Even though it has been almost 45 years to the day, I still remember the first fish I caught on a fly rod.
It was a fat bluegill pulled off its spawning bed in a farm pond which was part of the Little Sioux Watershed southeast of Sioux City.
Oh, those were the days. Work on the watershed had just been completed and hundreds of farm ponds, all freshly stocked with bass, bluegills and catfish dotted the landscape. Permission to fish was easy to obtain in those days, and as long as you didn't litter, left gates as you found them and showed some respect to the landowner, his property and his livestock, you had a place to fish.
I paid three dollars for my first fly rod, an eight-foot fiberglass. I soon taught myself to tie flies. Fly fishing has been a big part of my life since that time.
Any fly fisherman worthy of the name has his own favorite flies for every species of fish he pursues. I'm no different. I add to that list from time to time as new developments and flies come down the pike.
When it comes to bluegills, three flies which date back to my beginnings in the late 60s still rate right up there with the best. They are, the McGinty, the Ant and the green sponge rubber Spider.
I always tie all my wet flies without wings because of the small mouth of the bluegill and the almost tentative way of taking the fly they often exhibit. The black and yellow bodied McGinty with the red hackle tail and brown hackle collar is hard to beat.
When bluegills are in deeper water the fast sinking ant is deadly. I tie it on a number 10 sproat hook. I tie a fluorescent orange tag (egg sack) and two humps of black thread, the rear hump is larger than the one in front. I coat all with epoxy and let dry. Then I make two wraps of black hen hackle around the waist and the fly is ready to go.
Homer Circle, angling editor of Sports Afield back in the day wrote about how effective the green rubber spider with white rubber legs was, and I learned he was right. Since that time I've found that any wet fly with rubber legs is dynamite on bluegills.
I learned how to retrieve flies for bluegills from Jason Lucas, my all-time fishing hero. Lucas was angling editor of Sports Afield from the late 1940s into the 1960s when Homer Circle took over. Lucas said to retrieve your bluegill flies in a series of short, one-inch jerks which also serves to set the hook. Bluegills often slip up onto a fly, take it into their mouth and spit it out again without the angler even knowing it. He was right, and I still fish that way for 'gills to this day.
However, for bluegill fishing excitement, topwater is hard to beat. A small popper is very effective when 'gills are in shallow water on the spawning beds. I used to make all of my own poppers using cork bodies from Herters. I never even bothered to paint the cork and it didn't seem to matter.
There are lots more flies I could add to my top three, but I'll limit this to just two more which are relatively new to my fly box.
The first is a tidy little fly appropriately called the Gill Getter. It's tied on a sproat hook, size 10, with an underbody of lead wire. The tail is moose mane, legs are white rubber and the body is fluorescent green chenille. The shellback is a continuation of the moose mane tail. The thread is fluorescent green.
Since it is weighted it will get down to the deeper gills which are often found along bridge pilings or underwater structure. But, I often fish it in shallower water as well.
The second is a sponge rubber hopper which I came up with to fish Western trout during the grasshopper season. It has proven to be an excellent surface fly for bluegills. It's main colors are borrowed from the Joe's Hopper, my favorite hopper fly.
It's tied with a red deer hair tail, a yellow sponge rubber body segmented with thread and over wrapped with brown and grizzly hackle. The sponge rubber strip is folded over the body and the white rubber legs are tied in and then a deer hair downwing is tied in. The sponge rubber strip is folded back over itself to form a head, tied off and clipped.
It's an extremely durable fly and floats like a cork.
Fishing for bluegills with the fly rod is about as much fun as a fisherman can have. And it your are using flies you have tied yourself, it is the pinnacle of panfishing.