Since we are getting close to the holidays (less than two weeks) most of you will probably be
staying home or visiting friends and family during the coming days. I doubt that many of you will
be traveling to and fishing the Smokies although I hope you do.  January and the first part of
February is probably the coldest time of the year and you will have to pick out the better days to
expect much success fishing the freestone streams. By the end of February, everyone will be
doing their best to force the bugs to hatch and the trout to respond even though they will probably
have to wait a few more days to see any surface action. That considered, I thought I would write
about some fishing trips we have made to various other destinations. Don't expect these articles
to be well written and edited. I am not trying to win any awards, just tell you about some things I
hope you will find interesting and some that I look back on with a gleam in my eye.

Bream and Shellcrackers, Lake Poinsett, Florida - Part 2

Bream and shellcrackers, or redear sunfish, look a lot alike but they are actually
different in many respects. One thing important to those of us who enjoy catching
them is that they eat different types of food. The shellcracker gets its name from
cracking the shells and eating mollusks. They normally feed on the bottom in water
from four to eight feet deep. Lakes that have beds of these shells usually have a
large population of shellcrackers. They will also eat worms. Crickets placed on a
hook will catch them but I am not certain how many crickets or worms are eaten by
them in a nature.

Like most all fish, It is relatively easy to catch either bream or shellcrackers when
they are spawning but other than that, it isn't always so easy.  Bream seem to feed
on the surface a lot more than shellcrackers. Where both are present, you will
usually catch a lot more bream on top water flies than you will shellcrackers. Bream
are still fairly easy to catch when they are not spawning during the warmer months
of the year but when the water gets a little chilly, like many other warm water
species, they stop feeding on the surface.

One of the lessons I learned on the St. John River is that if you use the right types
of flies and you present them in the right type of water you can catch both bream
and shellcrackers year round. It should be similar to trout fishing in that when the
water gets cold and trout cease to feed on the surface, anglers go to nymphs and
larvae imitations. Bream and shellcrackers can be caught using the same strategy.
Just switch to a subsurface fly when the water gets cold. The other thing is that
shellcrackers can be caught year round in deeper water. If you present a fly over
the beds of shells you can catch them anytime.

It is fairly easy to do that. Finding the shell beds is very easy with a fishfinder. They
will make an entirely different type of return from soft bottoms present in most lakes,
even clay bottoms. They return a much stronger sonar return and make a much
wider line on a sonar chart whereas the soft bottoms absorb much of the sound and
make a much narrower line. This is all controlled by the adjustment of gain or
sensitivity of the receiver but at almost any setting you will be able to see the

If you can find a shell bed you should anchor your boat a short ways from it and
cast your fly past the shell bed,  or on top of it if it is very large. Bringing the nymph
right across the bottom just above the shells almost always works. You may want to
use a sinking line or sinking tip, but it is not necessary unless the water is real
deep. Just weight the tippet a few inches above the fly and get it all the way down to
the bottom before you retrieve it. I strip in line a couple of inches at a time with a
light twitch of the line to give the fly a little action. In colder water you will often catch
bream the same way although not in the same places as you do the shellcrackers.

In the early 1980s, we used an ugly fly one of the guys I fished with tied that
imitated a minnow. Minnows and small fish hide in the rough structure created by
the shells. Both bream and shellcrackers eat small minnows and baitfish. The
weighted head fly I call the
"Perfect Fly" Panfish Minnow is the fly I designed similar
to his fly to use for the deeper water. The "Perfect Fly" Bream Minnow will also
work, it just doesn't have the weighted head and eyes of the Panfish Minnow. It is
easier to cast and use in shallower water. Of course either fly is great for uses
other than fishing them over shell beds. They look large in the pictures but slim
down when they are wet. They imitate many different types of small fish and
minnows that feed on the bottom.

The sizes available now are for both bream, shellcrackers, crappie and bass. They
are a little large if you are fishing only for smaller bream and shellcrackers. If you
are in a lake with some that weight a pound and over, these size flies work well. We
will have some smaller sizes available before Spring. We have some other wet
bream/panfish flies that I designed or i should say, modified from some other long
time fly patterns in this case. I will get to those tomorrow.


Copyright 2008 James Marsh