Tips and patterns for catching exotic panfish—and some home-grown sluggers.
By Ron Kowalyk
If you are like me, you’ll remember days as a kid when every fish was a trophy. My love of angling was cultivated fishing for panfish, bluegills, shellcrackers, sunnies, crappie and the like. Originally I learned to dap for panfish using a rubber spider and to this day it is still one of my favorite fly rod presentations.
Like most fly rodders I began to upgrade my gear and got caught up in the pursuit of bigger game. Happily, though, there are still plenty of fly hungry, aggressive, small fries right around the corner from my home. On those lazy, easygoing days, my buddies and I will pack up our light outfits and trek on down to the Everglades.
The canal systems perforating South Florida harbor not only the familiar North American sunfish, but very many species of introduced cichlids. These are prolific, feisty and in most cases tasty fish. All along Alligator Alley (I-75) and the southern end of the Tamiami Traile (Hwy 41), you’ll see family anglers doing their best to keep the ecological balance in check, by catching bucketloads of Oscars, Mayan cichlids and other exotics.
My friends and I aren’t down there for a fish fry. Instead, we have a ball watching the colorful bandits whack our flies. The “old timey” sponge spiders and tiny cork poppers are, under the right conditions, ravaged by these pocket Herculean fighters. You can buy these topwater flies at shops that offer a selection of bass and panfish flies. More often than not a streamer pattern will be equal to, if not more productive, than a surface pattern.
One thing about those cichlids: There are nasty critters, quick to snap up the fry of other fish…including their own kind. I’ve come up with some cichlid streamers that are good earners. I concoct these with a variety of colored yarns, bucktail and a bit of crystal flash. As a bonus, these mini-cichlid patterns are excellent for peacock bass, a prized cichlid introduced deliberately to Florida waters years ago. Home-grown common snook, too, will flat out maul cichlids in the creeks and briny bays of the Everglades.
Let the wild child in you come out. Try all kinds of hues of yarn and chenille to build your own flies. I buy inexpensive yarn for body material at places like Jo Ann Fabrics. When I get on my high horse, I’ll dazzle myself at Bass Pro or one of the local fly shops, fussing over which high end body chenille I’ll use.
A selection of small streamers are best fished on a 5- or 6-weight outfit with a simple “homeboy” leader, 5 to 7 feet of 10- or 15-pound-test fluorocarbon or mono. Weight-forward line is best, as for most Florida fly fishing. FS
Sassy Sally Cichlid Fly
1. Choose a No. 1 to 4 hook.
2. Wrap the hook from the eye to the turn and back with flat waxed nylon, 210 denier thread. Colors are optional.
3. Choose a color of bucktail for the tail. Orange, chartreuse or brown are favorites. Tie it in at the just ahead of the turn off the hook. You may want to add a plume of red yarn for an enhanced tail.
4. Add a few strands of crystal flash on the tail.
5. Tie on a grizzly hackle in brown, gray or black for palmering over the body material.
6. Choose a length of yarn or chenille in brown, chartreuse or yellow. Tie it in at the turn and wrap to form the body of the fly.
7. You can add small beadchain eyes tied near the hook eye for a little weight
8. Palmer the hackle to plump the body and give it that enticing undulating motion when stripped slowly.
9. You might like to place an ocellus or black spot on the tail of your fly using a magic marker.
Keep it simple and use your imagination. These are attractor flies. Fun, not fuss! Some guys never grow up and that’s the way it should be.