Late Wednesday night I drove to the lake and truck-camped
at the head of one of its three main arms. The plan was
to rise Thursday morning shortly after dawn, cook a quick
breakfast then relocate (if necessary) to a spot that would
let me fish an area mostly free of wind and waves. My solo
canoe was on the roof rack; there would be no bank fishing
Either I read the National Weather Service forecast wrong,
or forgot what I'd read, or else the weather seriously
improved. Instead of high wind, what materialized Thursday
was a gentle southerly breeze with air temperature that
climbed steadily from the lower 50s to a daytime high
approaching 80. Clear sky, warm sunshine, light wind
ruled this day. But I didn't completely trust what was
happening until around noon.
This lake - it's the one I fish most often - is now two
feet below normal pool due to drought. Let me tell you,
for a slow moving canoeist low water offers a golden
opportunity to study a lake's normally-concealed underwater
furniture arrangement. Better yet, you can conduct the
examination while fishing for the table, which doubles
It's a weird feeling, though, paddling through spots that
six months earlier were deep enough that you didn't know
how deep the water really was because your paddle never
hit bottom, and now with each paddle stroke your blade
touches bottom easily? One of the things you hear yourself
saying over and over (assuming the water is clear enough)
is: "Ah! So THAT'S what I kept snagging my nymphs on!"
Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory and an
inborn ability to perceive your exact position on the
planet surface with absolute accuracy, there is no use
trying to remember the location of each lakebed object
of interest that you discover during these low water
outings. Some you will remember forever but most you
won't; there are just too many interesting finds to
recall. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. For
me, there's much about this modest-sized lake that I'm
ignorant of despite my many visits here, and I'm okay
with things staying that way. Who wants to know
During about half my trips to this lake arm I've fished
its south shoreline first, and that's what I did today.
A few days earlier in the mail I received a shipment of
#10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph "Old Reliables," so I'd
come to the lake eager to send them into battle. But
the low water look of this entire lake arm persuaded
me to use prudence and go with a lighter, slightly
smaller and therefore shallower-running nymph - an
unweighted #12 gold ribbed Hare's Ear. This nymph I
connected to a fresh 7 1/2 -ft. 5X tapered leader.
Moving along the lake arm's south shoreline, I was
casting generally in fan fashion but mostly my throws
were sent close to shore in the shallowest water.
Habit, I guess, because the lightweight, slowly sinking
#12 nymph allowed this. What was revealed is that the
tree-shaded shallows close to shore were where many
keeper-sized bluegills were holding. They weren't
just occupying space, either: the bad boys were hungry.
This was not where I expected the 'gillies to be; with
the cool days and nights we'd had lately I assumed they'd
be holding farther off shore in deeper water. It sure is
a lot of fun being so wrong.
A large area of dead, partly submerged brush sits in
this lake arm. So far today I hadn't come anywhere
near it. At 11 a.m. the day was warming up nicely
and still there was no high wind, so I decided to hit
this brush just for a drill. I knew from earlier
trips here that the depth within the brush stand runs
shallow here and there. Once I reached the area, I
found I could make out the bottom reasonably well
while peering down through the rotting wood stems.
Suddenly I began noticing underwater dust clouds -
lakebed silt. I was spooking small schools of fish
judging from the size of the underwater "dust storms"
appearing around me.
Going slow already, I dropped to a super-slow crawl
and crept into the heart of the brush stand. After
making a left pivot, dead ahead I spotted a spot of
reddish orange moving slowly along the bottom - a
goldfish, big one, well over a foot long. Doubtless
a once-small bait minnow brought to the lake years
earlier by someone trying for catfish.
That was the only fish whose body I saw. I waited
for him to flee like the others had, but Goldie was
actually quite relaxed as I glided almost directly
above him. Hmmm…if he's relaxed and the fish creating
these big clouds of silt are afraid, are those mystery
fish another species? Gamefish maybe?
You never know unless you throw.
When my #12 GRHEN plopped down in a small open pocket
amidst the brush it didn't sink six inches before it
was gobbled by a fat 8-inch bluegill. Into my ice
chest went another pair of soon-to-be boneless,
delicious, pan-fried bluegill fillets and thank
you very much!
I'd already caught and kept some ten good bluegills
from along the south shore. My little ice chest now
began filling up more as I moved about in the brush.
One reason I moved about so much is because I kept
hanging up, which forced me to lift anchors and move
in to retrieve the nymph. This brushy area is a
wilderness of woody stems. I've always suspected
it was far worse than it looks above surface, and
what I saw in the shallow clear water confirmed it.
It's irksome getting hung up every three or four casts,
you know? So I looked through my nymph box for something
lighter that would swim a bit higher in the water column.
If it didn't catch as many fish as the larger #12 GRHEN
had already done, well, that would be okay; I'd already
caught enough fish for meal purposes. The nymph I
knotted on next was a #14 Pheasant Tail tied by Rick
Zeiger. A narrower hook gap combined with shallower
running depth (if I did my part right) might reduce
Time now, around noon. I was ready to leave; a few
more casts and that'd be it for me today. And then...
About five feet into a retrieve that was easing its
way through an open lane at the edge of the brushy
area there came a polite pickup followed by that
telltale sluggish pull and wide silvery flash of
light reflecting from speckled scales.
Leaving? Somebody say I'm leaving? You see this
11-inch black crappie flopping in the bottom of my
canoe? Homie ain't goin' nowhere.
A few casts after icing this first extremely exciting
crappie, I brought another retrieve through virtually
the same spot and a crappie rose up through the woody
tangle. In full view of me it swam along inches below
the surface with its tail wagging back and forth like
a happy puppy chasing a rubber ball, and chased my nymph
nose-to-pheasant tail for a good ten feet before
quitting, turning around and descending out of sight.
The dirty little rat brought my nerves to bowstring tension.
"Oh, you like chasing your food, huh?" I said to the fish
(and any others nearby that might be eavesdropping), "Let
me give you something you can catch."
Clipping off the PTN, I snapped open my nymph box again
and extracted a larger fly, one of a matched pair that
Rick gave me this spring. He claims they're deadly on
crappie. I'd been hoarding them for a special occasion
and today was it. This fly is built on what looks like
a #10 hook. The dominant feature is a snarl of light
brown wooly-looking fibers - very long fibers that are
so loosely wrapped they create a bulky appearance from
every angle. Picture a #10 Hare's Ear Nymph that
overdosed on Rogaine.
Due to this fly's portly, flow-through composition it's
a good one for slow presentations. With the sun now
almost directly overhead and lighting up this clear
shallow water, tracking a fly like this should be easy;
I could let it descend to almost out of sight depth
then as needed swim it back up over any submerged wood
stems I spotted.
As for catching more crappies, over the next two hours
I sure did: exactly one more. Three or four I hooked
but they got off. One likely problem (and a nice problem)
was big bluegills kept getting to the fly first. That
brown hairball is not just a crappie killer, it's a big
bluegill killer as well.
Looking back on this trip (17 bluegills, 2 crappie), I
think what happened crappie-wise is I was late trying
that brushy area. In my own defense, if I'd expected
any crappie to be hanging out in water that shallow in
mid-November you can bet the farm I'd have paddled there
straightaway. Instead, I found them by accident just
as the bright mid-day sun was illuminating this shallow,
clear water and sending the light-sensitive stragglers
to the girl's room to check their mascara.
Well, give me another late fall weekday off with such
a fine morning and I'll be after these black crappies
when the school bell rings. Keeper crappies look as
good to me first thing in the morning as they do
around noon. ~ 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