Afield: Panfish keep some anglers happy

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2009 - 12:09 AM

Once the hook was freed from a tree, sunfish were caught at regular intervals.

NISSWA, MINN. - Shortly after sunrise on the 2009 walleye opener, I hiked with fly rod in hand along a boat harbor. A light rain was falling and moderate-sized waves -- gray and cold -- rolled in from the lake, pushed by a north wind. It was 42 degrees.

My plan was to cast flies for panfish, and to that end, I carried in my vest an assortment of offerings. Although it was the walleye opener, I was surprised to find just one other angler occupying the channel. Not surprising was that he was outfitted in clothing heavy enough to ward off a March blizzard, stocking cap and all.

I opted to start the morning with by tying on a weighted nymph, figuring the nighttime cold had lowered the water temperature significantly enough to thwart any surface activity.

My very first backcast landed the fly in a tree behind me. The hook was embedded in a branch just high enough that I couldn't reach it, but low enough that I was not going give up and break the line, thus loosing the nifty combination of hair and feather for which I had paid two bucks the day prior.

With some effort, I was able to free the fly and get back to fishing.

On the first cast that actually hit the water, I caught a small sunfish. Shortly after I hauled in another. At times, I caught a fish on each of three or four consecutive casts, then nothing for five or 10 minutes. About every fifth sunnie was a keeper.

As the morning progressed, other anglers arrived. Most were casting small jigs tipped with minnows suspended below a bobber. Everyone was catching at least a few crappies. The larger fish were tossed in pails destined I'm sure for a fry pan. Others were released.

I caught only the occasional crappie. It was obvious it took the additional enticement of a struggling minnow to get them to bite.

The sunnies, however, ignored the jig and minnow combos but were hitting my tiny fly with some regularity. In a few hours of fishing I had 10 hand-sized sunnies and three crappies in my bucket.

By midmorning, the boat channel was lined with anglers. Fishing had slowed. I overheard someone comment that if the sun would come out, the fish might start biting again.

"It's never warm on opening day," came a reply.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors columnist and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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