By Nick Simonson
One of the earliest fish providing anglers a warm water experience is the bluegill. From small ponds to the shallows of big lakes, sunnies look skyward for any of the season’s first insects to hit the surface for an easy snack. Likewise, anglers looking to connect with those rises on the fly rod know that providing a solid slap of the surface with extremely buoyant flies is a great way to kick off the openwater season (whenever that comes) and tighten a stretch of fluorescent fly line in the early goings. What follows are three great options for those looking to unfurl a fly on the first schools of freshwater piranhas this spring.
Foaming at the Mouth
Foam flies are a staple for bluegills and other sunfish species, and whether it’s in the configuration of a foam spider with rubbery legs at its center, or a twist of hackle to make it a bit more like an ant, these popular patterns ride up high and rarely get waterlogged, even after a few dozen fish have taken a whack at them. Additionally more compact offerings such as beetle or foam inchworms patterns expand a fly selection quickly for bluegills in the early goings, when these creatures are more prevalent. Easily tied and accented with sili legs, dry hackle, flash and synthetics, customizing a foam offering helps find those extra added elements and colors that appeal to panfish in various waters. Tweak tails, legs and underbodies to tack on those additional features that get the job done.
Additionally, big traditional dry flies for trout are a great option for bluegills in spring. Take for example the Stimulator. This pattern – designed to imitate the massive stoneflies which western brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout binge on each summer – is super buoyant, comprised of elk hair, dry fly dubbing and dry hackle. The hollow hairs form a natural floating base that is second only to synthetic foam and the additional wraps of hackle and dry fly dubbing ensure that the waterlogging process takes a good long time. It’s likely the hackle or thread gives way well before the hair is soaked through. Other high-riding flies, like the Humpy or a well-wrapped Elk Hair Caddis, are good trout-centered patterns that pull double duty for aggressive bluegills.
Film at Eleven
Finally, spring anglers would be remiss to overlook the surface film of any newly opened water where bluegills are rushing the shallows. Instead of offering something that sits atop the surface, those flies that get stuck in the surface film, or fall slowly just below it are often engulfed with a swirl and a turn are a good way to book more of those highlight-reel hookups with spring bull bluegills. Larger nymphs and wet flies comprised of pheasant tail and turkey quill, along with peacock herl and partridge hackle all hang enticingly in the water as they slowly make their way through the surface and tantalizingly descend in the upper water column. Odds are, they don’t make it far into a feeding school of panfish.
All three options for panfish allow for modifications to make them stand out with bright colors, flashier materials, and more visible patterning. Meanwhile, traditional nymph materials or big game hairs such as elk, moose and deer, can help to provide a natural look with plenty of float for a fly. Experiment, have fun and tweak traditional and avant garde patterns alike to find the one that bluegills can’t resist and get ready to roll that perfect cast into the first rise of a swarming set of sunnies this spring.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor for Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: Beetle Buster. Bluegills will take a foam beetle just about any time of the openwater season. Match the hatch like this black version, or make them stand out if they’re on the feed.