Fly fishing is often described as a relaxing endeavor – all your worries and gripes are supposed to melt away as you divert your attention to the rod in your hand and the fish in the water. The stress of making important decisions and completing demanding tasks is said to disappear into the surrounding outdoor environment, while the gentle lapping of water and chirping of birds soothes our overworked minds. The thing is, it’s rare that I find any of these things to be true.
Sure, I find fly fishing therapeutic. Instead of worrying about life at home, in school, or at activities, I can turn my attention to selecting a fly or tying on a section of tippet. But that doesn’t mean these things aren’t stress-inducing themselves. That immediate uneasy feeling that comes about when your forward stroke is stopped short by an unseen obstruction never goes away. Neither does the frustration of tying on a fly before putting your line through the rod guides. And don’t even mention the complex slew of thoughts that go through my mind when selecting the properly weighted fly for Euro nymphing. Fly fishing is a game of thinking, so unfortunately we can’t just shut off our brains and relax when on the water.
If there is a time when I am closest to feeling truly relaxed when casting a fly, it is undoubtedly when fishing for panfish. There is nothing complicated about chasing a seven-inch sunfish – it’s just pure fun. There’s no need to worry about your choice of fly, leader length, or stealthy approach when targeting panfish. It’s just you, the water, and the fish. Pretty therapeutic, if you ask me.
If I’m looking to simply have a relaxing time fishing for sunnies, I’ll usually pick a spot with plenty of backcast room to avoid the frustration of snags and tangles. Beaches, dams, and docks are all perfect places to cast to cruising panfish, and also prime gathering spots for these fish. It doesn’t take long casts to coax a big bluegill, pumpkinseed, crappie, or perch into biting; often a simple flick of the fly is enough to draw a strike.
Ever dreamt of catching unpressured, wild fish on dry flies. Sure, you could travel countless miles to fish some pristine trout stream, or you could visit your nearest bluegill pond and have the time of your life. Sunfish, like cutthroat and brookies, are very surface-oriented, so just about any dry fly will do the trick. Of course, you could use panfish-specific flies, like panfish poppers and doodle bugs, but I’ve caught sunnies on everything from parachute adams to morrish mice. You may even hear a sunfish take your fly before you see it, as the telltale “pop” is evident to any angler who has spent some time fishing for them.
Fly fishing can be as complicated or as simple as we make it. Admittedly, the more complex aspects of the sport that take us to distant, exotic locations are sometimes more exhilarating than fishing in our backyards, but we’re not always looking for that kind of excitement when we pick up a fly rod. Returning to your roots by casting flies to panfish may not seem all that glamorous, but it’s about as pacifying and enjoyable an endeavor as they come. Next time you only have a few minutes to spare to do some fishing, get out there and try it yourself.