|Patrick O'Connor of Rotonda, Fla., caught this speckled perch on a No. 12 nymph.|
Flashback to 1985:
Big bluegill are rising to take No. 10 white poppers along a grassy shoreline. There's nothing more fun than taking big bluegill on a light fly rod. And when they're hitting surface flies, it's better yet.
The bite lasted for a couple of hours, then began to slow. Three hours after it began, the bite was done.
Time to go home.
Forward to 2013:
Big bluegill are rising to take No. 10 white poppers along a grassy shoreline. The bite is fast and furious, but begins to slow. After three hours, the topwater action slows to a crawl.
Time to switch tactics.
I pull out another rod, a 2=weight rigged with a No. 12 nymph and a strike indicator. I cast it out along the grassy shoreline and begin to catch bluegill. And shellcracker. And stumpknocker. And speckled perch (black crappie).
What I stubbornly learned years ago is that when the topwater bites ends, the subsurface feeding frenzy often is just beginning.
Used to be I'd head home when panfish quit taking a popper. But I discovered the wonderful world of subsurface action and it has paid handsome dividends over the years. In fact, it's most often much more productive than topwater
Don't get me wrong. I love topwater. Few things are sweeter than a hand-sized bluegill rising to slurp a popping bug off the surface. But, as I have learned, you can't always count on them to cooperate.
But that certainly doesn't mean you have to go home.
After a trout-fishing expedition to northeast Georgia a few years back, I returned inspired. It dawned on me that trout tactics might work very well on Florida's panfish. Bluegill and their cousins eat insects, so why wouldn't nymphs, scuds and other diminutive flies work?
Long story short: They did.
My productivity has increased immensely since I made the switch. Instead of heading home when the fish stop rising to take a popper off the surface, I just make the switch.
I'll usually started out with a popping bug, and I'll use it until the fish are willing to take it. But when the actions slows, I'll go subsurface.
My subsurface arsenal includes nymphs, scuds and my Myakka Minnow.
I fish nymphs and scuds under a strike indicator. I don't use a strike indicator when using the Myakka Minnow.
The strike indicator serves a couple of purposes. It allows you to keep the fly in the strike zone and out of the cover. It also gives you a visual reference when a fish takes the fly.
The indicator doesn't always dip below the surface when you've got a fish. It simply may twitch or dart. When you're using a strike indicator, it's a good idea to set the hook anytime you think you might have a hit.
My strike indicator is a Thingamabobber made by Brian Westover of Westwater Products (http://www.westwaterproducts.com/).
Typically, I take three light fly rods on every trip. I prefer a TFO 1-weight Finesse (http://www.templeforkflyrods.com/products/rods/finesse.html). I also use a 2= and 3-weight Finesse. I'll cast a popper on the 2 weight and a Myakka Minnow on the 3.
For what it's worth, I've found TFO fly rods to fit my needs. They look good, cast good, and feel good. And they don't put a big dent in your wallet.
Just because you're using small flies (I use hook sizes 10, 12 and 14) doesn't mean you'll only catch small fish. Big bluegill, shellcracker and speckled perch can be suckers for tiny flies.
Ditto for bass.
No matter what you're targeting in fresh water, you don't have to go home when the topwater bite is over
Your day just might be beginning.