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Andy Schafermeyer’s Adventures Afield: Catching Tiny Fish is Great Fun | Adventures in the distance



FOR ME, angling is not a competitive sport but rather a sport that is practiced through different levels of achievement and camaraderie.

If I get skunky on the water, I can still enjoy watching a friend of mine land a few. I never count or allow a numerical value to be the measure of pleasure. By working in this mindset, no one wins or loses.

Last week my friends and I put that lack of competitiveness aside and launched a challenge that has become much more difficult than we thought. In the end, it was also the most fun we’ve had on the water in a long time.

The rules were simple and resulted in no cost other than bragging rights. Our challenge was to catch the smallest fish possible on a fly rod. There was no limit on species, location or evidence of capture. The honor system was to govern the competition, during which we had five days to complete.

Each approach was as unique as the individual fisherman and each had a plan that seemed to have merit and potential success.

I immediately knew my target fish and based my decision on the predatory instincts of one of my favorites. The Eastern Chain Pickerel would be my choice and its propensity for greedy eating at any age would be a crucial advantage for my competition.

Once the fish had been selected, I needed a location. Fighting instinct, I had to research those conditions which provided a preferred habitat for juvenile fish rather than aggressive adults. Catching an adult pike is easy and opportunities abound, but anything over 5 inches in length would fail. I had to aim small.

I remembered launching my boat into a bass pond a few weeks earlier where the warm, shallow water thickened with aquatic vegetation and stumps. Small fish would surely seek this cover while waiting for the opportunity to feed carefully. While bass fishing I caught a dozen pike and knew they were breeding successfully. Their offspring would be abundant and available for my quest for a small victory.

The final decision would be which fly would best entice a baby fish to eat. Although the bulk of their diet consists of microscopic plants and animals, I have very few flies that mimic this. A fish of the desired size would be careful and not risk getting up for a dry fly. Likewise, a heavy nymph can be too big and scare away small fish which are actually eaten by predatory insects like beetles and hellgrammites.

Letting go of all the sacred attitudes of fly fishermen, I went back to basics and realized that no fish can resist a worm. Fortunately, there is a fly designed to mimic an aquatic worm and is known quite simply as the San Juan worm. With a glint in my eyes, I realized I had hundreds of them in my fly box and selected a tiny red one for this adventure.

There was very little traditional fly casting in my approach. I stood ankle-deep in the pond and hung the fake worm in likely places. Soon after, a small pike appeared and bit the piece of red worm. As I was doing my best to stir the bait, the fish bit with a mouth too small to get around the hook.

In final desperation, I switched to a similar fly tied with wool and dropped it in the same spot. Almost instantly, a pike less than 2 inches long attacked him. Although he was not hooked, his little teeth got stuck in the wool and I quickly hoisted him out of the water.

The confused baby fish fell into my wet hand just long enough to snap a photo and release it at my feet. Mine was the smallest catch and gave me a victory in an otherwise backward chase of a trophy fish.

Afield Adventures with Andy Schafermeyer appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Andy at [email protected]



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