Great stories, Lee. Ah yes, those days of our youth...It took me until the asge of 21 to first start throwing flies, even though I began fishing at nine. I was inspired by a professor at the U of MI Bio Station (forest ecologist) to start throwing Hexagenia imitations after dark at big slashing browns - talk about baptism under fire! Although, the truth is, the VERY FIRST FISH I ever caught on a fly rod was a 6" rock bass that took a Muddler Minnow I was tossing off the pier outside the Station's boatwell for practice...I came full circle on that one last year when I brought in a 12" rock bass on my friends' dock on Cooley Lake (plus many 10-11-inchers, largemouth up to 16", bluegill and pumpkinseed up to 9", etc...).
My best sunfish experiences ever were down south, in MO and TX.
They get a LOT bigger on the average down there, like salad-plate size, plus there are more species like warmouth, redear, redbreast, and spotted sunnies (the last not usually over 6" but incredibly beautiful fish). In a pond in SW MO, a private spring-fed affair I was invited by the owner to fish, I actually had 10" bluegills BREAK ME OFF on 6x tippet! In the San Marcos River in TX the big bright blue-and-orange redbreast sunfish fed on caddisflies skimming over the water at dusk just like trout, in big pods where you could see their noses and round foreheads poking out of the water as they fed. On the same river I caught a species of cichlid known as the Rio Grande "perch" (they call EVERYTHING a perch down there, especially sunfish, and they have no real ones like yellow perch we have here in MI), a close relative of aquarium fishes like Oscars and angelfish, up to 10-11" on my favorite #10 chartreuse WBs. I even caught Mexican tetras there, larger (4") silver relatives of neon tetras and other cute little aquarium inhabitants. And, in the Lampasas River one afternoon after finishing up a field project, I came across hundreds of square yards of spawning longear sunfish, gaudy blue and orange males that hit my flies on about every other cast (often on consecutive casts). GEEEZ, I could go on forever...
I LOVE THEM SUNNIES!!!!
P.S. BTW Lee, you are the first person I have EVER heard mention the good old Nine-Three. I popped a nice 10" brookie in the U.P. on one back in 1990, the first year I started tying. Thanks for bringing back that memory (and all of the others).
P.P.S. Shawn, I agree with you on surface hits by largemouth - they are SPECTACULAR. However, I've had some pretty explosive hits by big browns, too. One night on the Maple I caught a 15-incher that sounded like it came completely out of the water and hit the fly on the way back down - after dark too so it sounded all the louder!
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...