Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Now, About That Sun...
By Joe Hyde, Douglas County, KS

Before we even start with the fishing, I need to get something off my chest.

At universities offering degrees in weather forecasting, I feel there are fundamental weak spots in their course curriculums. The consequences of these weak spots don't become apparent until the students graduate and get hired as weather reporters for TV and radio stations, after which a fountain of dead wrong forecasts begins issuing from their grinning cake holes.

This profession's propensity to sucker-punch a trusting public with inaccurate forecasts - and to do it repeatedly and with impunity - could be eradicated if weather forecast trainees were forced by college professors, and later by station owners, to participate in some type of outdoor activity that physically exposes their bodies to the following day's weather conditions…after they've cheerfully predicted what that next day's weather will be.

If every weather forecaster was forced just once a week to leave the studio and spend the next 24 hours outdoors fly fishing, or canoeing, with nothing but the clothes on his or her back to protect them - thereby exposing themselves to the conditions they confidently told us that we could expect - this would properly position their noses to smell the bull manure they just shoveled. And if that weekly reality check failed to improve their accuracy rate, their next "refresher training" would entail getting deported to Indonesia to be stripped to their underwear and publicly caned.

Friday, January 20th: Outside my office window the downtown Kansas City weather is miserable - drizzle mixed with rain and intermittent snow, wind 20 mph from the northwest, temperature hovering just below freezing. For me, the whole work week has been one stressed-out federal bureaucracy bottom-of-the-food-chain disaster. So upon hearing word circulate through the office of a happyface forecast for Saturday ("50 degrees, sunny all day with a southeast wind of just 5 mph") no one was more relieved and excited than I.

Handed such a wonderful Saturday in January, I knew exactly what to do. Immediately after work I would drive to my favorite lake and camp there overnight, parked only twenty feet from my canoe put-in spot. After rising Saturday morning it would take just ten minutes, tops, to get out on the water. And with virtually no wind Saturday to hamper casting accuracy and line control, I could work every spot with lethal precision using one of Rick Zieger's lightweight #12 plastic bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymphs. I was gonna let that little PTN puppy settle slowly through the water column then make it wiggle back to my canoe as seductively as a Las Vegas hooker. If the panfish were even remotely thinking about feeding, yours truly would rip into 'em.

And so I went to the lake after work, trusting this glowing Saturday forecast.

My eyes snapped open around 7 a.m. Something was wrong, and it was the wind. Perhaps I should say it was my truck, which was getting rocked sharply side-to-side by southeast gusts of much greater velocity than any 5 mph. I looked outside, and above me were thick gray scuttling clouds. My breath floated like cigar smoke when I exhaled. This was no 50 degree air.

Zipping back into my sleeping bag, I catnapped fitfully for another two hours, waiting for the sun to cut through, waking periodically to check outdoors for signs of improvement. There were none. When I finally exited my truck around 9:30 a.m., I was immediately punished by a sudden increase in the wind speed.

As we outdoor types know, comfort-wise there's a world of difference between 35 degrees and high wind with sunshine ...as opposed to 35 degrees and high wind with no sunshine. Sunshine delivers a significant heat gain to your body so long as you wear an outer layer that cuts off wind penetration. I was wearing a light nylon wind suit, but to little effect; with no sun warming its surface I felt chilled. Suffering the most were my exposed fingertips as the cold morning air blew across them. It was painful just unracking and loading my canoe.

Only a complete idiot, of course, would consider launching a canoe and attempting to fly fish in such bitter winter conditions. So quite a bit of time got saved on this occasion because years ago I took the Complete Idiot Test and passed.

I resisted the urge, though, to paddle downwind to the deeper part of the lake arm (where in theory the water was slightly warmer and fish were more likely holding). That part of the lake was getting whipped real good by wind and waves. So I eased my canoe away from shore and moved out no more than 50 feet, then in this relatively calmer water began casting as soon as I was out far enough that I could no longer see the lake bottom below me. Still, the wind here was bad enough that Rick's PTN was far too light to be effective: my floating line was getting bellied sideways so fast that his nymph couldn't sink any deeper than a couple of inches. Not deep enough. My only option: go with a heavier nymph, which for me meant a #10 Hare's Ear.

Cursing the weather forecasters - and I don't mean under my breath, either - I threw the HEN into a likely looking area with no hope of accomplishing anything. Just going through the motions here, making an effort. Mostly it was plain stubbornness borne of a prideful desire not to surrender straightaway to this day's rotten weather. Just give me ten, maybe 15 minutes of this mess and I'm outa here, I've done my duty.

On the fifth cast came a sharp twitch on my line, I lifted and was into a fish that turned out to be a 10-inch largemouth bass. Well, hello! On the next cast, a keeper-size bluegill grabbed the nymph. Oh, you, too? A few casts later into more or less the same spot there came another twitch and I was into ...a crappie! First of the year! It was a good one, too. Good by my standards - 10 inches long and thick of body. To each his own, but to me a 10-inch crappie is your Florida fisherman's 100-lb. tarpon.

After this crappie, a few more bluegills and bass came on board my canoe for a short inspection tour. I vaguely became aware that even wet from handling fish my fingers weren't as cold now as they'd felt 15 minutes earlier, even though the wind hadn't slowed any. But what really got me warm were two large fish I didn't boat. I never cleanly saw either one during their fights, but I'm pretty sure they were equally big crappies, I just can't swear to it. The fact that their underwater greenish-white flashes looked close enough to make them possibly be crappies was exciting enough to me. They fought really hard, too, whatever they were.

With this initial flurry, I became convinced that the smart move was keep working slowly down this lake arm even though it meant exposing myself increasingly to that straight razor southeast wind. By now my cotton-socked feet were hurting bad they were so cold. And that was my own fault; I'd not brought polypro liners and wool socks, thinking they wouldn't be needed on a sunny, 50-degree calm day. And you know, as a river canoeist I've been burned so many times by bad forecasts that I should have known better. Blind faith in a pleasant forecast sales pitch had once again prevailed over common sense. P.T. Barnum should have been a weather forecaster.

After catching and releasing 4 bass, 8 bluegills and 2 crappie, around 10:30 a.m. the fish quit biting, and I do mean quit. For another three hours I worked every spot that looked good, with zero touches.

Returning to my truck to cook lunch, I decided to stay at the lake the rest of the day anyway. I mean, why not? Maybe the sun would come out after all, and the wind lie down; maybe the temperature would still hit 50 as predicted? Well, two out of three eventually happened: at 5 p.m. I was back on the water under a clear blue but icy cold sky in virtually dead calm air.

As the lake surface went mirror, this is where I clipped off the heavier HEN and switched to a tandem rig consisting of a #20 Griffith's Gnat followed by a #16 Olive Soft Hackle on a 6X connector tippet. Maybe I shouldn't have used this tandem considering the lake was not yet exhibiting evidence of insect hatching or fish pursuit. Being ignorant of midges, I was gambling that their hatches occur every day but only during late afternoon/early evening hours. This probably isn't correct, but it's what motivated me to try the tandem.

I quietly returned to the same spots where I'd caught fish that morning on the Hare's Ear Nymph. This time I worked these areas in super slow motion using the ultra lightweight midge tandem. But no takers. I worked the tandem in the shallows, then again out deeper in the submerged brush. Nobody was home, or if they were home they were ignoring the doorbell.

I finally gave up just before dark and headed in. And then while paddling back to my truck my canoe's approach began spooking fish in front of me, fish that were suspended barely beneath the surface. Believing these fish to be the vanguard rising to ambush positions in anticipation of the evening midge hatch, I promptly anchored and began fan casting my tandem rig in a circular pattern all around the boat. Nobody was interested.

So this was a strange trip. Fourteen fish, all the action happening in the morning only in about 30 minutes, followed by no hits the entire rest of the day. Possible midge hatch in prospect, but nothing gained in the attempt to mimic it. But hey, fourteen is more fish than I'd have caught if I hadn't tried at all.

Looking back, what I remain most curious about are those crappies that took my nymph. This time of year on most Kansas lakes only the powerboat folks are catching crappies, and they're doing it in 30 feet of water where schools are suspended in creek channels. Which begs the question: what were these two crappies doing that I caught in mid-January at such an early hour in such nasty weather, lurking in water that was probably colder but barely three feet deep?

Do crappie schools send "scouts" sneaking into the shallows super-early, weeks ahead of the main body, to check on conditions at their habitual spawning areas? Or maybe there are eccentric crappies that ignore their schoolmates and wander solo anyplace they please so long as enough dissolved oxygen enables their presence? They're sure a strange fish, are crappie.

I don't know, maybe it's for the best that weathermen aren't forced outdoors to "survive their own forecasts." Because if they got pushed outside once a week during wintertime some of them might grab fly rods and end up catching fish when they never thought such a thing possible. Then they might start issuing even more wrong forecasts than usual; but deliberately, to keep the competition confused. Maybe they've been doing this all along anyway. Tell you one thing: where I live it doesn't matter which forecaster you listen to most - here in Kansas, buddy, once you're out there you're on your own. ~ Joe

About 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 'day job.'

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