An Ode to Panfish and Light Tackle

By Clayton Young

Purists, take a seat. I enjoy using barbless dry flies to catch native brook trout as much as the next guy. Sometimes I want to feel like an artist arching a perfect loop and alight a hand tied fly on undisturbed water. Just like sometimes I want to spend all day closely watching my smoker precisely bringing a brisket to a perfect balance of smoke, salt, fat, and protein. 

But sometimes, I just want to eat a fucking cheeseburger. 

On cheeseburger days I want to fish like I am a kid again—ultralight rod and spin reel in hand, bluegill and bass on the mind. The right gear can make a hit from a sunfish feel like you have a real fight on your hands, relatively speaking—don’t discount the thrill. The large mouth will obviously never be in the conversation for pound-for-pound champ of freshwater, but I can always rely on them in the meandering streams and rivers of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up. The same cannot be said for the staple of fly fishing: trout.

To those of us not graced with a robust local trout population there’s no reliable success without stocking or traveling across state lines. These farm-raised trout aren’t as pretty as their wild phenotypes, but sometimes you gotta dance with the girl you brought. Thankfully these non-native stocked trout tend to cohabitate with pan fish, and, for better or worse, sometimes with local native trout.   

Reliability and need for genuine entertainment were the converging streams guiding me to rediscover this type of fishing during the COVID-19 lockdowns. My childhood friend and I would hit up our old fishing holes and discover new ones in the hollers and streams of rural Virginia. Pristine bends untainted by the penetration of cell signals will make you appreciate the simple things in life.  

The keen reader will observe this ode to the redheaded stepchild of the trout world does not feature any praise for the impact on local populations or the environment. I reserve that conversation for other folks more qualified than I. The hope is this imperfect system is a generational gateway drug which gets more young people into the outdoors pursuing beautiful fish and investing in conserving the natural resource.

If you check your ego, grab your ultralight gear, and accept you’re not looking for an Instagram moment you can have a great time catching the fish the more ostentatious anglers scoff at. It will offer hours of entertainment and you know you’ll be out there for the true love of fishing. What more are you looking for than some levity from the hectic modern world and to commune with nature? Also, if you’re not a picky eater they can be quite tasty. 

Sometimes the pursuit of adventure is as simple as going into your backyard. No temptation for a grip and grin, God only knows there are enough of those. Even if you don’t catch anything, it’s still better than TV. 

From the FE Films Archive

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