Sunday, March 25th: From 5PM until 8PM the racket was
unrelenting at the lake arm I was fishing. Two vehicles
pulled up behind me and multiple car doors slammed.
Assuming a party of fishers had arrived, I didn't bother
turning to look. As I soon learned – soon heard, I should
say – that it was not fishermen but a party of late
teen/early twenties ground-speed bubbas. For the next
three hours they took turns driving a poorly-muffled dirt
bike and an all-terrain vehicles around and around the lake
arm perimeter road, filling the air with reverberating thunder.
Just one thing made this sonic bombardment endurable: during
those three hours I was catching nice bluegills and crappie
to the tune of a fish almost every other cast. This hot fly
fishing action soothed the savage beast percolating inside me.
That, plus a poetic justice flashback of how, back in 1968
when I was in the Navy, three buddies and I were in a San
Diego diner and while eating breakfast we played the Rolling
Stones hit song "Jumping Jack Flash" about 20 times on the
jukebox until the manager shot us a look that expressed
There just ain't no justice like poetic justice.
The next afternoon I returned to the same lake arm hoping to
rip into those crappies again. Because this time, unlike on
Sunday, I brought my small ice chest. Leaving that cooler at
home Sunday had been a huge mistake.
Surely, I thought, because it's a Monday afternoon the racers
won't be there. This assumption was a mistake. Two young men
were there, one of them from the day before; this time they'd
beaten me to the spot. They had a different ATV today, a
slightly quieter model than the one they'd taken turns driving
Sunday. Still, it was loud, its noise beyond intrusive.
Spotting them across the lake arm, I voiced a sailor's epithet
but proceeded to the parking area anyway. There was crappie
business to be conducted. Bubba #1 mounted the ATV as
I pulled up. Bubba #2 walked down to the water's edge carrying
a spinning outfit and began casting a Shyster-type spinner.
Bubba #2 reached the water's edge just ahead of me, so I
deferred to whichever direction he wanted to move up and
down the bank. Naturally, he wanted to move in my direction.
Well, that's cool; maybe we'll have a chance to, you know,
visit a bit?
"Doin' any good?" I asked him once he got close enough.
"Not yet," he answered. I could see why: a big gob of filament
algae trailed off his lure's treble hook. No fish on the planet
wants to chase down and grab a mouthful of that nasty-looking stuff.
"Say," I began, "you fellas aren't by any chance planning
to drive around out here, over and over, like you did all
"No, we won't, there isn't very much gas left in that tank," he answered.
"Glad to hear it," I said, "It's gotta be fun driving those
things, but for us fishermen it's like having a chain saw
engine running inside your skull. You know, because of how
these surrounding hills contain the noise? Oh, and by the
way, I'm pretty sure that "off road" driving is not allowed
at this lake."
"We never drive off road," said Bubba #2.
"Well, I guess you were busy casting back there a minute ago,
but I just watched your buddy go off-road through that stand
of trees over there? (I pointed across the lake.) And as I
drove around the road coming over here I saw tracks in the park
turf where somebody on an ATV did a short-cut across that end
curve. I'm pretty sure the county commission hasn't made this
an off-road ATV park. You know, just giving you a heads-up in
case you see a Sheriff's Department cruiser coming through here?"
Mumble, mumble, and he walked off.
A couple of hot laps later, Bubba #1 roared to a stop at their
parking spot. After he shut down I heard a bit more mumbling
then they left. Hasta la vista, Thunder-bubbas. Hopefully the
pair circulates word through their pack that at least one lake
user – nobody, just some old guy fisherman – objected to their
noise with a pointed but polite complaint.
With the sonic offenders gone I had the shoreline all to myself,
and was happy because this is the same shoreline where the day
before I'd caught and released maybe 20 nice crappies. Released
them because, as I said, I hadn't brought my little ice chest.
Today the ice chest was sitting on the ground beside me and I
eagerly anticipated putting at least a dozen crappies in it.
I was facing north. A south wind was blowing very hard, gusts
to 30 mph. Although the shoreline I was standing on was protected
(being on the leeward side of a tall east-west point of land)
still the wind was strong enough that longitudinal eddies of
wind would curl down over the point and without warning sweep
across the water in front of me. Due to the unpredictability
of these gusts, I gambled on a heavier fly that would go deep
but not sink too fast, and swim to shore promptly but not too
fast. Sick 'em, Old Reliable!
Well, Old Reliable did pretty fair, fooling a number of big
bluegills and one very nice green sunfish. No crappie, though.
Thinking the crappie might be out a bit farther, I pulled more
line off the spool and loaded up for some Hollywood Casts.
That was a mistake. Old Reliable did not end up farther out
in the lake but instead got snagged in the low-hanging limb
of a tree behind me. I couldn't reach the offending limb,
and could not un-weave the wrapped tippet using my rod.
I'd been working this shoreline for 45 minutes with zero crappies
caught. Not good. Then it began raining. I walked back to my
truck, donned a lightweight anorak rated for wind and rain
protection and resumed fishing. That was a mistake. The
anorak proved to be an excellent rain filter: it kept blown
leaves and bits of tree bark off my epidermis, but it let
cold rainwater pass through and moisturize my arms, head
and neck. No one was listening but I was quite vocal in
I decided to quit this spot, get out of the rain and do a
tour around the lake to see if other semi-protected spots
might offer decent casting conditions. Two spots I found
were places where I've fished from the bank before, and
with good luck. However, both spots were still overgrown
with last year's tall vegetation mixed with new green growth.
Not that I'm fussy about where I stand to cast, but this time
of year you must respect ticks. People in my Kansas home
county have contracted Lyme Disease, and even Rocky Mountain
Spotted Fever from springtime tick bites. Had I brought my
spray can of insect repellent I'd have tucked my pants legs
inside my socks, sprayed my clothing and been invulnerable.
But I'd forgotten the repellent can, which was a mistake and
one I was too cautious to ignore.
So I continued until I found a spot with very little standing
vegetation. This was a small cove that offered reasonably
open casting from both sides. The first side, I got no hits
at all in about 20 minutes, which motivated me to drive around
to the other side and take a crack at it. There, three or four
keeper-sized bluegills and one red ear sunfish got fooled by
Old Reliable. I released all these fish. Then, just before
leaving, I loaded up and sent out a Hollywood Cast. On the
fall, Old Reliable got picked off by…it's a crappie, and...it's
a female crappie! First female of the year, she measured around
12-inches. Into the ice chest she went, and out went another
and then another Hollywood Cast. All for nothing; in fifteen
minutes I caught not one more fish of any kind.
Feeling badly about icing just this one crappie, I opened the
cooler lid and there she was flopping around energetically as
ever. My experience with putting different species of fish on
ice has convinced me that crappies are extremely hardy when it
comes to enduring cold. I can come home from trips with a
mixed creel of bluegills, red ears and crappie – all caught
more or less at the same time – and it's always the crappies
that are still alive; the others have expired.
And so I gently lowered this female into the lake and stayed
with her until she rested up, righted herself to vertical,
finned a few times and moved steadily back into the depths.
Next spot I hit was a shoreline zone adjacent to one of the
lake's two boat ramps. Here I was protected from the wind,
but not from the relentless high-pitched barking of a tiny
black dog that chased my truck and then stood on the perimeter
road giving me "what for" the whole time. Poochie did not
appreciate that I calmly endured his harassment by employing
an ancient Zen relaxation technique – visualizing his writhing
body hauled aloft at dusk in the talons of a Great Horned Owl
with babies to feed.
Before leaving I did catch one crappie at this barky dog spot,
but released it because I'd made the mistake of leaving my ice
chest back in the truck thinking the action today was just too
slow. This made it two crappies I could have had, but didn't.
Just as I pulled up to the fourth spot a light rain began falling.
Leaving the anorak in the truck, I donned a fleece jacket, walked
down and began fan-casting my way along a curving shoreline where
a few days earlier big bluegills had tattooed Old Reliable
something fierce. Good 'gills were still here but their mood was
far less energetic. I caught one male crappie and let it go.
Maybe it was the weather front slowing down these crappie, I
wondered…and as if on cue it began raining harder. Raindrops
started dripping off the edge of my ballcap visor. After a
period of time passed with no hits on short and mid-range casts,
I glanced over my shoulder checking for obstacles that might
interfere with a Hollywood Cast. Seeing nothing but tree
trunks way behind, I stripped two more pulls of line and
began loading up. That was a mistake.
On my final forward motion the fly was snagged. Huh? Snagged
on what? I hadn't seen anything back there! Looking higher
up through the rainwater sheeting off my visor, there sat Old
Reliable wrapped around the tip of a limb. I'd have seen this
limb if it hadn't been raining so hard, because without the rain
I'd have tilted my inspection a few degrees higher. I walked
back up the bank and tried every trick in the book to free the
fly, but without success. Finally, there was nothing to do
but break off.
Not one but two Old Reliables lost to snags. Two lost in the
same day. This was not good.
By now I was resigned to the fact that this just wasn't my
day. But on my drive out, I stopped at a fifth spot. This
is the spot where recently I caught a big red ear sunfish
and eight crappies. My clothes were soaked now from standing
in the rain, and this is probably a waste of time anyway so
I'll leave the ice chest in the truck again. Just give this
place a few throws and then go.
Sure enough, one small 'gill is all that showed interest in
my THIRD Old Reliable. About this time, though, I became
aware of a few scattered surface swirls, all of them located
farther off shore than my casts were reaching.
As good a fly as Old Reliable is, you eventually get into
situations where the greater weight and wind resistance of
a #10 Hare's Ear Nymph will combine to limit your casting
range. The paradox is that by going with a smaller but
equally compact fly you can cast farther, and easier.
So, rummaging through my nymph box as the light began
quickly fading I spotted a very small gold-ribbed nymph.
No bead head, just your plain-Jane dinky nymph. Size 16
or 18 – looked like an Old Reliable that had got shrunk
by a jungle witch doctor.
With such a small nymph you confirm the text book teaching
that in fly fishing you're casting the weight of the floating
line and the fly just goes along for the ride? There's almost
no hand awareness that anything is connected to the tippet.
You'd need to ask the designers, but I suspect that tiny nymphs
are the sort of fly that ultralight rods are developed to deliver.
In any event, I could barely feel the little nymph during casts.
But once those casts rolled out and laid the nymph 15 feet
farther into the lake, big bluegills and crappies knew
immediately that something very nice was tied on that tippet.
They lit into the little nymph like it had insulted their mamas.
After beaching and releasing the fourth crappie, it hit me with
a jolt: "Idiot, what are you doing?" I hastily walked back to
the truck, grabbed my little ice cooler and returned. By now
I could have had seven nice crappies if I'd kept each one I
caught today. This nonsense of letting them go is gonna stop
During the next 20 minutes I caught one more crappie then it
got too dark to control my casting. I'm not the world's best
fly caster anyhow, so once it gets dark the show is over real
quick. Pushing the switch button on my LED headlamp, there
laid that last and only crappie in my ice chest, still
"Sorry I bothered you, buddy," and I eased him back into the
lake to swim another day.
Not just fly fishing but every angling method has its own way,
over time, of revealing fish to be incredible animals with
behaviors we never could have guessed, and would not have
learned about or even thought possible if we weren't out
there trying to catch them.
Little tiny nymphs at dusk, huh? I'm sure this doesn't work
every day but, hey, I'll remember it. Forgetting would be
a mistake. ~ 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