Before we even start with the fishing, I need to get
something off my chest.
At universities offering degrees in weather forecasting,
I feel there are fundamental weak spots in their course
curriculums. The consequences of these weak spots don't
become apparent until the students graduate and get hired
as weather reporters for TV and radio stations, after which
a fountain of dead wrong forecasts begins issuing from
their grinning cake holes.
This profession's propensity to sucker-punch a trusting
public with inaccurate forecasts - and to do it repeatedly
and with impunity - could be eradicated if weather forecast
trainees were forced by college professors, and later by
station owners, to participate in some type of outdoor
activity that physically exposes their bodies to the
following day's weather conditions…after they've
cheerfully predicted what that next day's weather will be.
If every weather forecaster was forced just once a week to
leave the studio and spend the next 24 hours outdoors fly
fishing, or canoeing, with nothing but the clothes on his
or her back to protect them - thereby exposing themselves
to the conditions they confidently told us that we
could expect - this would properly position their noses to
smell the bull manure they just shoveled. And if that
weekly reality check failed to improve their accuracy rate,
their next "refresher training" would entail getting deported
to Indonesia to be stripped to their underwear and publicly
Friday, January 20th: Outside my office window the downtown
Kansas City weather is miserable - drizzle mixed with rain
and intermittent snow, wind 20 mph from the northwest,
temperature hovering just below freezing. For me, the whole
work week has been one stressed-out federal bureaucracy
bottom-of-the-food-chain disaster. So upon hearing word
circulate through the office of a happyface forecast for
Saturday ("50 degrees, sunny all day with a southeast wind
of just 5 mph") no one was more relieved and excited than I.
Handed such a wonderful Saturday in January, I knew exactly
what to do. Immediately after work I would drive to my
favorite lake and camp there overnight, parked only twenty
feet from my canoe put-in spot. After rising Saturday
morning it would take just ten minutes, tops, to get out on
the water. And with virtually no wind Saturday to hamper
casting accuracy and line control, I could work every spot
with lethal precision using one of Rick Zieger's lightweight
#12 plastic bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymphs. I was gonna let
that little PTN puppy settle slowly through the water column
then make it wiggle back to my canoe as seductively as a Las
Vegas hooker. If the panfish were even remotely thinking
about feeding, yours truly would rip into 'em.
And so I went to the lake after work, trusting this glowing
My eyes snapped open around 7 a.m. Something was wrong, and
it was the wind. Perhaps I should say it was my truck, which
was getting rocked sharply side-to-side by southeast gusts
of much greater velocity than any 5 mph. I looked outside,
and above me were thick gray scuttling clouds. My breath
floated like cigar smoke when I exhaled. This was no 50
Zipping back into my sleeping bag, I catnapped fitfully for
another two hours, waiting for the sun to cut through, waking
periodically to check outdoors for signs of improvement.
There were none. When I finally exited my truck around
9:30 a.m., I was immediately punished by a sudden increase
in the wind speed.
As we outdoor types know, comfort-wise there's a world of
difference between 35 degrees and high wind with sunshine
...as opposed to 35 degrees and high wind with no sunshine.
Sunshine delivers a significant heat gain to your body so
long as you wear an outer layer that cuts off wind penetration.
I was wearing a light nylon wind suit, but to little effect;
with no sun warming its surface I felt chilled. Suffering
the most were my exposed fingertips as the cold morning air
blew across them. It was painful just unracking and loading
Only a complete idiot, of course, would consider launching
a canoe and attempting to fly fish in such bitter winter
conditions. So quite a bit of time got saved on this occasion
because years ago I took the Complete Idiot Test and passed.
I resisted the urge, though, to paddle downwind to the deeper
part of the lake arm (where in theory the water was slightly
warmer and fish were more likely holding). That part of the
lake was getting whipped real good by wind and waves. So I
eased my canoe away from shore and moved out no more than 50
feet, then in this relatively calmer water began casting as
soon as I was out far enough that I could no longer see the
lake bottom below me. Still, the wind here was bad enough
that Rick's PTN was far too light to be effective: my floating
line was getting bellied sideways so fast that his nymph
couldn't sink any deeper than a couple of inches. Not deep
enough. My only option: go with a heavier nymph, which for
me meant a #10 Hare's Ear.
Cursing the weather forecasters - and I don't mean under my
breath, either - I threw the HEN into a likely looking area
with no hope of accomplishing anything. Just going through
the motions here, making an effort. Mostly it was plain
stubbornness borne of a prideful desire not to surrender
straightaway to this day's rotten weather. Just give me
ten, maybe 15 minutes of this mess and I'm outa here, I've
done my duty.
On the fifth cast came a sharp twitch on my line, I lifted
and was into a fish that turned out to be a 10-inch largemouth
bass. Well, hello! On the next cast, a keeper-size bluegill
grabbed the nymph. Oh, you, too? A few casts later into more
or less the same spot there came another twitch and I was into
...a crappie! First of the year! It was a good one, too.
Good by my standards - 10 inches long and thick of body. To
each his own, but to me a 10-inch crappie is your Florida
fisherman's 100-lb. tarpon.
After this crappie, a few more bluegills and bass came on
board my canoe for a short inspection tour. I vaguely
became aware that even wet from handling fish my fingers
weren't as cold now as they'd felt 15 minutes earlier,
even though the wind hadn't slowed any. But what really
got me warm were two large fish I didn't boat. I never
cleanly saw either one during their fights, but I'm pretty
sure they were equally big crappies, I just can't swear to
it. The fact that their underwater greenish-white flashes
looked close enough to make them possibly be crappies was
exciting enough to me. They fought really hard, too,
whatever they were.
With this initial flurry, I became convinced that the
smart move was keep working slowly down this lake arm
even though it meant exposing myself increasingly to
that straight razor southeast wind. By now my
cotton-socked feet were hurting bad they were so cold.
And that was my own fault; I'd not brought polypro liners
and wool socks, thinking they wouldn't be needed on a
sunny, 50-degree calm day. And you know, as a river
canoeist I've been burned so many times by bad forecasts
that I should have known better. Blind faith in a pleasant
forecast sales pitch had once again prevailed over common
sense. P.T. Barnum should have been a weather forecaster.
After catching and releasing 4 bass, 8 bluegills and 2
crappie, around 10:30 a.m. the fish quit biting, and I
do mean quit. For another three hours I worked every
spot that looked good, with zero touches.
Returning to my truck to cook lunch, I decided to stay
at the lake the rest of the day anyway. I mean, why not?
Maybe the sun would come out after all, and the wind lie
down; maybe the temperature would still hit 50 as predicted?
Well, two out of three eventually happened: at 5 p.m. I
was back on the water under a clear blue but icy cold sky
in virtually dead calm air.
As the lake surface went mirror, this is where I clipped
off the heavier HEN and switched to a tandem rig consisting
of a #20 Griffith's Gnat followed by a #16 Olive Soft Hackle
on a 6X connector tippet. Maybe I shouldn't have used this
tandem considering the lake was not yet exhibiting evidence
of insect hatching or fish pursuit. Being ignorant of
midges, I was gambling that their hatches occur every day
but only during late afternoon/early evening hours. This
probably isn't correct, but it's what motivated me to try
I quietly returned to the same spots where I'd caught fish
that morning on the Hare's Ear Nymph. This time I worked
these areas in super slow motion using the ultra lightweight
midge tandem. But no takers. I worked the tandem in the
shallows, then again out deeper in the submerged brush.
Nobody was home, or if they were home they were ignoring
I finally gave up just before dark and headed in. And then
while paddling back to my truck my canoe's approach began
spooking fish in front of me, fish that were suspended
barely beneath the surface. Believing these fish to be
the vanguard rising to ambush positions in anticipation
of the evening midge hatch, I promptly anchored and began
fan casting my tandem rig in a circular pattern all around
the boat. Nobody was interested.
So this was a strange trip. Fourteen fish, all the action
happening in the morning only in about 30 minutes, followed
by no hits the entire rest of the day. Possible midge hatch
in prospect, but nothing gained in the attempt to mimic it.
But hey, fourteen is more fish than I'd have caught if I
hadn't tried at all.
Looking back, what I remain most curious about are those
crappies that took my nymph. This time of year on most
Kansas lakes only the powerboat folks are catching crappies,
and they're doing it in 30 feet of water where schools are
suspended in creek channels. Which begs the question: what
were these two crappies doing that I caught in mid-January
at such an early hour in such nasty weather, lurking in water
that was probably colder but barely three feet deep?
Do crappie schools send "scouts" sneaking into the shallows
super-early, weeks ahead of the main body, to check on
conditions at their habitual spawning areas? Or maybe
there are eccentric crappies that ignore their schoolmates
and wander solo anyplace they please so long as enough
dissolved oxygen enables their presence? They're sure
a strange fish, are crappie.
I don't know, maybe it's for the best that weathermen
aren't forced outdoors to "survive their own forecasts."
Because if they got pushed outside once a week during
wintertime some of them might grab fly rods and end up
catching fish when they never thought such a thing
possible. Then they might start issuing even more
wrong forecasts than usual; but deliberately, to keep
the competition confused. Maybe they've been doing
this all along anyway. Tell you one thing: where I
live it doesn't matter which forecaster you listen
to most - here in Kansas, buddy, once you're out there
you're on your own. ~ Joe
From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the