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How to Catch Panfish on Fly

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.

TFO’s Bug Launcher, Axiom II and NXT are good choices. You don’t need a high-end reel. The NXT LA is a great value.

As for a line and leader. Stick with a weight-forward line and a 3 or 4X, 7-to-9 foot leader. Remember, this is not technical fishing. When in doubt, simplify.

Panfish often inhale their prey, so don’t forget your hemostats. Panfish have tiny mouths. Pliers usually don’t dig deep enough.

Panfish are a blast. They’re easy to catch and almost always willing to spar. They’re great for kids to learn or for inexperienced anglers to build confidence. Even veteran long-rodders can benefit.

Questions, comments about panfish on a fly rod? Feel free to visit one of our social media pages.

Part II: How to Buy Your First Fly Rod

So you want to learn to fly fish? First things first. You will need a fly rod.

Don’t be intimidated. There are a lot of rods out there to choose from — saltwater, freshwater, two-hand and single hand, all in different heights and sizes. Where to start?

Welcome to Part II of our learning-to-fly-fish series. Part I was the overview. Now it’s time to start assembling your equipment — and that starts with purchasing your first rod. Here are a handful of things to consider:

What do you want to fish for?

Are you interested in freshwater or salt? Big rivers or small streams? Bass or trout? Redfish or tarpon? Where you fish and what you fish for dictates the type of rod you’ll need. Although some fly rods are more versatile than others, there is no all-purpose, do-everything fly rod.

I, for instance, started with one fly rod; I ended up with more than a dozen after making the transition from trout to bass and freshwater to saltwater. However, the weekend trout/bass fisherman can get easily get by with one, maybe two rods.

What’s your budget?

Fly fishing is not a cheap sport. Although TFO offers reasonably priced rods compared to other fly rod manufacturers, our single-hand rods start at $89.95 (Bug Launcher series) and run as high as $399.95 (Drift series) with lots of options in between those price points. If you buy a rod, reel and line separately, you’re looking at investing two, three-hundred dollars, cheaper if you buy one of our NXT Kits, which includes a rod, reel and line.

Let your interest in fly fishing dictate your initial purchases. If you’ve taken a lesson or two and you’re in love with fly fishing, buy the best single-hand rod you can afford. It will perform better and last longer.

If you’re dabbling, it’s best to take a wait-and-see approach. Buy a rod at a reasonable price point —- the Axiom II (suggested retail: $339.95-$359.95) is a good option — and then decide how much you’ll actually fish. That way, if you fish only a handful of times a year, you haven’t invested a chunk of change in a rod that’s collecting dust.

What do you like?

Fly rods are categorized by length and weight. Length is self-explanatory. A 9-footer is your standard freshwater rod. You can buy longer rods, but they’re mainly for specialty types of fishing.

Rod weights are assigned to define the types of flies you can throw. The lighter the rod, the lower the number, the smaller fly you can cast and vice versa. For instance, if you were fishing for tarpon, you would want a 10 or 11-weight rod, which is sturdy enough to propel a fly the size of your hand 60 or 70 feet. For the record, the standard trout fly rod is a 5-weight.

Armed with the basics of this terminology and an idea of what you want to fish for, it’s best to go to your local fly shop and try out several different rods. What feels good to you?

Some fly rods are stiff, some are soft. Each angler usually has a preference and that’s largely defined by how they cast. It’s a decision each newcomer has to make. I recommend a slighter softer rod, which should help you feel the butt of the rod bend, very important as you learn to cast.

Are you prepared for the unexpected?

My first fly rod was handmade, gorgeous and casted like a dream. Unfortunately, it was made by local rod maker. The one drawback? It had no warranty.

You may not think you’ll break a rod, but chances are you will. I’ve broken three in a 30 years. The latest was a TFO Professional Series. It was my fault. I left it unattended in the back of my SUV and my dog’s crate rolled over on it. We all have our moments of carelessness that can cost us.

You will want a good warranty and trust me, even with the best intentions, you will use it. TFO’s no-fault, lifetime warranty covers breakage for any reason. My TFO rod was fixed and back in my hands in about a week or so. That type of customer service is hard to beat.

Suggestions on buying your first fly rod? Stories about your first fly rod? Feel free let us know about these experiences on one of our social media pages.

Vision Quest: Fly-Rodding Phenom Maxine McCormick Wins Big

She collects rubber-band bracelets, likes sporty, checkered tennis shoes and the thrill of a springy trampoline. One more thing: She just happens to be the best female fly caster in the world.

Her name is Maxine McCormick. And she is 15. That’s right, f-i-f-t-e-e-n.

She’s not old enough to drive, yet she has beaten Steve Rajeff and her 11-time world champion coach, all while piling up a slew of hardware at the national and world-championship levels the past three years.

At this summer’s world fly-casting championships on the blustery coast of England, the then 14-year-old Portland, Oregon resident won the trout accuracy competition with 52 points, 21 points ahead of the second-place finisher and took home top honors in Salmon (two-handed) distance with a toss of 189 feet. She also placed second in the Sea Trout (one-handed) distance, launching a world-record cast of 161 feet in the prelims.

At the 2016 worlds, at age 12, she won the trout accuracy competition. To put all of this in context, Rajeff, long considered the top fly caster in the world, won his first world title in 1972 at age 16.

What do they both have in common? Extraordinary vision.

“Maxine is a super healthy outdoor kid that happens to have phenomenal eye sight,” Chris Korich, McComick’s coach, said. “Early on I noticed with the steps that I gave her she was able to sight and measure target distances. She was able to make her decisions and pick out the fly, make her measurements and then lay down the fly faster than anyone I’ve seen since Steve Rajeff. Steve had just eagle vision as a kid and still has really good vision.”

McComick’s vision, Korich said, has been measured at 20/10, which gives her the uncanny ability to process the intricate relationships between distance, target and loop trajectory.

“It’s like target shooting,” Korich said. “You see your fly in the air, you measure your target. From an accuracy target shooting standpoint, what people don’t realize is that distance casting is extreme accuracy casting.  When I’m going to cast beyond a normal fishing distance, bomb something over 150, 200 feet, the precision it takes to do that is like any other sport at the highest level, a lot of precision, like when you steer an Indy 500 car, so you don’t hit the guy next to you. Eyesight and reflexes are important at 200 miles an hour. When Rajeff and I are making a distance cast, we’re aiming, figuring out where the wind is going and where to throw this cast. We’re picking a reference mark.  It’s not just side to-side-alignment. It’s a trajectory based on the wind, higher, lower.

“We’re constantly aiming.  It’s like fishing casts. What percentage of your fishing casts are you not aiming?”

McCormick not only aims, she focuses. Her practice sessions are usually short, but rarely does her concentration stray.

“She is like Michael Jordan focused on that task,” Korich said. “I don’t say that lightly. She has that focus. She has that intensity. She can’t stand losing. She can’t stand getting beat.”

The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club alumna does not lack perseverance. Perhaps that explains her affection for fly casting.

“At first it was a challenge and I like a challenge,” McCormick said. “Competition is also really fun. And every time I go fly cast, I know it’s going to improve my fishing, which also motivates me. That’s something I Iike about it as well.”

McCormick’s training started with the fundamentals, the length of stroke, the grip and the stance — albeit with down-sized tools of the trade — an old Fenwick Eagle. Korich sanded the handle for proper sizing.

“I’m like the Soup Nazi (from Seinfeld) on how you grip the handle,” he said. ”It’s not an option for me. If the grip doesn’t fit, I’m going to get it right.”

Korich chose the Fenwick because of its slow action. He wants his new students to feel the bend in the rod. He now recommends the 7 and 8-foot TFO Bug Launcher for younger beginners to simulate the ebb and flow of the rod load.

“The handle is smaller, for smaller hands with compressed cork,” Korich said. “That’s important, just like if you don’t have the appropriate size with a tennis racquet, baseball bat or golf clubs. It’s ridiculous we don’t have handle options in fly fishing. (The Bug Launcher) has standard graphite and fuller action. It bends deeper down to your hand. You can feel what you’re doing.”

Each of Korich’s Bug Launchers are balanced with a ultra-light reel — for a reason.

“They’re balanced in such a way you can keep a relaxed grip,” Korich said. “When you get everything right, you barely have to hold on to the rod to rotate the rod correctly. And it’s easy to stop the rod. You don’t have to grip the handle tight, so you can throw smoother loops.”

Meanwhile, McCormick’s skinny loops continue to pierce the competition. With the 2018 World Championships now fully in the rearview mirror, the fly-casting community now turns its attention to the 2020 Worlds in Sweden, and all indications are McCormick probably will return to defend her titles.

“My goal for the longest time was to become the World Champion,” she said. “That continues to be my goal.”

Long-term expectations, however, have yet to be defined and likely will be dictated by how long McCormick wants to compete.

“Assuming fair conditions, no one’s going to beat Maxine,” Korich said. “The foundation we’ve laid, the mechanics, her loops, are so superior to 95 percent of the competition — men, too — it’s just a question of whether she wants to put the work in with all the things that will be going on later on.”

Thoughts on Maxine and her success on the competitive fly-casting circuit? Ever tried the Bug Launcher? Feel free to share your comments on one of our social media pages.

A Few Father’s Day Gift Ideas from TFO

Father’s Day is almost here. Temple Fork Outfitters has you covered when it comes to gifts for dad —- rods, reels and accessories that are sure to make him smile on his special day. See below for a handful of options.

Bug Launcher

Suggested retail: $89.95-$159.95

This is the perfect starter rod for father and son. It’s light (3 ounces) and relatively short — it comes in lengths of 7 and 8 feet — so it’s great for short casts for pond fishing or to stay out of the tree limbs on small trout streams. Comes in a candy-apple red hue in weights 4-6. Cork grip is downsized for smaller hands. The NXT LA reel is the perfect companion to this little rod and reasonably priced at $79.95.

NXT Kit

Suggested retail: $199.95-$209.95

The perfect rod-and-reel setup for the novice adult angler, but it can also serve as a backup rod for the veteran angler. This outfit comes with fly line and leader, so you’re ready to hit the water instantly. The NXT Kit comes with an NXT LA reel spooled with weight-forward line, backing and leader. The rod case is a bonus, making it easier to store and travel.

Axiom II

Suggested retail: $339.95-$359.95

Arguably one of the best fly rods that TFO has made. What sets it apart is its versatility and the ability to accommodate a broad range of casting strokes and styles. Usually the angler has to adjust to the rod. Not so with the Axiom II. It tracks well with a nice feel. But fishing is more than just casting, and the A2 delivers with a degree of sturdiness that can withstand the pull of the fiercest fish. As for a reel, there’s no better option for dad than TFO’s Power ($399.95-$499.95) reel, a good-light weight, durable complement to this fine rod.

BVK

Suggested retail: $249.95-$295.95

Designed by the late Lefty Kreh and Flip Pallot, the BVK is light weight, but offers loads of power and strength. Both of TFO’s Advisors got it right in this TFO classic, which features a slick of olive finish and carbon-fiber reel seats. If you need a reel to go with this rod, look no further than the aptly named BVK reel. It’s machined aluminum, highly ported and has a stainless steel drag system, all for a good value ($159.95-$299.95).

New Zealand Strike Indicator Kit

Suggested retail: $16.95

Tis the time for nymph fishing in the heat of summer when the trout are stacked in the riffles. In this situation, you’ll want a strike indicator that rides high in the foam. And the New Zealand Strike Indicator fits that need. It’s easy to rig, adjust and it’s light enough to cast efficiently. And most important, it stays on the leader securely.

These are just a few items that TFO offers for dad. Any suggestions or questions, let us know.

A Few New Year’s Resolutions Every Angler Should Try to Achieve in 2018

It’s the morning after New Year’s Day in North Florida. It’s cold, and believe it or not, we could get snow in a few days. Cabin fever, anyone?

Given that I may be indoors longer than expected, and it’s too cold to fish, it’s time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions —- not just your standard goals of personal edification. How about a few suggestions geared toward the fisherman. Let’s call them angling aspirations, so here goes:

Take A Kid Fishing

It doesn’t have to be your child. It could a neighbor’s. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a youngster out for a day on the water. Need the right rod? TFO’s Trout-Panfish series is ideal for small, inexperienced hands.

Besides, mentoring is a good way to spend quality time away from the stress of work and family. With the internet, IPhones and the array of social media, we’ve created an instant-gratification generation where patience is but pipe dream. Time in the outdoors negates that trend. Nature has no clock.

Although catching fish is not the goal, the process of reading the water and evaluating the conditions provides a number of life lessons. Any venue that a parent or mentor can use to instill these skills is invaluable.

Fish More

Stating the obvious? Yes. But the reality most of us need to fish more. Quit making excuses and get out of the office, away from the computer and make time to get on the water.

It doesn’t need to be an elaborate trip. You don’t even need to load up the boat or strap down the kayak. A few lunchtime casts at the neighborhood park is better than staying home.

As honey-do lists mount and work responsibilities add up, your angling opportunities will dwindle, but don’t wait for the perfect day to fish. Why? Because that day almost never comes.

I used to only fish when the tide and winds aligned perfectly. Those days are rare. Fish when you can. You’ll learn more and you’ll be happier.

Get Organized

Let’s say you have a few minutes of free time, not enough time to fish, but enough to get something done. That’s the perfect opportunity to organize your gear. You can sort through your fly vest or tackle box. Straighten up the boat. Maybe charge the battery or flush the motor. Every little bit helps and could prevent a headache when you do finally have time to get out for a day on the water. The smoother that first trip of the year is, the better.

Tie Flies

Tying flies is the best way to beat the winter blues. The same thing could be said for watching ESPN or the Outdoors Channel, but when you tie flies, you have a finished product, something that you can use on the water.

A good fishing show can motivate you to fish; tying flies actually helps you because it’s part of your gear — just like the rod, reel and line.

There’s also the issues of cost and personal satisfaction. Tie your own flies and you’ll spend less money and have the sense of pride from catching fish on flies created at your vise.

Practice Makes Perfect

We can all learn to cast farther and more accurately. It doesn’t matter if you use spinning gear or a fly rod. Regardless of the gear you use, it pays to put in the work in the offseason. If you can’t fish, you always find 10, 20 minutes a few days a week to cast in the yard. Too cold? You can always stay indoors with TFO’s Bug Launcher or Accelerator.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the yard casting, but the truth is, I was usually motivated when trying out a new rod or line. As a result, my progress has been somewhat inconsistent. I need to be more disciplined and stick to a practice plan. We all do.

Nobody can attempt all of these resolutions. We all have non-fishing responsibilities. Try or one or two realistic goals. One or two is better than none. Happy New Year.