Panfish and the Fly

News & Tips: Panfish and the Fly

One of the great misconceptions that newcomers have about fly fishing is that it is merely about trout and flowing water. But most experienced anglers know that these things represent only one important facet of this wonderful sport.

PanfishAndTheFly blog
A nice stringer of rock bass along with a small largemouth that took a wooly bugger.

Almost every species of fish that swims has been targeted by fly anglers at one time of another — which is to say that, if you're lucky, you'll eventually get a chance to travel and fish for exotic species. But, I'd argue, if you are luckier, you might find a really good spot to catch local panfish.

Panfish are one of those dirty little secrets that few fly anglers talk about. Yet I don't know one who hasn't had a great time fishing for them at one time or another.

First off, good panfish waters are easily found throughout their range — and that range pretty well covers most of North America.

Secondly, they are tailor made for fly fishing. They'll readily take a variety of patterns, from nymphs to dry flies and small poppers. But what makes them most valuable in my mind is that they give you a chance to actually experiment and hone techniques before you take them to trout waters.

For example, long ago, I learned the basics of nymph fishing by taking dozens of eager rock bass in one nearby stretch of flowing water. More than anything, they taught me how to dead drift a nymph and feel subtle and often not so subtle takes. That's not the kind of experience you can easily acquire on most trout streams.

Then there is the fun factor. While trout and trout waters are poetic, most of us also treat a trout fishing excursion as very serious business — we lament our bad casts; we get frustrated frequently when we can't figure out what the right fly is; and water and environmental conditions often shut down fishing. Typically, none of this applies to panfishing.

They are generally willing to play throughout the season.

If I just want to have a little bit of fun, or catch a mess of fish for a fish fry without feeling bad about it, I head to my local rock bass spot and have at it. I know that, no matter how many I take, I'll never put a dent in the population. And, if I'm looking for a bit more of a challenge, I'll visit the town dock for crappie. Either way, I come home with fine eating and a smile on my face.

Panfish flies can be just about any trout fly in your box but like most anglers, I have favorites. Smaller -sized wooly worms and wooly buggers, for instance are proven in these parts. So too is almost any generic nymph thrown in the midst of a school under a strike indicator. Add to this list, muddler minnows, Mickey Finns, black-nosed dace and a parachute Adams or foam spider and you can catch panfish all day long. Countless other patterns do equally well — they're not all that fussy so long as you don't get overly sloppy.

This sort of fishing is after all, not rocket science. And that is the beauty of it too.