Midwest Bluegills on the Fly

My Indiana buddy, Charley Storms and a pond largemouth.


My fly softly hit the water next to a weed bed, and started to sink. There was a swirl of water and I felt the tug of a fish on the other end of the line.

A minute later I landed my trophy, a saucer-size bluegill, or sunfish. We admired its colors and then I slipped it back into the water. It wasn’t a trout, but it was a pretty little fish and it took a fly. I was happy.

If we started our tour of Indiana a couple weeks ago by catching a muskie, I ended our Indiana trip with something typical of Midwestern fishing; catching panfish in a small pond.

First a bit of a travelogue. We spent a long weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. I’d long known about Fort Wayne, as when I was a kid I used to follow the Minneapolis Lakers, long before the Lakers moved to Los Angeles. A frequent opponent was the Fort Wayne Pistons. In 1957, according to Phil Bloom, the outgoing president of our organization and a lifelong resident of Fort Wayne, the Pistons moved to Detroit, primarily at the insistence of the NBA, which wanted teams to be in bigger cities.

We found Fort Wayne to be an interesting city, with a lot going on along the rivers that go through town. Two rivers, the St. Mary and the St. Joseph, come together in town to form the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie. Just on the other side of town is a marsh that drains into the beginning of the Wabash River, which flows to the southwest to its confluence with the Ohio River. It’s a bit more subtle than the mountain range that puts Butte on the west side of the Continental Divide but it’s a Divide, nonetheless. In fact, in one of our sessions, we had a presentation on the building of a big earthen dike across that marsh, to prevent the possibility of invasive Asian carp from crossing that marsh in high water conditions to the St. Mary River and getting into the Lake Erie watershed.

An exotic butterfly checking out a visitor.

A fascinating attraction in downtown Fort Wayne is the Botanical Conservatory, a partially enclosed facility that holds a tropical rainforest habitat, along with a desert habitat. The most fascinating exhibit was a butterfly enclosure, filled with flowering plants and a variety of exotic butterflies from South Africa. Visitors enter through a secure vestibule and exit through another one, to make sure that no butterflies escape. The facility has a license from the USDA to import the butterfly cocoons, but has to maintain security to prevent these foreign insects from escaping.

After the conference, we avoided interstate highways to see different parts of Indiana, skirting the eastern edge of Indiana, through Amish areas, where we often saw highway signs with a horse and buggy depicted. Indeed, we did meet a horse and buggy, driven by a bearded Amish gentleman, on the U.S. highway we were on.

Our route then took us west through hilly, wooded areas, with small streams, along with the mostly slow-moving rivers of Indiana. It wasn’t speedy travel but truly scenic and relaxing.

We spent a couple nights in southwestern Indiana in Evansville, as guests of our good friends, Charley and Elizabeth Storms. Charley and I got acquainted through following my columns on the internet, and has visited us several times to fly-fish the Big Hole River and hunt grouse.  Charley took me to one of his spots, a secluded little pond where he has a small jon boat stashed away at the bottom of a trail through the woods.

During the course of a couple hours, we caught a number of sunfish and a couple largemouth bass. The bass weren’t much bigger than the sunfish, though Charley said a friend who also fishes there has caught a couple five-pound bass in the pond.

It’s good to be home, again, but our jaunt to Hoosier Country stays in our happy memory book.

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