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Blow Me Down

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, KS

The November 20, 2007 weather report called for a 25-to-35 mph wind from the south and the forecasters hit the nail on the head. Numbers like 25 and 35 don't by themselves bring to a reader's mind what a chilly wind of such velocity feels like. Words don't do the job very much better, but I'll try.

For openers, once we rendezvoused at Melvern Lake I followed Tim Giger's pickup to the spot he wanted us to fish. We parked, he opened his driver's side door, stepped out and before he could stand up straight his ball cap was blown off his head and went tumbling away across the ground. He chased it down, pounced on it and screwed it down tight onto his skull.

Observing this track meet through my windshield I was duly impressed. Before opening my own truck door I removed the ball cap I was wearing and pulled on a stocking cap. Less wind resistance.

As I'd learned earlier by fishing with him for wipers off the face of the dam at Clinton Lake, Tim is a practitioner of casting into the wind. He doesn't simply do this for the exercise; he's seriously trying to catch fish. And catch them he does. Today at Melvern Lake in cloudy, windy northeast Kansas, white bass were his target.

"This entire rocky shoreline," Tim said, looking east and west along the shore, "is great for white bass this time of year. Any time a brisk south wind is blowing they'll be here where the waves hit the shore straight on. I brought a 6-wt. and a 7-wt. rod today; both are rigged with sinking tip line to help me throw into this wind easier. What are you using?"

"Uh," I mumbled hesitantly, "a 9-ft. 3-wt. I know you told me we'd be throwing into the wind but this is the stoutest rod I own."

I'm fairly accustomed to feelings of technical inadequacy, not to mention outright ignorance, anytime I find myself in the company of better geared, more knowledgeable fly fishers (of which there are many who reside in the Sunflower State). Tim may have sensed this; he generously offered me the use of either of the heavier rods he'd brought.

Very tempting and had the wind conditions not been so hostile I might have taken him up on his offer just so I could experience throwing a couple of rods I've never tried before. But the risk seemed too great that something, perhaps my casting stroke, would go haywire so horribly that I could damage his equipment. Only by standing there in my shoes feeling that wind would you understand.

Tim took up a position on a rocky point that pokes into the lake a little ways away from the shoreline. (This is a good spot because it creates an underwater "barricade" that minnow-herding white bass can utilize from both sides.) He hadn't been casting into the headwind more than a couple of minutes when he connected with his first fish, a nice white bass.

Tim with White Bass

This was a day when I got an education on the importance of using gear adequate to the task. Tim with his heavier rod and sink tip line was delivering his fly 20 feet out with fair consistency. Whereas I was having extreme difficulty getting my fly more than 10 feet past the shoreline – and those successes were random instances when the wind suddenly eased back to maybe 20 mph just as I was starting my final forward stroke. Despite every effort involving horsepower and finesse, most of my casts sent the fly no farther out than a foot or two past the toes of my shoes. Many times my casts – all of my line, leader and fly – would plunk onto the ground at my feet and not even make it into the water.

With my 3-wt. rod, I realized that I'd brought a boy to do a man's work. Tim, on the other hand, he knows the deal; he'd brought two strong men to do the work and as a result his casting stroke consistently functioned as designed. Nothing spectacular distance-wise but he was certainly getting the job done.

Tim casting into wind

After struggling with the headwind for nearly an hour, staying in the same general area where Tim was, I felt my casting arm weakening. The only way I could keep fishing was to relocate to the west side of the main point we were fishing from. This idea didn't exactly fill me with confidence, as earlier Tim had explained how white bass love to hunt minnows along rocky shorelines where the wind and waves come in at a right angle to the shore.

Nevertheless, I couldn't function effectively where we were so I opted for a shoreline where the wind was sweeping along in front of me, blowing left-to-right. Big waves, big wind, both forces pushing every cast off target far right, not only while the line was in the air during delivery but in the water, too, immediately after the fly touched down. The fly would hit the water and scoot right at high speed, the floating line dragged along by wave action.

I was using the largest, heaviest beadhead woolly bugger in my fly box in hopes that by giving my floating line slack the bugger could somehow settle into the water column to decent depth. Apparently I did something right because after ten minutes without a hit something suddenly yanked my chain and I had a fish on.

By now the muscles in my casting arm and right wrist were going into vapor lock. Whereas the strain earlier had been caused by throwing straight into the headwind, now at this new spot it was the relentless demand of controlling my rod in the powerful crosswind that was tiring me out. And Murphy's Law: this hooked fish elected to flee south, into the wind, so I now had to overcome both the fish's impressive strength plus the stout crosswind resistance.

Fighting fish and wind

The sound this configuration made is not unlike how a storm wind sings through the rigging of a sailboat. Let me tell you, hearing that sound took a lot of the sting out of my right wrist.

After beaching and unhooking the fish – it was a white bass – I released it. Tim, who'd seen the fight, came over and we evaluated the situation.

"Today with this high south wind we have perfect conditions for white bass to be prowling this shoreline, in tight, real close," he reported. "We both would be catching lots of whites right now if the wind was just 10 mph lighter. But it's too much today – too much for us."

Boy I could have hugged him for saying that! So a few minutes later we surrendered to the elements, packed up our gear and headed home. Not many fish got caught this day by either one of us, but it was a day well spent. I certainly learned more from Tim about the unique strategies, equipment and mental approach needed for scoring on white bass in the big federal lakes of Kansas. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer, now retired. 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 recently retired from 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 former 'day job.'

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