Super-Ultralight Panfishing

by Homer Circle

There are times that try fishermen's souls. Like gin-clear water where panfish see too well and reject usually effective lures, both live and artificial. For these times let Cuzzin Gene suggest an amazing antidote, super-ultralight fishing.

Until I fished with Mick Thill, I thought ultralight tackle was the only way to go when finnicky panfish refused regular offerings. Ultralight to me was two-pound mono with ten to 12 size hooks, on a limber spinning or spin casting rod.

Well, even ultralight wasn't working on bluegills in the phosphate pit I had been fishing for years. Never saw it so tough. Then, Thill phoned to say he wanted to show me the art of super-ultralight panfishing. I really felt a tad guilty as I told him: "Hurry on down, I've got just the spot. Full of BIG blues!"

When we arrived at the pit, I rigged my usual ultralight with a #12 lightwire Aberdeen hook on a two-pound mono. About eight inches above the hook I placed a BB-sized shot sinker, and my bait was a lively cricket hooked down through the breastplate and into the seat of its pants. It has produced bluegills over the years when nothing else would.

Meanwhile, Thill was busy rigging his wispy outfit. The pole was jointed graphite, 16 feet long, with a very sensitive tip section. The line was one-half pound mono, tied to a no. 16 Model Perfect hook. And you'll find his sinker just as hard to believe as I found it looking over his shoulder . . . the size of this "o"!

The key to his rigging, and his system, proved to be the float. It is epoxied balsa, about two inches long, very slim, affixed to a stainless wire stem. The tope of the stem is red fluorescent for maximum visibility. The spider-webbish line is fed through an itty-bitty eye at the tip of the bobber, then attached to the bottom of the wire stem with a minute plastic sleeve. This rigging allows easy depth adjustment by sliding the bobber up or down.

Then came the mind blower, his live bait. Thill called them Eurolarvae. You and I would call them magnum maggots. He kept them in an ice chest to prolong their larvac stage. They were about one-half inch long and came in four colors: red, yellow, blue, and natural white. Dyed with harmless food coloring. Each has two tiny black eyes at the broad end of the body. The tiny hook point is barely inserted between the eyes, causing no harm to the little critter.

He impaled three of these on his tiny hook, smiled broadly and said: "Ready?" I immediately reacted to the challenge from this British whippersnapper by replying: "Ready!" I flicked my tiny, round bobber close to shore weeds and eagle-eyed it for the slightest movement signaling that a bluegill had inhaled the cricket. During the next 30 minutes, I suspected one had belched on the cricket just enough to tilt the bobber. Otherwise, nothing!

Meantime, Thill had caught six big bluegills and gently placed them in his submersed live bag. I ceased my cricketing so I could closely observe his maggoting. First off, the maggots simply were superior bait. But, the finesse was in his bobberology.

He had added just enough tiny shot to sink the bobber, leaving only the tip of the body and the fluorescent stem above water. He kept moving and dunking his maggots, uh, Eurolarvae that is, both eyes locked on the bobber tip. He learned this art of bobber interpretation from being a match-fishing champion in Europe, under the toughest possible conditions for hard-to-catch species. Match-fishing competition is done in small streams from banks which are lined by thousands of avid spectators. But, back to Thill.

I was ogling his bobber and saw no movement when he grunted: "Um-hum," tightened the filamentous line slightly and let the bluegill fight the limber tipped pole. "How did you know a bluegill took the mag. . .uh, larvae?" I queried. "The bobber didn't bob."

And Thill replied: "You must observe the nuances of changes in the flaot's attitude. Like, just then the tip of the bobber, as you call it, rose slightly indicating that a bluegill had sucked in the larvae from above. This nullified the weight of the shots' downward pull, allowing the bobber to ascend minutely.

"If the bobber descends a bit, the bluegill took it from below. Should the bobber stem tilt to the left, then the bluegill took the larvae from the right. Remember the law of physics, for every action there is a reaction? Well, this applies to bobber reading, too."

And my Uncle John thought he was a real sport back in the 1930's when he used a porcupine quill because he termed it: "The most sensitive of all fishing floats!"

After a couple of hours Thill had chalked up 13 large bluegills with his super-sensitive rigging and larvae, while I failed to score with usually dependable crickets. So, here is what I suggest, one fishing buddy to another. Take a look at ultralight gear and advanced British and European methods when conditions are tough.