Al Campbell, Field Editor

June 23rd, 2003

Home Waters - part 1
By Al Campbell

Why is it that so many writers write about any exotic body of water they can manage to visit, but when it concerns their home waters, they are strangely silent? Is it because they don't want anybody to invade the water they fish most often? Maybe they don't want anyone to know where they really come from?

Another thing I wonder about is; how can a person be an expert on a body of water if he/she doesn't fish it often or live near it. A guy who lives in another state wrote the most publicized and most popular book on the water near where I live. How can a guy spend a month or two in an area and suddenly become an "expert" on that area? Worse yet, some guys spend only a few days in an area and try to come off as an expert on that area's fishing. I'm not inclined to accept their views as expert advice on my area's waters. Instead I think of them as a limited view of the outside of a treasure chest I call home waters. They couldn't possibly know the treasures that are hidden inside.

I gave up my subscription to a popular fly-fishing magazine for that reason. They had a lot of good product reviews, but there was precious little in the way of articles on fishing close to home. In a year's time I was able to read about two or three exotic locations in each issue, but articles on home waters within the continental United States or southern Canada were extremely rare. Joe from Chicago goes to Russia and catches big trout and salmon. He comes back with some great pictures and "expert" advice on everything from flies and gear to the best times to fish that area. In the same issue Bob from Dallas goes to Alaska and returns an "expert" on the salmon fishing there. Pete from Phoenix rounds off the top three articles with "expert advice" after his trip to Argentina. But, where were the articles about fishing we can drive to in a day?

I won't try to claim innocence here. I have been guilty of visiting a place where I don't live and writing about it; and I'll do it again when the opportunity arises. However, I don't try to pass myself off as an expert on the waters I visit. I think there is a big difference there. You get a better feel for an area and you read more accurate information about that area if the author lives in or near that area and fishes it often. For that reason, I tip my hat to Bob Krumm for all the writing he does about the rivers he guides on.

What is it about home waters that we wish to protect? Is it a desire to keep the secrets of the water to ourselves? Do we resent anyone else searching for an intimacy with our water that is similar to the intimacy we share with that water? Why are we so willing to tell all about other people's home waters, but timid to reveal the same information about our own home turf? I honestly don't know the answer to those questions. I just know that it is somehow easier to share waters other than our own with those who might want to share that experience.

I think I'm going to try to break that chain. Starting this week, I'm going to expose some of my home water and share a few secrets with you. Since it is my home water, it won't be some quickie from a guy who just visited the area, but rather a look at the treasures I hold dear and know well. If I do this right, the next time you visit my home waters, you'll feel like you know some of the secrets they hold and it will be like a reunion with an old friend. At least, that is my goal.

Last Wednesday I fished a small pond (maybe 80 acres) with a couple of my friends. The pond is owned by one of those friends, so it isn't accessible to everyone, and I won't reveal its exact location. However, it is very typical of the small lakes and ponds in my area, so the flavor of this water relates to other waters close by and easily accessible to the public.

This pond, like most of the ponds and small lakes on the western South Dakota prairie, is loaded with small to medium sized largemouth bass, bluegills and crappies. Yellow-belly bullheads search the bottom for anything that is edible and are easy targets for anyone fishing with a worm or dough ball. Although this pond is private, I have fished dozens of other public ponds and lakes like it with names like New Underwood, New Wall, Wicksville, Tisdale, Howes, Newell and Cottonwood. They all fish much the same, and they are all "home waters" to me.

Dragonflies and damselflies are the main insect hatches on these lakes, but other insects exist in numbers strong enough to vary the diets of the fish and keep them interested in other offerings. A fairly heavy evening hatch of tricos had the bluegills hopping, and the bass were slipping into the shallow water to feast on small fish searching the surface for a meal. That is a typical summer evening on this and the other ponds and lakes on our prairie landscape.

Except for the area near the earthen dam, the shallow areas near the shoreline of most of the pond are covered with a heavy mat of weeds by mid June. It's the same thing on the other small waters in our area. Without a boat, canoe, personal pontoon or float tube, the shallow areas of the lake would be un-fishable. Fred brought a canoe, so he and Bob hunted the upper reaches of the pond while Mike and I picked on the bluegills near the dam.

Bob is a novice fly fisherman who is learning the trade, so his casting distance was limited. He'll learn it fast. We won't let him backslide into the spinning gear now. I don't think he would slip that direction anyway. He had too much fun with the fly rod. Home waters are a perfect place to learn new techniques and new ways of fishing.

We hooked up with Orange Shwapf's to pester the bluegills until just before sundown. Small bluegills like this one and a few up to a pound and a half are common fare in this area. We caught more 'gills than we cared to count, and although the owner of the pond invited us to take a bunch home for some fine eating, we were too busy catching them to entertain the idea of cleaning them, so they were released to be caught again another day.

As the sun prepared to set on the western horizon, I switched to a yellow marabou muddler and started catching bass in the two-pound range. There are bigger bass in this and the other local ponds and lakes, but two pounds is fairly typical of the average size in all these lakes. That's a nice size for a five or six weight rod. I landed four bass and lost as many in the 45 minutes I fished for them.

Something about a sunset over a prairie pond appeals to my photographic eye. I might have caught more bass if I hadn't put my fly rod down and picked up my camera to capture the shades of a setting sun and the silhouette of two friends in a canoe. Small waters offer views you can't find everywhere, and life is too short to miss the scenery, or a colorful sunset.

Crackers with cheese and soft drinks or a beer served up from the back of a Chevy Blazer were all we needed to cap a great evening. Sharing home waters with a few good friends is one of life's greatest treasures. The gold hues of a setting sun reflected the true treasure of good friends, good conversation, good fishing and home waters. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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