Asking me what is my favorite fish is like asking me who is my favorite kid, there is no answer. I like all species of fish but this time of year I start thinking warm water and I always look forward to breaking out the 3 weight outfit and fishing for sunfish. Although bass are in the sunfish family I think of sunfish as species such as Bluegill that fit nicely into a pan thus the common name panfish that is often used to reference the group.There are a number of different species throughout the country, but in Colorado our fisheries primarily contain Bluegill, Green Sunfish, Pumpkinseed, Crappie and their hybrids. Among the many reasons I like sunfish is they are happy fish and generally very willing to grab a fly. They are beautifully marked, especially when wearing their spawning colors, and when holding one in the sun I sometimes think they would fit right in with some of the charismatic reef species in salt water.
There are numerous approaches that can be used to catch panfish but my favorite is the popper-dropper. Any small popper with rubber legs will work and my favorite dropper is The Spork, which also happens to be my favorite carp fly. The Spork is also the dropper I use with a larger popper when targeting bass. Other flies will work but the Spork is my confidence pattern for panfish and bass so to keep it simple that is the dropper I carry. When the popper lands on the water it gets the attention of any fish that sees or hears it but they may be reluctant to take the popper and will often take the dropper without hesitation. This is especially true for larger and craftier individuals. After making the cast I like to let the combo sit for a short while, then use a variety of retrieves until I find the one that is most productive. My standard retrieve is a series of hand twists with numerous pauses during the retrieve. The popper acts like an indicator when a fish takes the dropper. Ironically the panfish and small bass tend to slam the dropper leaving no doubt that a fish has taken the dropper, but the bigger bass just inhale it and the popper may just quiver. I use a Sage 390 ONE rod, WF5F RIO Grand line, 7 1/2 2x Trout Leader and 3x Fluoroflex Plus tippet to the dropper.