enough that it usu­ally won’t turn off the fish, and it also acts as an in­surance pol­icy when an oc­ca­sional big bass takes a shot.


On the rare oc­ca­sion that those wily sun­nies and crap­pies don’t want to com­mit to your mi­cro-pop­per, suc­cess is just a drop­per fly away. Since bluegill pop­pers are so light, you can’t use them in com­bi­na­tion with a very heavy wet fly, so choose wisely. Ze­bra midges and red chi­rono­mid worms weigh next to noth­ing and present well just be­low the film on a short 5- to 6-inch drop­per leader. Most of the time, a pan­fish will eat one of these drop­pers dur­ing a dead stop, sim­ply pulling the pop­per un­der like a bob­ber. If work­ing slow doesn’t seem to be the ticket— which I find hap­pens most often in su­per-clear wa­ter—run a 10-inch drop­per made of 3X tip­pet from the pop­per to a clas­sic winged wet fly in a neu­tral color. Work the pop­per more ag­gres­sively to get that wet swim­ming like a tiny bait­fish and wait for your line to jolt tight.

What bluegills lack in size they make up for with big hits on tiny pop­pers.

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