June 9th, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Midwestern Thunder
By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

I was going to be in Kansas City for a week of business meetings, so of course I brought the fishing gear along. Time was going to be tight, but it looked like I'd have a couple of hours here and there to make it worthwhile. A last minute schedule change opened up a large block of time on my next to last day. A few emails and phone calls later, and the plans were in place. I'd drive up to Iowa to meet up with Rick Zieger, (who also writes for the FAOL Panfish section), and Elmer Meiler, who was driving over from Nebraska, and we'd hit a local farm pond for some fishing.

As I sat in the Philadelphia Airport terminal, waiting for my flight, the news was dominated with stories of all the tornadoes to tear through Kansas and Missouri the day before. Great...just what I want to fly into. The flight was relatively uneventful, however, and I soon found myself in Missouri, headed to my home away from home for the next few days.

The weather reports seemed to be changing each day, so Elmer, Rick and I all kept our eyes and ears on the Weather Channel. Phone calls back and forth kept us in touch and on the same game plan.

"As long as the lightning's not dropping, we'll be fishing."

The final forecast on Wednesday night was for drizzles in the morning, with thunderstorms starting in the early afternoon. Good enough for me, since I needed to be headed back to KC around noon, anyway.

It was early Thursday morning when I got headed up I-35 towards Iowa. An hour and a half on the road put me at the gas station where Rick had suggested we meet at, so I went in and grabbed some breakfast and gave Rick a call. A few minutes later I was following his truck down the road toward his house.

We pulled in and began loading the canoe on the top of Rick's truck, when Elmer's pickup rolled into the drive. The weather had dropped about 10-15 degrees since I had left Missouri, and I was regretting leaving the long sleeve shirt at the hotel. Rick generously offered me a windbreaker and we headed ff down the road.

A couple of turns got us headed down the main road, and we cruised along for a few minutes before turning up a dirt road. We drove past some prime looking ponds as we journeyed forward, and I was salivating on the dash of the rental car. We turned down another dirt road, and soon Rick's truck pulled off into a field. I made a silent offering to the Gods of Vehicular Clearance Height and lunged the rental car into the field, onto the slightly worn tracks that we were following. A couple of mud puddles avoided, a couple of gates passed, and we pulled up onto a flat overlooking a nice pond of a few acres.

I admired the "fishiness" of the pond, far bigger than the farm ponds I ply the waters of at home in SE Pennsylvania. Rick already had the canoe off the truck and down towards the water by the time I got out of the car and extracted my fishing gear from the back seat. Rick and I helped with, well supervised, the assembly of Elmer's pontoon boat, and as he was finishing up, Rick headed down to the water. I watched him LDR a couple of fish and couldn't stand it anymore. Elmer was left to his own devices as I tied on a small, black, bunny strip leech. My first cast got smacked, and by the color of the fish as it disappeared it looked to be a solid 'gill.

"Jason," Rick smiled over at me, "You're not supposed to be learning from me. Land one of 'em."

We got a good chuckle out of the comment when my fly got ambushed again. This time, I got the hook set solidly, with a couple of extra tugs for good measure. The fish zipped along the top of the water, cutting a wake in the surface. A few lunges and splashes later, a thick crappie, pushing 12", came to hand. I could definitely get used to this.

Thunder rumbled over head and 3 sets of eyes tuned to the sky. Elmer had realized that there were fish to catch and time was about to become a premium. He stowed the pontoon boat, and headed down to the water. The lightning flashed several miles to the south of us, and the sky overhead was gray and drizzly, but lacked the big thunderheads that drifted to the north and south.

I missed another strike, and I stripped the line in quickly to recast. As I lifted the fly from the water, the surface boiled and broke beneath it. "Nice crappie, there," I thought to myself. I dropped the leech back in the water and danced it once, twice. Whack. Set the hook and the line zipped off down the shore, quickly on the reel and dancing away.

"Really nice crappie," I mumbled as I headed down the muddy shore. A few laps back and forth told me this fish wasn't tiring out quite as quickly as a crappie. Sure enough, when finally in the shallows my big crappie turned into a chunk largemouth around a pound and a half or so. An absolute blast on my 4wt, I quickly unhooked the chunky fish and slid it back into the water.

"Figure the rain's going to give us about another half hour before it opens up on us," said Elmer as he walked past me down the shoreline. He flipped the fly out over the water and began fishing it back slowly.

We spent the next half hour or so in the drizzle, eyes turning to the sky with each clap of thunder. We all caught fish, and more than our fair share. There were chunky, orange bluegill in the 8" and better range, feisty crappie up to 12" and largemouth bass of varying sizes. Each cast became a game of "what do you want to catch?" Bass? Cast out near any weedy structure and strip in fast, high in the water column. Crappie? Fish the mid-water with quick, sporadic strips. Bluegill? Go deep, bounce along the bottom, and hold on. By the time the rain began to fall heavy on us, it was unanimously decided that Rick is either blessed, spoiled, or more likely some combination thereof.

Concerned more for our ability to extract our vehicles than our own safety (the lightning never got within 5 or 6 miles), we headed off the water, getting Rick's canoe back on the truck, and getting ready to head out. Elmer got a quick lesson in the carrying capacity of the downhill end of a canoe in a rainfall as the loading took place. We headed back to Rick's house and sat down to talk fishing, fish, flies, and the world in general in the shared comforts of a warm house, an attentive dog, and an amiable feline. The hours slipped by quickly, and as the Weather Channel began to warn of incoming heavy T-storms, it was time to head out. A few flies were swapped, and invitations were extended to return the favor should we ever find ourselves in each other's respective neck of the woods.

Good fishing and good company makes a long drive easy, and well worthwhile. ~ Jason


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