By Nick Simonson
I’ve fly fished mountain streams, I’ve stalked technical trout in low summer creeks in the driftless area and done battle with carp and bass on the bends of mesotrophic rivers throughout the plains, but my fly fishing experience all began with bluegills in front of my grandma’s lake cabin. Fly fishing doesn’t have to be about the scenery or the selection of that perfect fly which matches the hatch in order to turn the picky nose of some alpine rainbow trout. In the end, like all fishing, fly angling is meant to be fun and for beginners that can be a challenge; but with a lake or pond full of panfish and a selection of flies that never fail, the learning curve becomes more of a rolling hill than a mountain peak.
One of the great benefits that modern times have bestowed upon anglers is the wide diversity of fly tying materials. No longer bound by what birds and game inhabit the area around them, fly anglers can craft their offerings from a number of synthetics that give them advantages unheard of half a century ago. For those pursuing panfish, closed-cell foam is one such advancement that makes incredible, unsinkable flies that are effective, easy to tie and can be fished for hours through the relentless attacks of our region’s freshwater piranha – the bluegill. It is a snap to tie onto the hook, simple to snip and trim into the desired shape and comes in a variety of colors; but best of all foam never gets waterlogged like hackle or hair and always rides high on the surface, floating all of the other ingredients in the fly.
While it’s possible to craft fish-catching foam flies with just the foam itself, the buoyant material leaves anglers the opportunity to add a number of bells and whistles to their patterns, including splashes of color, legs and wings to help make each offering more attractive. Take for example the foam beetle and foam ant – two staples of summer panfishing on the long rod.
Once secured to the hookshank, closed cell foam offers a great canvas for a beetle pattern to take on all the attributes of these insect species in a particular area. Add a dark yarn or a dubbing underbody for a natural look, or make the pattern pop with yellow, red or green. Tie in some peacock herl, wrap some hackle and trim it down or add a few pheasant tail fibers to give the illusion of legs before folding the foam back over and finishing the fly. Additionally, for those who have trouble tracking their offerings at a distance, before finishing the fly, add a small piece of red or pink yarn at the tie-down point, or let a drop of bright fingernail polish dry behind the foam head, making for a great indicator – beyond the splashes of eagerly-rising panfish.
The same goes for foam ants. Once the mid-section is locked in place and the head and abdomen are formed, the tied-down area of foam allows for a number of accoutrements such as hackle to serve as legs or antron yarn as a wing and an aid for visibility. With just a drop of head cement, the features are secured with the foam, and these great-looking, long-lasting flies will be able to withstand any bluegill beatdown. Every beginner’s box – and those of all warm-water fly anglers – should be stocked with a variety of foam beetle, ant and other buoyant patterns for fast fishing.
These simple foam patterns, whether purchased from a bin or tied by hand, allow anglers to advance their on-the-water skills with the long rod and experiment with just one of numerous synthetic materials that have helped bring many anglers into the fly fishing fold. With the excitement of a big bluegill bulldogging on the other end of the line, it won’t be long until other awesome foam patterns make their way onto the tippet, including spiders, grasshoppers, poppers, gurglers and other unsinkable flies which make for unstoppable fun on lakes or small waters loaded with willing panfish.
Featured Photo: Peek-a-bluegill. A foam beetle fly pokes out of the mouth of a nice bluegill caught on the long rod. Simonson Photo.