People I'm around regularly, they know I'm
something of a worrier. A bothersome trait
to be sure, but one I hope irritates me more
than my friends.
Rising at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning to make
a nearby lake cove before dawn, one of my chronic
fishing worries vanished when, after launching my
canoe, I looked around and saw not another soul
in sight. Nothing relaxes me more than knowing
I'm the day's first person to reach a good spot.
And this cove is a good spot. At least, it was
good two weeks earlier when I'd caught a mixed
dozen of keeper bluegill and black crappie.
Easing into the narrow cove, up ahead I heard
splashing and could faintly make out scattered
wave rings formed by fish of some sort that were
feeding on who knows what. It was just getting
light out. Times like this make me wish I knew
a lot more about aquatic entomology and fish
Were these fish taking floating insects or
attacking minnows they'd pinned against the surface,
or grabbing nymphs that neared the surface to hatch?
I didn't see any winged bugs rising off the lake
surface, for what that's worth.
I opted to go with my money fly - a flashback
Hare's Ear nymph. One was still tied to the
leader from my last outing at a different lake - a
#12 size I'd used for defensive purposes in a
shallow cove with a stick-studded bottom. (I
hate losing gear.) Now, at this morning's deeper
cove, I gambled that these swirling fish were
eating nymphs; if so, they might like my #12
due to its slow sink rate and shallow track on
Proceeding eastward spot by spot, I worked the
south shoreline by casting along the sides of
moss clumps and into the open corridors between.
For over an hour it was slow going - one borderline
keeper bluegill and a pair of crappie fell prey,
although I did lose two other good crappies just
before getting them to the boat.
All week at work, I'd been worried that lake
conditions might have changed in those secret
ways that make fish hold in different places
and feed differently? Northeast Kansas had
just endured the typical springtime bounce - a
steady warming trend abruptly backtracks for
three days of chilly daytime 50s with overnight
lows barely above freezing, and then the yo-yo
reverses. Today's forecast was for a high of 90.
I tried muting this concern to focus on fishing,
not easy with the action so slow. Should I switch
to a dry fly and cast to these risers, or ignore
the risers and stay with my nymph in hopes it would
be the ticket once I doubled back and began working
the north shoreline? I elected to stay with the
Hare's Ear but switched to a #10 size because the
fish didn't seem interested in anything running
shallow. On the retrieve, a #10's heavier hook
would let Isaac Newton take it for a slightly
deeper trip through the water column.
Strange, how fish will favor one side of a cove
when to our human eyes the underwater terrain and
aquatic vegetation look identical on both sides.
No doubt there are times when this cove's south
side produces best. And south could yet be the
best side today, in late afternoon maybe? I
couldn't let myself dwell on that thought; I was
handling the morning shift and my task was to figure
out what's happening now.
Reaching the end of the cove, I pivoted my canoe
150 degrees to port, paddled west along the north
weedline, anchored at a spot not 40 feet from where
I'd abandoned the south side...and hit pay dirt.
Don't ask me, folks, I just fish here.
First "northerner" into the boat was a bluegill.
Thanks to a Kansas Dept. of Wildlife & Parks
stocking program, this lake has a fair population
of hybrid bluegill, some now grown to well over
1 lb. At first I thought a big hybrid had grabbed
my Hare's Ear, judging from how bitterly the fish
resisted. But the little horse turned out to be
a beautifully colored Real McCoy bluegill 8-inches
long. A few minutes later I boated another so
large I froze in a reverie, trying to remember
if I've ever caught one bigger.
Which suddenly seemed a waste of time, even
disrespectful, pitting those wonderful memories
against this beautiful new reality flopping around
in the bottom of my canoe. All I could think was
that landing a pair of hog bluegill like these is
exactly why I decided last fall to give fly rod
panfishing a serious try.
Next thing I knew, I was catching black crappie.
What happened was, at each new spot I anchored in,
after pulling one or two bluegill from the mossy
shallows the hits stopped coming. At which point
I began casting away from the weedline, but more
or less parallel to it. The crappies were in this
slightly deeper water, a little farther down.
I called it a day at 9 a.m. due to a rising wind.
Result? 90 minutes on south side, three keepers;
90 minutes on north side, twelve keepers. (Not
counting a 2-lb. largemouth bass I caught and
This trip was curious because despite a sharp cold
spell days earlier, the bluegill and crappie were
shallower than they'd been two weeks prior, plus
their size today averaged slightly bigger than
what I'd caught on the first trip, plus the best
action was again found on the north side of the
I wonder if fish sometimes like their prey to
move in a certain direction, preferring that
orientation so strongly that they ignore
identical prey items traveling in other
directions? You wouldn't think so. Still,
this was my second straight visit where more
fish had attacked a nymph swimming east than
one swimming west.
Something else I wonder about - no, make that
"worry about" - is whether I've pulled the
blanket off this spot. A paved county road
wraps around the cove at close range; lots
of people can, and do, look down and see me
fishing. No bigger than the cove is, I'm not
eager to invite competition. So it was
nerve-racking, the times when a fish grabbed
my nymph and I heard a car slowing to a crawl
so its occupants could watch the fight. Seeing
a fisherman hold a bouncing rod can give people
Ironically, what might save it for me here is
that people up on the road are so close they
can easily see I'm using a fly rod. Most Kansas
anglers favor baitcast or spin tackle and wouldn't
touch a fly rod if you handed them one. (I used
to be like that myself.) Also, I suspect that
passersbyers who watch me long enough will
immediately lose interest once they see that
I'm not catching "real" fish, just...you
Seems nowadays the mere sight of little fish
repels many anglers. Interested only in catching
lunkers, they pull a big stick from the bat rack
then step to the plate swinging for a home run
on every pitch. Needless to say, little fish
like bluegill are far more numerous than hawg
bass, so our lunker-seekers frequently go home
empty handed. But they have great fun pursuing
Big Boy with the stout tackle they like best,
and fun is what counts.
Me? Shoot, I'm just a Little Leaguer up there
hacking away for dink singles. My motto is:
Better small than not at all.
So I don't know, maybe in this high profile cove
my modest success will continue due to "lack of
public interest." I'll cross my fingers and keep
a stash of Hare's Ear nymphs in easy reach. ~ Joe
From Lawrence, 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