I did my fair share of bobber fishing as a kid, but I often found myself really bored in the boat, or ready to wander off if I was fishing with my dad from shore.
As soon as I got a fly rod, that all changed. I became a very active, focused fisherman and worked at trying to figure out what would make my main target, sunfish, bite.
Fortunately, starting my fly-fishing journey with these panfish made working through that puzzle much easier as sunfish ate almost anything that looked remotely “buggy” that I put in front of them. The sunfish I was trying to fool as a kid were bluegills or pumpkinseeds.
There is an even easier sunfish target at Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes. Both lakes are absolutely loaded with green sunfish along the shoreline. Green sunfish look like they have never missed a meal. Their stomachs bulge, yet they are always willing to grab the next potential morsel that appears.
This is good for anglers, but bad for other inhabitants of the lakes. Green sunfish are an invasive species that quickly out-competes other native species because of their aggressive feeding tendencies. They also eat many of the bugs that would help the trout grow more quickly. Anglers can take real advantage of their apparent ravenous appetite and catch a bunch quickly.
Green sunfish are a lot of fun to catch as they have a habit of attacking the fly at full speed. I never have to make a long cast, and in fact it is fun to keep the cast as short as possible to watch their antics.
Their explosive strike results from the behavior characteristic of the fish to hide under rocks and logs always looking for any bugs nearby. As soon as they see something to eat, they rush out and grab it and then dart back under cover to avoid being eaten by predators themselves.
That gives the angler an immediate tug. They will take worms and mealworms, but are a perfect introduction to the fly rod for youngsters or adults new to fly-fishing.
Green sunfish have much larger mouths than bluegills, so can eat much bigger prey. This makes a small foam or cork popper a great choice for catching them. It is instructive to watch green sunfish grab a popper. Sometimes, they will slowly approach the popper, suck it in, then dart back down quickly to their cover. More often, they will come from a hidden crevice and attack with great speed. An advantage to using small poppers is that it helps you catch the bigger sunfish in the area.
None of them are huge. Probably the largest I have taken from either lake is only six or seven inches long. A small (size 12-16) unweighted wet fly like a hare’s ear, or pheasant tail works well too, but you might end up catching more small fish with these smaller flies.
There are so many green sunfish in these lakes that besides restricting food for the trout in the lake, they compete with one another for every morsel. Ideally, when you catch a mess of green sunfish, you will plan to take them home to eat them.
It is important that you do not plan to transport them live from Woods Canyon or Willow Springs Lakes. It takes very few of them to become a nuisance in any lakes still devoid of these pests.
An additional activity that you might want to consider is putting out a crayfish trap while you fish. Everyone has their preferred baits, but I like the simplicity of hot dogs. Again, like the sunfish, it is important that we do not transport these invasive species to another body of water.
There are still some lakes and streams in Arizona that don’t have these critters in them and I am sure the Arizona Game and Fish Department would appreciate any help you can provide to reduce their numbers!