I started my fly fishing career like many others, chasing cold water fish like trout. Naturally, my interest in fly fishing created a desire to tie flies. In the early years, all of my fly tying revolved around patterns for trout and salmon. I have been chasing panfish with a fly rod from the beginning with store bought poppers and bugs, but I never tied flies specifically for panfish. All of my panfish flies came from the “bluegill cup”. The bluegill cup was an old coffee mug that resided on my tying desk. In the beginning to was not called the bluegill cup. At first, it was just a holding tank for my rejects. As I was learning to tie flies, a lot of my work was not up to par. If I created a fly with wings that were too long or tails that were too short into the cup it went. Maybe I forgot to add ribbing to a nymph or could not the married quill wing on a wet fly just right; these flies would go into the cup as well. My thought was when the cup was full; I would sit down with a razor blade and cut these flies apart and salvage the hooks. It did not take long to fill that first cup as I made a lot of mistakes in those days! As I sat there, razor in hand, ready to begin slicing materials off of hook shanks a thought popped into my head. I can probably use some of these flies for panfish. As we all know, no self-respecting brown trout will take a Hendrickson emerger who’s crinkled Antron tail was too short. But the scrappy little bluegill does not concern himself with such trivial matters. Off to work I went, I sorted everything in the cup and flies I thought would work well for panfish were put in a fly box and what was left behind fell victim to the knife. I did this for quite some time; my trout rejects seemed to work just fine on panfish. Soon I had multiple fly boxes full of my not quite ready for prime time flies.
Over time my skills as a fly tier developed, and it took longer and longer to fill that cup. Also, I began to explore other areas of fly tying. First, it was salt water patterns, and when I caught that first largemouth bass on a clouser designed for stripers, I dove head first into the warm water realm. Flies for bass, pike, shad and carp were flying off my vice, but I still did not tie flies specifically for panfish. At some point in time that changed and I finally began creating patterns specifically designed for my favorite fish. Some will make the argument that you don’t need to put all that work into a fly for panfish. The flies that came out of the bluegill cup support those claims. The truth is, I enjoy tying flies for bluegill and other panfish as much as I do for trout or bass or bluefish for that matter! I feel it does make a difference especially when you are targeting larger fish. Bluegills are no different than any other gamefish. The big ones get big because they do things differently. I don't like to use the term "smarter" when describing fish, but trophy fish react with their environment in a way that smaller fish do not. I have found that the flies I tie specifically for panfish catch larger fish.
My original bluegill cup met an untimely demise about a year ago. During a rather aggressive spring cleaning of the fly tying area, it was knocked to the floor and shattered. I miss that old coffee mug. It resided on a number of different tying desks, in four different homes spanning over thirty years. My current "bluegill glass" just doesn't have the same character but it serves the same purpose.
My son is learning to tie flies now, and like me, he is a perfectionist. Sitting on his desk is a bluegill cup of his own. I am embarrassed to say that his rejects look a hell of a lot better than mine ever did! These days I still add my rejects (yes they still happen) to my bluegill cup, but they no longer end up in a fly box. They all go under the knife. Panfish deserve flies tied just for them!