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They Wanted Me Soaked


By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, KS

Since the invention of moveable type, quite a number of non-fiction books have been written about overland expeditions undertaken by European and American explorers and adventurers. I've read a few such books. It must be because I've been a lifelong outdoorsman, but one thing in these books that immediately caught my attention were the brief accounts of meetings that took place between the white explorers and resident Indians during foul weather periods.

These meetings took place at established Indian encampments, never in the wilds. Why was that? It was because the European and American explorers were only passing through; they would stubbornly remain afield exposing themselves to weather extremes, and as a consequence suffer terrible physical hardships. Whereas the Indians they encountered would stay indoors comfortable in their tents or lodges. Only AFTER the storm had passed would the Indians venture back outside and resume their normal daily activities.

Memories of those book passages came back to me a number of times during the first week of April this year, when northeast Kansas was beset by winter-like temperatures, rain and high wind. Being a recently retired person, I had no further need to drive 110 miles every weekday from Lawrence to Kansas City and back to Lawrence. Freed of this obligation but suddenly barred by miserable atmospheric conditions that made me shiver every time I looked outdoors, I opted to keep myself inside the house I'm sitting and just...wait out the weather.

I had enough food on hand that except for short walks to the mail box I had no need to set foot outside the house for seven consecutive days, except for one evening of playing music at the jam where I'm the duty bass player. It made me smile, thinking of all the gasoline money I was saving.

"You're so smart!" I told myself with a smile, "You're doing just like the shrewd Indians in those books; you're staying inside where it's comfortable, waiting for this nasty weather to clear. Man, did those old Indians have it figured out or what?"

After the eight straight day of foul weather, my book-reading memories began colliding with my desire to go fishing. Try as I might, I couldn't recall if any of the old Indians mentioned in those books had been fly fishermen. I suppose they could have been and history never recorded the fact because their fly rods were stashed somewhere out of sight each time a dazed and confused party of white explorers came slogging into camp.

But this is beside the point: What, I wondered, would an ancient Indian do who if he was a fly fisherman and, after a long cold winter, had tasted two weeks of wonderful spring weather during which time he caught lots of panfish but then had been driven back indoors by the return of cold, foul weather? Would he sit there in his tent or lodge in perfect comfort for eight straight days, staring for hours into a crackling campfire? Would he wile away the hours cooking and eating, drinking Sumatra Velvet coffee, watching TV, doing laundry, reading books, swapping email, cleaning the bathroom and checking the National Weather Service extended forecast every few hours hoping for good news to appear? Well, would he?

Historical comparisons like these can begin working on one's mind after awhile. In my case, I finally snapped.

"I'm sick of being smart!" I admitted to myself grimly, "I will be a foolish white man today, just like in those books. I will go to the lake this afternoon despite this cold rain and wind, to explore whether a panfish can be caught!"

At the lake, I parked at a spot where three weeks earlier in balmy weather I'd caught big bluegills one after another. It was 5 p.m. now. A 15-mph southeast wind was blowing. From the lead-colored sky above fell alternating episodes of mist, then sprinkles, then medium-hard rain. The air temperature hovered in the upper 40s. Sure enough, there wasn't an Indian in sight.

Fan casting my way along 50 yards of shoreline, my nymph attracted not a touch. After 20 minutes of no hits, I remembered that one my Old Reliable nymphs was still hanging in a tree branch here, where I'd snagged a backcast a week earlier. Grabbing my Nifty Nabber trash picker-upper from the bed of my pickup truck I went to the spot, reached up high as I could and grabbed the branch in question. I pulled down to bring it within reach but the limb had more spine than I'd expected. Its tip snapped off and during the limb's rebound the tippet section Old Reliable was tied to wrapped itself another couple of turns around the stub, which now, thanks to the break, was at a height I could no longer reach. Sorry, Old Reliable.

Minutes before abandoning this spot, someone drove around the lake perimeter road behind me then parked across the lake arm near a spot where I wanted to fish next. I drove around there anyway, and after parking I fished a shoreline pocket where a week earlier I'd ripped into bluegills, red ear sunfish and crappies. Today, though, not a single hit was forthcoming at this spot.

I began working west toward the driver of the pickup who'd arrived here before me. I could see him up ahead; he was a spinning tackle user who was vertical fishing off one of the fishing docks. I'd now spent about 45 minutes nymphing this lake arm without one hit to show for my labors. The sky had gone from mist to light sprinkles, and now serious rain drops began coming down. Midway through a retrieve I decided enough was enough, I was done, I never should have bothered. This is my last cast.

The whole time I'd been using figure-8 line twist pickups to move my nymph through the water. Now that the decision to go home had been made I began stripping line toward me hurriedly, in rude 2-foot pulls. 15 feet from shore my nymph was seized and at the same instant the fish was off.

A hit. Hmmm. Well, I had brought along my small ice chest this afternoon in hopes of catching supper, so if I just got this hit then why not stick with it a little longer? I mean, a hit can't be ignored, right?

A few minutes later Bluegill #1 was hooked, landed and laid on ice. I worked a few feet down the shore and 'Gill #2 volunteered himself for an ice cube snooze. Then the rain began.

The way things had been going, I decided against walking back to my truck for cover. Instead, I hurried west and took shelter beneath an overhang at this lake's concessions building. Soon the rain eased off, but once it did the wind increased. By now my hands were getting pretty cold and stiff from being constantly wet and exposed to the wind.

Just then the other fisherman who'd arrived before me, the guy I hadn't seen for some time and who I thought had left, came walking down from his parking spot. Sure enough, it was another white man.

"Doing any good?" he asked, and as if on cue the two bluegills inside my ice chest began flopping and banging against the lid. "Sounds like you've got something in there."

"Just a couple of bluegills. How about you?" I asked.

"I've caught five. A couple were crappies, one was 9-inches the other 12-inches."

("White man speak with forked tongue," I wanted to say, but didn't. I mean, if it was me who'd caught two nice crappies in the short period of time he'd been here, I would not have left that fishing dock with a stranger approaching on foot who might move into my vacated spot.

The best thing about being a fly fisherman who primarily goes after bluegills is that you can tell people the truth about your successes and they think you're lying, so they don't care. And when non-fly fishermen tell you about the fantastic success they're having, even if it's the truth you don't care.)

"Well, hey man, that's cool; I'm just gonna work on west and try my luck. I've never fished so far down this shoreline before, maybe there's some bluegills along here. Hope the rain doesn't get going again." And off I went.

I picked up a third keeper bluegill soon after leaving the concession building overhang. I also began catching young largemouth bass your basic 12-inchers that would be great table fare if removed from an over-populated farm pond. But in this state-managed lake 12-inchers are too short to be legal keepers.

Again the rain returned, the day's hardest rain, and this time I got caught 80 yards from the concessions building overhang. I took shelter (if you can call it that) on the leeward side of a large hackberry tree. Standing here for some 20 minutes, my clothing began water logging.

The makers of fiberfill clothing and sleeping bags love to advertise their products as "warm when wet." Yeah, right. Any hope of staying "warm when wet" disappeared when this 45-degree rain water soaked through my jacket's insulating material, trickled down past my shoulders and saturated my armpits.

Worse than my physical discomfort was the sudden realization that my digital camera and cell phone were pocketed inside my now-soaked jacket! Were they already ruined? I didn't dare pull them out to check; doing so would certainly drench them. It was now, definitely, time to leave.

I got back into my truck, pulled the camera and phone out of their pockets and they were both dry. Whew!

Because I'd parked with my pickup's radiator pointing away from the direction of home, I continued southwest along the perimeter road with intentions of circling the lake. Since I'm already out here, I figured there's no reason why I shouldn't scout the lake at various places just on general principle. And about the same time I pulled away from the concession buildings the rain eased off to almost nothing, just a light drizzle.

But it's getting late now, maybe 7:30 p.m., cloudy sky getting darker by the minute. Coming around a bend that brought into view a lake arm where I've caught many panfish, I spotted a picnic area (unoccupied) that looked reasonably protected from the wind.

Well, why not; I'm here? Only three bluegills were in my ice chest and this might be my last chance to add more. Looking in the back of my pickup cab, I found a second jacket laying there, bone dry. And when I put it on I further discovered a pair of fleece fingerless gloves in its pockets. So now even if I didn't catch anything, at least I'd be fishing comfortable.

Observing the picnic area's flattened-grass shoreline where many fishermen had obviously already stood, I selected an undeveloped adjacent shoreline zone where it appeared few fishermen had been. Maybe the panfish here were more willing to bite due to having been subjected to less fishing pressure? Only one way to find out.

On the first cast Old Reliable was engulfed by a keeper-size 'gill that went into my little ice chest following a bitter struggle. This made four bluegills on ice. The way my fishing math operates you don't count fish, only fillets; I now had eight bluegill fillets for supper.

In the next 20 minutes of fishing I caught two more 'gills, the last the biggest one of those hump-head male 'gills you love to hear knock on your door.

Nice Gill

Minutes later, a line twitch indicated another take. I lifted the rod and to my great surprise a few seconds later landed a male black crappie! Energetic rascal; his high-speed fight fooled me into thinking he was a young largemouth bass, right up until I lifted him from the water.

Black Crappie

Catching this crappie after three hours of physical misery provoked serious thoughts of staying after dark. But with the light fading fast I quit and headed home. After scaling and filleting my fish, I dredged each fillet in Louisiana New Orleans Style Fish Fry (lemon flavored) and fried them up for a much needed late-evening supper.

Dinners Ready

I couldn't get all 14 pieces to fit into my skillet at the same time; it took a second batch to finish the cooking job. I wasn't sure I could eat 14 fillets in one sitting, but as things turned out that wasn't any problem at all. ~ 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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