My friend Rob McConnell is the Texas equivalent of a Rocky Mountain creek freak — a kindred soul if you will … a fellow traveler.
But, instead of searching out small, out-of-the-way cutthroat trout streams in little-traveled reaches of high-elevation backcountry, he combs the precious few acres of public lands in East Texas for swampy waterways that might hold native sunfish and bass.
Over the weekend, I met Rob under a highway bridge that spanned a nice sized creek that runs through the Big Thicket National Preserve. He’d arrived from Houston toting a canoe and a kayak, and we were going to float about three miles of this stream in search of native spotted bass, long-ear sunfish and, if we were lucky, gar and maybe even bowfin.
As we set up, the rig to me looked might familiar — the searching combo that many a trout angler uses to “see what the fish are on.” Rob recommended tying on a foam Gurgler or a popper, and then dropping something to dead-drift under it. Sometimes he uses a dragonfly nymph is about a size 8, but this day, he opted for a simple black Bluegill Spider (think of it as a water boatman imitation–it’s the best I can do).
It’s a popper-dropper rig as opposed to the hopper-dropper outfit many of us trout anglers start with in new water. And yes, you still get to twitch the popper. What fun would it be otherwise?
And, I’m not ashamed to admit, Rob, able to stand in his canoe and glide confidently down the murky creek, out-fished me at least five to one, but I did get into a couple of spotted bass, a definitive offshoot off of the largemouth bass family, but a clearly unique variety, and a stunning long-ear sunfish. The bass confidently nailed the popper and the sunfish, predictably, hit the Bluegill Spider.
In a place I haven’t seen since I was a kid — and in a place that’s foreign to a clear-water trout angler — Rob helped me realize that, all in all, fly fishing is still fly fishing, and while the set-ups might change, the idea is generally the same. Give the fish what they want, and chances are, you’ll get the fish you want.