Sometimes you go fishing for fun. Sometimes it's a
mission - obtaining fillets for the table. Sometimes
you go for the thrills, sometimes for enlightenment,
or exploration or inspiration. There are so many good
reasons to go fishing. One of them, sometimes, is simply
to obtain a bit of solace.
Boys and girls and men and women surely have been doing
this to one another since the dawn of humanity: He and
She meet, or communicate, and at first things go well.
Then out of nowhere either he or she will decide that
things don't feel quite right and somebody decides to
end it before it really gets started.
So. . .after a couple of weekend dates that I thought went
pretty well, she dumps me. Maybe you know how that last
phone call goes: here come twenty questions, your answers
get answered, your explanations get explained, and after
the goodbye you don't feel like going fishing. But you don't
feel like talking about it with anybody, either. So you go
fishing anyway, even if you're practically forcing yourself.
Why do this? Because right then you're in need of some
friendly, familiar sensations to grab hold of and hang onto,
feelings and sensations that have carried you through good
times and bad times before, feelings you can rely on to keep
your spirit from totally self-flushing down the toilet.
This was one of those trips where if I'd been starving to
death I wouldn't have killed a fish for food. I needed to
catch some fish, true, but my need mainly involved being
on the lake, being out there amongst 'em. This may sound
weird, but I wanted to hang out with my buddies the fish
so that I could be with 'em, tell 'em a few jokes (by means
of the flies I throw) and see if they got the punch lines.
After the "so long" call I'd received that morning, truth
is I trusted the company of fish more than people, if not
to cheer me up then at least to help get me on track headed
back into the better country of what it feels like to be me.
I arrived at the lake around 4:30 p.m. It's June 3rd and
hot today in northeast Kansas. With daylight savings time
keeping it light so late, I know I'm way too early; the fish
won't start feeding on bugs and minnows for at least another
three hours. No matter: I line my rod and rig up, load the
canoe with a sparse amount of gear, cleat off my two anchors,
push off and I'm on the water moving. If I don't get a hit
for three hours, the effort spent trying to get a hit might
drag me out of the dirt road mud hole in my head.
According to a recent local news story in the Lawrence paper,
the Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks three weeks ago
chemically treated this lake with an aquatic herbicide to
knock down a species of aquatic plant that was spreading
so aggressively its biomass was threatening to shut down
powercraft navigation in the lake's "cabin arm." The story
hadn't said whether the state treated the other main lake arm,
the "no cabin arm" where I was at today. Studying the water
before me, I had no explanation for the numerous modest-sized
open areas between the many thick clumps of weed and algae,
but I surely appreciated seeing them.
After shoving off, I looked to my left and spotted a 2-car
garage-sized area of open water next to a stand of shoreline
weeds. The depth there couldn't be much more than a foot,
eighteen inches max. And it was so close to my put-in spot
that if I tried it here I could probably hit my truck with
a long cast. It felt odd stopping here: it's always so
tempting to charge past such places in your haste to escape
civilization, as it were. But I was in no such hurry at the
moment because I'd got here too early to have any real luck
no matter where I tried.
Double-clinched to my fresh Umpqua 7 ½ ft. 4X tapered leader
was a little #10 yellow popping bug. I began throwing it
toward those standing weeds, trying to get as close as I
could without over-shooting and then having to paddle over
to retrieve a snagged popper. Second cast, whack! A 5-inch
bluegill visits the Surface Cafe and selects a fast food
treat he should have left alone. Well, hello there!
Two casts after this, I luckily judge my line-out just right
and drop the popper 6-inches out from the weedline, almost
hitting the standing vegetation. Before I can impart a twitch,
the popper vanishes in a swirl of water and a good fish is on.
As hard as it fights my first thought is, "red ear!" But no,
it turns out to be a largemouth bass. Laying it on my wetted
canoe floor markers, it measures 13 inches. Hmmm...the early
bass gets the bug, I guess.
The very next cast, I hooked another bass but lost it halfway
back to the canoe. It's easy to misjudge the size of objects
underwater (and this fish never jumped) but I did identify it
as a largemouth and a slightly longer one, I think. It seemed
strange, hooking two largemouth in virtually the same spot - the
hookup locations maybe 10 feet apart - at virtually the same
time. The tussle put up by the first bass should have helped
the second one "get religion" when it heard and saw my popper
splat onto the lake surface directly overhead. Well, I guess
the hit it laid on that cute little popper only goes to show
that when presented with the proper stimuli, certain genetically
hardwired responses will cause more than one kind of fish to get
fooled and cooled.
This little weedline spot eventually played out but not
before surrendering the "bluegill of the day," a plump
pumpkin-bellied 8-inch male. After releasing him, I moved
my canoe 10 feet to the west so that I could twitch the yellow
popper past a weedy point that was slightly out of range earlier.
Actually, this weedy point was within my casting range earlier
if I'd elected to strip more line off the reel and attempt a
longer cast. But when tossing a tiny popping bug with all that
French pastry extending outboard from the hook shank, I've never
had much luck controlling long casts; the lightest breeze and a
popper's wind resistance allows too much "bullet drift" (if I
may borrow a competitive target shooting term). And even when
throwing short casts in calm air, an hour spent sheep-dogging
a popping bug into the target zone makes a single cast with a
compact nymph feel like a month in the country.
But I was committed to using this popper today; I was sticking
with it no matter what. I'd come here to surrender myself to
the automatic focus reflexes triggered by sudden surface takes,
and to this aim the attention my little popper kept attracting
was just what the doctor ordered. Shoot, maybe I haven't
arrived here too early after all?
Out flew my popper, landing beyond the weedy point. About three
feet back in it got seized in the manner of a quiet, polite sip
that generated scarcely a ruffle on the lake surface to indicate
a take. I raised the rod, knowing this would be another little
bluegill...my rod got yanked down and...maybe this is a big red
ear but...line getting pulled between my left thumb and index
finger now...no, this has to be a bass, or a channel catfish...wow,
this fish is strong!
The fish bolted left-to-right toward a stand of submerged brush,
and by pointing my rod generally toward the fish as it swam past
my canoe's bow (letting it fight the butt third of the rod) I
managed to turn it before it reached those wrap-around/break-off
brush stems. Next, the fish zoomed toward open water, pulling
more line between my thumb and index finger. Not quite enough
line to put it on the reel, but close. Again, by aiming my rod
more toward the fish and doing a "hand drag" pinch-down on my
escaping line I was able to thwart its second run.
But now when the fish turned it ran straight at me, entered a
dense aquatic weed clump and got tangled there. Great. Only
one thing to do: employ a hand-over-hand retrieve that would
either pull the fish free, break my tippet, or pull in a gob
of weeds gift wrapping the fish. The last is what happened,
and here is where a 6 lb. test tippet pays its way even though
its thickness frustrates the use of lighter, possibly more
effective flies that require more delicate presentations.
When the large gob of detached vegetation slid into range I
reached out with my landing net, bagged the entire shooting
match then lifted the wad into my boat. Peeking through the
snarl of weed stems and leaves was the point of a lower jaw
belonging to a very nice largemouth bass. After clearing its
body of weeds, I splashed water on the floor of my canoe to
reduce slime rip-away and then laid the fish on my markers.
Its body covered every one of my 2-inch markers. Since I
hadn't yet caught a fish long enough to cover all these markers,
I'd forgotten how many inches an end-to-end fish represented.
Not until I unhooked and gently lowered the bass back into the
lake was I free to count the triangle markers. That bass
measured 18 inches nose to tail, making it a legal keeper
at this lake.
It was intriguing that a fish this big had so delicately
sipped a panfish popping bug. Also, exactly like what
happened with the 13-inch bass I'd caught minutes before,
this 18-inch bruiser was hooked, whipped, boated, unhooked
and released all inside 60 seconds time. Such a quick
victory over so big a bass is not what I'd fantasized
accomplishing with a 00-wt. Sage ultralight rod, I can
tell you that.
After this 18-incher swam off the action began calming down.
Which was good; I'd become concerned that I'd stumbled into
a spawning area and might be pulling the males off guard duty,
thereby exposing their defenseless fry to attack by hungry
bluegills and red ears. So I left this spot and moved to
other areas in the lake arm and kept fishing until almost
dusk, but this initial action on bass was definitely the
highlight of the trip.
I haven't much cared for largemouth bass since I took up
fly rodding for panfish a little over two years ago. But
on this day largemouth bass not only came to my emotional
rescue but they were right on time doing it, like a troop
of cavalry charging over the hill. I'll remember them
for that. ~ Joe Hyde
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