The sounds of summer

The buzz of cicadas and jet skis sliced through the humidity of the August weekend, fading out long enough to allow the thick air they had cut to seal back together like melted marshmallow on a campfire s’more.

In the background, my dad and his buddy Tim chatted as each blue and green beanbag landed with a thud on the angled plywood target while the grunt of Tim’s border collie broke the air on occasion as he leapt for his Frisbee. Of all the sounds I sorted through on the warm Saturday, the one I was listening for was the snap of the hungry panfish just off shore.

With the sun peaking through the gray ceiling and the heat beginning to build, bluegills started breaking the surface. Each time they did, a pop or a slurp, or occasionally an exciting splash, signaled where I was to drop my next cast.

This time of year, it rarely matters what fly the panfish in the warm shallows are rising on, as they’ll eat just about anything. It could be a foam ant, the finest hackled dry fly, or a gaudy stimulator, and for me it was all of those and then some as I looked to land a number of fish on different patterns. But it became apparent that one fly was turning up the volume with the bigger bluegills hiding around the docks and weed edges of the south shore.

Being an avid pheasant hunter, I strive to incorporate the feathers from my favorite bird into many of the patterns I make up myself, and to modify classic patterns with what I think are showier additions.

The latter was the case at my vise in the silence of a winter evening as I added a gold-trimmed shoulder feather in place of a boring old turkey quill wing, and tied in two knotted pheasant tail fibers as legs in the classic deer-hair-grasshopper pattern known as the Letort Hopper.

I called it the Pheasant Retort; a smartmouth angler’s loud response to the same-old-same that I was sure would help me make some noise on the summer water.

I tugged the line off the reel and it whizzed as the loops poured out onto the glassy water around my knees. I raised the rod with a flick and a whip. My electric green line split the surface and rolled the fly near the deep boatlift on a neighboring dock where bluegills had been snapping, readily rising to whatever was near the algae-stained aluminum. I slightly stripped the line back in until the connection between my rod and my hopper was tight. Bit by bit I tugged at the line, imitating the panicked kick of a stranded grasshopper frantically trying to make its way to shore.

I looked around as fish began to rise on the edge of the shade under and along the other docks in the area, each snap and pop signaling a growing frenzy. A loud smack and a jolt down the rod brought my wandering gaze back to the area beside the neighbor’s boat.

The tell-tale circle surrounding the place where my fly once sat, along with the sound made by a hungry bluegill, was a sure sign the battle was on. I lifted the rod tip and the five-weight bent with the fury of a freshwater piranha struggling on the other end.

He tried to make his way to the next dock and run my tiny tippet around the post, but I was able to steer him away and eventually to hand, where he showed his disapproval with a few noisy flops before settling into my grasp. With a quick twist of the fly, the nine-inch bull flipped back into the water and shot off toward the neighbor’s dock. With a sigh of satisfaction, I cleaned the green surface gunk out of the fly’s deer-hair head and cracked the thick air with my backcast before smacking the surface with yet another cast of my jazzed-up hopper fly which would again bring the noise and continued successin our outdoors.