- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let’s bet a nickel on each fish,” I said. The usually calm Andy Andrzejewski, who normally earns his keep guiding bass-hungry clients on the waters of the tidal Potomac River, smiled.

“You’ll probably lose,” he replied.

It was our annual flyfishing-for-bluegills outing, a time for good-natured ribbing and in general acting like we were young boys once again.

The sunfish sat on their spawning beds; the air was wet and sticky, kind of like August in the Okefenokee, and the two of us unraveled 7- and 8-foot light-action flyrods. We fed 3- and 5-weight floating flylines through the guides, attached thin tapered monofilament leaders, and tied tiny size 8 and 10 sinking black gnats, ants, bumblebees or topwater pencil eraser-sized popping bugs to the thin nylon.

In my case, using a 5-weight outfit was far more than should be required for sunfish, but now and then a good-sized bass comes along during one of our sunfish outings. When it happens, well, you’re happy that the stronger equipment can handle it without having to worry about losing a fish. Besides, I do not seek approval from flyfishing purists, so I pretty much use whatever is available in my tackle storage room.

Either way, both of us are aware there is no more enjoyable way to set a hook to a feisty, well-fed bluegill than with a flyrod - and that’s saying something, coming from the mouth of a diehard user of baitcasting and spinning reels, strong lines and heavy lures.

But back to the task at hand. We watched a water snake swim past us, a wildly objecting young catfish in its mouth. Somewhere in the distance, two bass boats blew by. If the occupants could have seen us whipping flylines through the rod guides - allowing the casting distances to increase with each back-and-forward motion of the wrist and the little insects or balsa-wood bug imitation to settle softly on the shoreline edge - they’d have ruffled their noses.

To be sure, the bass boaters missed hearing the fairly loud sounds that seemed to say “sloosh” and “goolp” whenever the water suddenly opened and our nearly weightless lures disappeared. It was then that we pressed our flylines against the lower rod sections and lifted the “magic wands.” An outraged sunfish would be on the hook, trying its best to shake the fake food that they had been fooled by.

“If a bluegill ever grew to the size of a trophy bass,” I said, “no one could ever get it into the boat. Ounce for ounce, they’re far stronger than anything else that swims around in these parts.”

Andy agreed and shook his head in disbelief when I recalled a trip to Venezuela’s Rio Orinoco some years ago and hooked a bluegill-lookalike known as a morocoto. The only difference with these South American freshwater fish was that they might weigh as much as 5 and 6 pounds. I had to use stout bass rods and reels and even then had a tough time getting one close enough to be netted.

Andy and I continued casting our sunfish poppers and gnats. We probably should have brought along an adding machine to keep track of the nickel bets because one minute the fishing guide was ahead by a quarter, the next I was on top. We guessed that by end of the day a small fortune in nickels could have been won or lost, but when all was said and done, I owed the Fishing Pole 10 cents.

He’d been right from the start. I lost.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected] Check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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