Looking for an exotic fish to set your hooks in? You probably could find quite a few such precious critters halfway across the globe in some lush tropical setting and run up a stiff price tag doing it.
Or you can visit one of the ponds or lakes stained brown by tannic acids, exuded by lush plant growth, that speckle the east Virginia flatlands. There you can catch Centrarchus mactopterus -- the flier fish.
Whipping a flier won't gain you much status among the angling jet set. You won't fish from a plush luxury boat. The little green fish won't burn up the drag on your Fin-Nor or pull your skiff a country mile across sandy ocean flats.
You'll scull an old colorless johnboat with a shredded paddle or purr across the pond with an electric motor. You'll strip line in rather crudely as you hustle the little devils to the boat before they wrap your line around some sunken shrub or lily stem.
And most folks won't care when you tell them you caught a flier. Chances are they won't even know what it is.
That is one of the most appealing aspects of flier fishing: you're nestled somewhere back in the boondocks in some snake-infested pond, working hard to catch a dinky little panfish few people even know exists.
There's something satisfying about that, even if you don't tell a soul.
It's strictly between you and this spunky little fish that looks something like a bluegill, something like a crappie, but not really like either. Its color is a mixture of a pale milky-green and grass, and there are dark spots in random patterns on some of the scales below the lateral line. the most striking feature of the flier is its hugh anal fin, which is edged in white much like a native brook trout's.
The waters inhabited by fliers are intriguing in their own right. Though found as far west as Illinois, the flier essentially is a fish of the tidewater portions of the Southeast. Like pickeral, which love to dine on these brassy green pan fish, the flier favors the same tannin-stained water. If there are rafts of half-rotten timber and acres of lily pads and pickerel weed, the flier will feel right at home.
Here the fish will wax fat on a diet of mosquito larvae, ants, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, midges and whatever minnows they can snatch from the weed beds. Imitating these critters with flies or using natural baits will bring steady flier action on most ponds and lakes the fish inhabit.
There are many such spots in Virginia. The ponds of A.P. Hill Military Reservation hold fliers, as do Chandler's Mill Pond on Rte. 3 east of Fredericksburg and Lake Drummond in the southeast part of the state. Much of the best flier fishing is found on small private ponds in the Tidewater section of the state.
In the summer, midday often finds fliers holing up deep, often mingled right in with black and white crappies. Once, on a big black pond, a fishing buddy and I found a tight pack of fliers and crappies hovering beneath a low concrete bridge on a hot summer day.
Impaling tiny minnows on No. 4 hooks, we threaded our long cane poles under the gray bridge, waited as the baits dropped to an eight-foot depth. Instantly the corks plunged out of sight and either a flier or crappie came flopping into the boat.
When fishing for fliers, a fly rod is the most satisfying tool. In mornings and evenings during summer --or most any time of day if you can find shady spots near shore -- you can fool the fish with a No. 10 or 12 sponge rubber spider or a popping bug. Cast the fly to a likely weed or submerged log, twitch it and wait. Twitch it again and a pugnacious fish likely will have sucked in the fraud.
Don't expect any lunkers. McClane's Standard Fishing Encyclopedia lists the maximum size for fliers as a halfpound. Actually, that is closer to the average size on good flier waters. Duane Raver, editor of "Wildlife in North Carolina," told me he once fished a private lake that yielded fliers up to 11 inches, weighing more than a pound apiece.
On light tackle, they're scrappy fighters, though. you may catch 30 or more on a good day, and pan-fried in butter they're quite tasty.
And when you tell your friends you've been flier fishing, they'll say, "What's a flier?"
Give them a wide grin.
We fishermen need a few secrets.