The Skip Morris Panfish has been a favorite pattern for targeting bluegills, crappie and other panfish in deeper water. While we all love the explosive take of a panfish on a top water fly or popper, it is important to understand that these fish, especially the larger ones, do most of their feeding under water. Certain times of year the top water bite is nonexistent (like now, here in the northeast). With this in mind, adding a few fly patterns that have the ability to fish effectively in deeper water in a good idea.
Skip Morris is a very prolific fly tier/designer and author. Many of his eighteen books occupy the shelves of my fly tying bookcase. Skip has designed flies for all species of fish swimming in cold, warm and salt water. Skip, like many other warm water fly fishers, discovered that there is an overlap of prey species that both bass and panfish feed. He coined the phrase the “bass-bluegill lap” which means what I stated above, an organism that lives in the same environment as the bass and bluegill and also shows up on their lunch menu. Examples would be things like large terrestrial insects, larger aquatic insects like dragonfly nymphs, leeches, tadpoles, baby frogs, and small fish of all varieties. The SMP is an example of a fly designed for “fishing the lap,” a fly that will be equally attractive to both bass and panfish. If you are interested in learning more about Skip Morris’s thoughts on the Bass-Bluegill Lap check out the articles he has on his website by clicking here.
I have taken the same approach on many of the patterns I tie. Shrinking down an effective bass pattern to the point where it still attracts bass but can be eaten by larger bluegills. I also go in the other direction taking a panfish pattern and increasing the size until it starts to draw the attention of bass but can still be easily taken by panfish. Hook selection becomes a critical issue when designing flies that will attract both species. Hooks need to be strong enough and have a wide enough gap to hold a chunky largemouth yet small and light enough to fit into the small mouths of bluegill and other panfish.
The James Wood Bucktail I wrote about in my last blog post is a good example of a “lap fly.” I originally fished the pattern in size 2 and 4 for large and small mouth bass. I then reduced its size but kept the same basic design for targeting crappie and larger panfish. Despite the reduction in the scale of the pattern, it remains attractive to bass and other larger fish like pickerel.
The SMP is a fast sinking fly that allows you to probe deeper waters. You can control the sink rate by changing the type of eyes you use on the pattern. Lead eyes for the deepest water, bead chain for the mid-depths and I even tie the fly with mono or plastic eyes for those times when I need a softer presentation in shallow water. The mono-eyed version of this fly has become a favorite pattern for carp when they are tailing in shallow water, and you have to land a fly softly to avoid spooking them.
The SMP has a few other attractive features. It is a versatile fly that allows for a lot of customization. Tied with a thread or floss body reinforced with a ribbing material it becomes a very sturdy fly that will withstand catching dozens of fish. Coat that thread body with a UV resin, and you have a fly that is bombproof. You can also change up the body material swapping out the thread/floss body for one that is dubbed. The same goes for the marabou wing. You can create a wing in bi-color, single color, or my favorite mottled or barred marabou. Add a little flash, or leave it out the possibilities are endless. Skip ties two versions of this pattern one with a standard length wing and one tied on a shorter shank hook with a short wing that just reaches the bend of the hook. If you find you are getting a lot of short hits, you should switch to the shorter-winged version.
The design of the fly allows it to fish hook point up, reducing the chance of snagging. I fish it in a number of different methods. It can be stripped like a streamer, allow it to sink to the depth you want to fish and then begin your retrieve. Vary your retrieve until you find what the fish want. I will also fish it right on the bottom if there is not too much debris. Retrieve the fly with frequent pausing allow it to settle to the bottom before moving it again. It is a great pattern to use when fish are on their beds. The rapid sink rate allows you to put the fly right in the bed if your casting is up to the task! I like to let it sit there for a minute or two before moving the fly. Fish will often swim over to it and pick it up with no movement on your part. The marabou wing breathes life into the fly even at rest.
At the end of the day, you have a fly that you can modify the way you see fit and call it your own. What patterns do you use that you find are effective on both bass and bluegills?