Our recent bouts of heavy thunderstorms, alternated with periods of hot temperatures, have left all the area trout streams high and muddy with spring runoff. But as one national TV personality likes to say, “Let not your heart be troubled!” Now is a great time to seek out various warm-water species in our area lakes and ponds.
That’s just what I did last weekend at the Powderhorn Golf Community. The Powderhorn was kind enough to invite a number of military vets out for an afternoon of fishing in their private bass ponds. This was the first outing of the year for most of the vets participating in the Sheridan Healing Waters Project. They’d finally had an outdoor session of casting lessons, and were very eager to try out the fly rods they’d built, along with some of their own hand-tied flies.
The small ponds we fished were stocked a few years ago with bass, perch, crappie and trout. I’ve even had a few vets in years past catch all four species in the same day. Normally, however, we catch mostly crappie, with a good number of perch, sunfish and bass mixed in for extra fun.
As I’d expected, a size No. 8 “Hornberg” turned out to be the “fly of the day” for us. The Hornberg is not a well known fly in this area, but it is one of my all-time favorite flies when tied and fished as a “streamer” pattern (streamers being flies tied to imitate small minnows and baitfish). The pattern was actually originated in Wisconsin in the 1920’s as a dry caddis pattern. Over the years, though, so many people were catching fish on it after it sunk and started to swing against the current (as a tiny fish would do); it gradually evolved into a streamer pattern.
I tie the pattern with three added changes of some significance: 1 — a body wrapped with pearlescent tinsel, 2 — a few strands of holographic gold flashabout in the wing, and 3 — I now tie it exclusively on a weighted jig hook. The beauty of the jig hook is that it helps the fly to sink rapidly, while allowing the hook point to ride upright when retrieving the fly through the water. This helps keep moss and weeds off the fly when fishing weedy lakes, or mossy rivers like the Big Horn. Yes, that’s right! I said the Big Horn!
The Hornberg has actually become one of my favorite all-around streamer flies; not just for bass and crappie, but for trout fishing as well.
The fly can also be utilized successfully by spin fishermen by either tying it behind a clear casting bubble partially filled with water, or casting it all by itself with an ultra light spin-casting rod.
Anyway, back to our afternoon on the bass ponds. It was a very bright, hot day.
This seems to keep the bass hunkered down in deeper water. I think only four bass were caught between the five fishermen which I and a couple of TU volunteers were working with that day. But did they ever catch a bunch of crappie that day! One of the vets, Ben Medina, has been a long-time spin fisherman, but this was his very first day of fly casting. He’s a quick learner, and one of those guys my wife and I used to refer to as being “fishy”. Some people just have a natural, almost instinctive, knack for knowing how to catch fish – that make’s them “fishy”. I’m thinking that in a 3-hour period, Ben landed at over 30 fish. Most were crappie, with a couple of perch, a few sunfish and one bass mixed in.
The key to success with the Hornberg is to fish it very slowly. This allows the jig hook to do its magic. Each short “strip” inward with the fly line makes the fly rise a few inches, with each pause allowing it to sink back down. It’s almost like creating the “dance of the wounded minnow”. Ben picked up on this right away and he led the crappie around in a trance, just like the “Pied Piper” may have done.
The crappie where we were fishing ran from about 8” to about 13” in length. Considering that the new Wyoming state record is 15 ½”, 2 1/2lbs, some of these were very nice crappie indeed. We were doing all catch ‘n release fishing, but I know that crappie are a wonderful tasting fish. My brother-in-law from Billings always spends a few weekends after Memorial Day fishing for crappie at Tongue River Reservoir. This is a time of year where the crappie will spend more time closer to the shoreline looking for spawning areas.
While the streams are high and muddy, try to get yourselves out to a neighbor’s bass pond, or Tongue River Reservoir. The crappie are very active right now, and they eagerly await a Pied Piper to lead them on the “dance of the wounded minnow”!
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.