April 11th was a warm, blue sky day. Even
better, it was my day off. The only bad
thing about it was the wind, which was
blowing 25 mph.
I don't like fishing in high wind; never have,
never will. So although I'd enjoyed two
exciting fishing trips over the previous
seven days, and was psyched to enjoy another,
I ruled out fishing today. I assured my
girlfriend that I would stay home and help
her with domestic chores, later we'd eat
supper and watch the evening news together,
relax, chill out. In short, I sincerely
intended to spend an entire beautiful spring
day doing domestic home things, stuff a normal
guy in a committed relationship might do - a
guy who isn't a fisherman, I mean.
Around noon, after we'd finished the most
strenuous chores, the wind began behaving
differently, fading to a light breeze then
a few minutes later picking back up. This
change from straight high wind to intermittent
high wind was the only noteworthy sensory
signals getting processed by my brainstem's
autonomic pan fishing function. And I'll be
the first to admit that a meteorological change
like this is scarcely worthy of note, especially
when it happens in Kansas. I only mention it
here because gradually, and through absolutely
no act of will on my part, my earlier good
intentions began to unravel and I found myself
daydreaming about what kind of mood the fish
might be in later in the day - say, around
sundown if the wind actually did lay down?
I wasn't aware that I was giving off body
language indicating that such a thought was
being contemplated. But in hindsight, perhaps
I did lean across the kitchen sink, look out
the window and check the movement of the back
yard tree limbs one too many times.
"Going fishing this afternoon after all?" Janet,
who apparently had been watching me, asked.
"You know," I replied after giving this
unexpected inquiry the serious consideration
it deserved, "that might not be a half bad
idea? Since you mentioned fishing, even if
this high wind continues there could be one
or two small areas along the lake's windward
shoreline, protected places I could reach, and
the fish might be there. Of course, that's no
guarantee it would be easy; sometimes a nasty
eddy wind rolls back over the treetops or the
nearby hills and..."
...an hour later the lake came into view. First
windward cove I drove past looked nice at first,
no big waves, but then I saw the surface was
getting swept by southerly gusts whose force
was increased by the surrounding valley hills.
The second cove I checked was windswept, too,
and three guys in a bass boat were fishing it.
The third cove looked good, but high wind
blowing across the adjacent access road would
make it very hard to hold onto my canoe during
the long carry down to the water.
At the fourth cove, the water looked good and
there were no big waves. The put-in spot was
directly exposed to high wind and waves both,
but I knew I could control my canoe through
the modest 100 feet or so of waves before
entering the protected, calm water.
After reaching the fishing station I quickly
caught two smallish 'gills and put them on ice,
confident that others would soon be volunteering
to drop in and keep them company. But an hour
passed and no more hits came. Last year this
cove yielded some great action, but that was
summertime and the lake water was warmer.
Today this place seemed lifeless. I was
casting a Pheasant Tail nymph tandem rig into
the same good spots where I'd caught fish last
I finally had enough of nothing happening and
decided to go home where I should have stayed
in the first place. Cove #4's problem was
obvious: it is a short cove, narrow and deep.
Its proximity to the lake's main body guaranteed
a circulating coldwater environment that, for
the time being at least, prevented the cove's
marginal shallows from reaching proper panfish
operating temperature. (This seemed a perfect
excuse for why I hadn't done much good, in case
After starting my engine, I had two ways to go
home: turn left and drive across the dam, or
turn right and retrace the route I'd come in
on. Both were appealing, driving across the
dam more so because I could inspect a fifth
cove that I haven't looked at yet this year.
But I opted to retrace my entry route to see
if conditions had improved in the coves I'd
passed by on my way in.
Cove #3, nope. Cove #2, Bingo! Those three
guys in the bass boat were gone, no other
people were in sight, and maybe the wind
direction had shifted a few degrees because
the surface was much calmer now, definitely
canoe-able. (Cove #2, by the way, is where
the Picnickers From Hell…oh, never mind.)
I hurriedly launched, and out of habit worked
the same hotspots I'd hit two days earlier,
when I'd racked up 25 keepers. For an hour
I fished these places hard, but boated just
one 'gill. This absence of action was not
only unexpected and disappointing, it was
also guilt-provoking. Had I eradicated the
springtime panfish population here? The
possibility seemed remote in a 200-acre lake,
After putting the hook of my trailer fly in
the rod's keeper ring and reeling in my line,
I weighed anchors and pivoted the canoe toward
my truck. Time to go home. Then I looked down
the lake arm. 200 feet away sat a small patch
of submerged woody stem brush; nothing special,
just a modest patch of cover. The depth there,
I knew, was around 3 feet instead of the 18-inches
where I'd been fishing.
"Either the fish are not biting now," I told
myself, "or they're hanging out someplace you
didn't think they'd be. You've tried three
places where you thought they'd be and they
weren't there. Why not give that spot a try?
Just that one spot."
"Look, the sun has already set," I whined, "It'll
be dark soon, this water is cold already and it's
gonna start getting colder. If there's any fish
down there, common sense says they'll be going
inactive any minute now. But Okay, if you insist..."
Irritated at myself for approving of this total
waste of time, I paddled quickly toward the
brushy cover. 50 feet from its perimeter I
executed the standard approach - discontinuing
my power strokes and dragging my paddle behind,
using a silent braking stroke to slow my canoe's
forward glide. 15 feet from the cover edge, I
lowered my stern anchor until it touched bottom,
feathered the anchor line between my thumb and
forefinger as it paid out, and my canoe eased
to dead stop. I lowered the bow anchor quietly,
cam-cleated both anchor lines and was ready to cast.
Eager to get this nonsense over with, I scanned
the pattern of stickups for the easiest, widest
opening it offered, then sent my PTN tandem
flying into the heart of it. After double-dimpling
the surface, the nymphs didn't move five feet
before my line stopped. I raised the rod tip
and something heavy began pulling back sluggishly.
It was a crappie, a good one almost a foot long
and it looked to weigh 1 1/4-lb., maybe a bit
more. Putting the fish on ice, I sent my next
cast to the left about 30-degrees, had another
quick take and boated another equally big
crappie. A couple of casts later, off to the
right of where I'd caught the first crappie,
my tandem rig took a vicious hit. The assailant
was an orange-belly bluegill the size of my hand.
Time to call home. "Sweetie, I know it's after
sundown but don't wait up for me, and please
don't worry. I just now finally found the fish
and they're biting like crazy. I'm catching
good crappies and big bluegills. I'll fish
until dark if they keep biting that long.
See you, Bye!"
I stowed the cell phone in my life jacket's
vest pocket, took a deep breath to calm my
trembling hands and went to work. The wind
was laying down, dropping to almost a dead calm.
The 'gills and crappie were here, and they were
definitely in a good mood. Every second or third
cast brought an aggressive strike.
The crappies in this lake need to be tested
scientifically because, I swear, they have
IQ's of 120 or better. Casting a 4X leader
(and 6X tandem tippet) into this brushy cover
had me at a disadvantage, and every crappie
exploited my tactical weakness by running
straight for the nearest stickup to wrap
around it, or else snag whichever nymph was
the "out nymph". And really, all it takes to
cause problems in such cover is for a fish to
bend your line across a stickup, thereby creating
a friction point "anchor" to pull against.
After hookup, I began letting my line go slack
to encourage each crappie to submerge and relax?
But they would rise to the surface anyway and
wallow about, more often than not ejecting the
fly before I could get the fish near my canoe.
I wish I wasn't so intense when it comes to
crappie. When one is on, I'm so happy I want
to hug my fly rod and kiss the nymphs. Every
crappie that gets off, I want to snap the rod
over my knee and throw the broken pieces into
When this inside-the-perimeter action faded, I
remained anchored but began throwing farther out,
into the open water beyond the other side of the
brush. Risky, but fish were out there, too. The
lake water was clear enough, in fact, that in the
fading light I briefly saw the ghostly silhouette
of a big crappie about 20 feet away. It was
suspended a foot beneath the surface with its head
tilted at an upward angle, and then it slowly
drifted down out of sight. I can still see that
fish in my mind. These crappies and the bluegills,
too, were all of them doing this - suspending,
looking for bugs or minnows to waylay? Whatever
they were up to tonight, 15 of them won't be doing
In my wildest daydreams I never imagined two
different panfish species congregating in the
same cold water shallows in early April for a
feeding binge, much less a feeding binge that
commences after sundown so early
in the year. Big crappie, too...
Well, my daydreams are now a bit wilder, and
the newly-installed thoughts keep intruding
on my regular workday and home life. I'm
trying the best I can, staying focused, keeping
my mind right. It's been so hard, fooling them
at work. ~ Joe
From Baldwin City, 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