Back to Basics: Panfishing

Hybrid sunfish from Crooked Creek. Gabe Levin photo.

Fly fishing has a tendency to lure its practitioners into a technological predicament in which the more you know, the more you need. Endless possibilities in rod lengths and actions, fly line tapers, casting techniques, presentation techniques, species to pursue, flies, etc. There are so many methods and techniques to fly fishing it can become overwhelming just to try and learn half of them, never mind perfecting them. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Yes there is great pleasure to be had in honing a skill to near scientific precision, but not all of us fish for the same reasons. Some of us enjoy understanding the how and the why behind every detail of the sport from gear to entomology, others are drawn less to any cerebral gratification as they are to the subtle grace of fly fishing, and most of us probably fall somewhere in between. Regardless of our obtained level of grace or knowledge of technique, all of us have humble beginnings as fly fishermen.


Longear sunfish from Crooked Creek. Gabe Levin photo.

In the South many of us began by sloppily flopping a popping bug onto a farm pond or backyard creek – nothing sophisticated or difficult, but effective and more importantly, addictive. I remember when, as a nine year old kid, I used to wade into the shallow pool of the creek behind my house and cast small muddlers at the bank, overjoyed at the aggression of longears and green sunfish. The small, colorful fish would attack three and four at a time, sometimes hooking themselves without any effort on my part. They would pull with all their little might, bending and pulsing my wispy homemade rod for just a moment before coming to hand. My soft uncalloused hands were timid to hold wriggling fish prickling with spines and sharp scales, but I could never stop, never get enough. Mom would come calling for me before dark.


Panfish bait. Come get some.

As we progress along the steep learning curve of fly fishing and delve ever deeper into its endless details, it becomes increasingly important to not lose sight of our humble beginnings, for fear we will forget the simple joys that captured our attention in the first place. The simple joy, for instance, of casting a popping bug for panfish – that is a joy that every fly fisherman young and old should know and revisit time to time. It is forgiving and uncompetitive. It is an inexpensive joy, one that requires no specialized or top-notch gear. It is mentally therapeutic, requiring no cerebral puzzling over what to tie on or how to present the fly, yet providing consistent stimulation in the form of aggressive takes and beautiful fish. The relative absence of technical applications leaves room for the brain to relax, to enjoy the beautiful junction of water, weeds, and shadows, to dwell upon fond memories and pleasant future possibilities. Panfishing is fly fishing in its simplest, most rudimentary form, and it will never get old.

-Gabe Levin

Bluegill from a farm pond. Gabe Levin photo.



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