I was making preparations to launch when two
vehicles rolled up to the driveway leading into
the picnic area but stopped short of coming in.
Just as I finished knotting on my flies, the
white Volvo eased slowly alongside my pickup.
Its shirtless driver rolled down the window and
asked, "Hey, dude, is it okay if my family comes
in here and we have us a picnic?"
"Sure it is," I answered, "This is public land;
you guys get on in here and do your thing."
"Well, I just wanted to ask, because we're
going to build a fire on the ground over there
by that picnic table, and if you'll be fishing
here off the bank that (fire) might be a problem."
"It's no problem; give me another minute and
I'll be in my canoe, out on the lake."
So both cars pulled in. Dad and Mom, three
daughters and the family dog bailed out and
hit the ground moving. Dad walked over to me
and thrust out his right hand. I looked up to
shake hands and saw a half-full whiskey bottle.
"Care for a little snort? I've been working
on it already, but don't worry, there's plenty
more where this came from."
"Thanks," I said, "but I have a couple of beers
in my ice chest, so I'm good to go."
"You know," began Dad a bit too expansively,
"I got an Uncle, he works in the maintenance
crew at this lake? So I come out here a LOT.
When I'm out here at this lake, I can do
anything I want to."
My threat display radar lit up on automatic,
the screen showing five - check - SIX bogies
bearing zero-four-zero relative, one in tight,
the other five fanning out into textbook picnic
site attack formation. This was no place for
me. Time to put to sea...right now.
Paddling away from shore, my initial thought
was to move halfway down the lake arm to a
new spot, one I hadn't tried when I was here
last weekend. Then I thought: why paddle way
down there when I'd so recently scored here,
75 feet from my put-in point? Don't turn up
your nose at a proven hotspot when you're
fishing for the skillet, dummy.
"You kids get away from that road!" Dad shouted.
See, I was here this afternoon on a mission.
My girlfriend and I had talked about driving
out to fix dinner for her father on his northeast
Kansas farm. Janet had warned me that her dad
doesn't just like fish, he LOVES fish. And
her brother might stop in for Sunday dinner
as well, and he loves fish, too. I definitely
needed to catch more 'gills and/or crappies,
she said, else there wouldn't be enough fillets.
We needed more meat than the 28 fillets yielded
by those 14 panfish I'd caught the weekend before.
Either I bring home more fish today, she said,
or tomorrow we'll have meat loaf for dinner.
Now don't get me wrong, folks, I love meatloaf
as much as anybody. But compared to bluegill...
"You girls get out of the lake, RIGHT NOW!"
Dad roared. The dog began barking.
So I eased into last week's hotspot, anchored,
and began casting to the same cover. Today,
though, I was using a Pheasant Tail nymph tandem
rig; #14 bead head PTN up front, a #14 copper-wire
wrapped body PTN trailing. In this 18-inch deep
water, I estimated the rig would settle steadily
to about mid-depth and stay clear of bottom snags
if I used a normal speed left-hand pickup.
"GET OFF THAT BRIDGE! GET THE HELL OFF THAT
BRIDGE AND COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW! DO YOU
GIRLS HEAR ME!"
Bless their hearts, the bluegills were not only
still here but boy, they were hungry. Every
second or third cast one of my PTN's got hammered.
I began putting good-size 'gills on ice.
Because I'd paddled away from the picnic area
when I left shore, I was anchored facing away
from the family. It never dawned on me that
I was anchoring directly downwind of their
fire site. A few minutes later, this aspect
of our geographical relationship came to my
attention as I was enveloped by a stream of
stinking, charcoal lighter-fired wood smoke.
Hearing a loud crack, I glanced over my shoulder
and spotted Dad stooped over trying to snap a
thick branch. He was facing away from me, and
with no shirt concealing his hind side I not
only heard a crack, I saw one. Is a pair of
skivvies wedged someplace south of those empty
belt loops? I couldn't tell, and wasn't about
to inquire because I didn't really want to know.
Let's finish this cast and I'm out of here.
Then one of my PTN's took a hard hit. It
was a good fish I could tell. It went all
over the place, making rocket runs east and
west before rising to show itself. A crappie!
I've never seen a crappie fight like this; it
battled in the style of a largemouth bass.
It was almost a foot long.
"WOOD! We need more WOOD!"
This big crappie, of course, changed everything.
My stinging, watering eyes were crying for a
change of scenery, and my ears were telling me
to move to a spot without all this human racket.
But my fisherman's heart assumed command. One
good crappie and my canoe anchors became too
heavy to lift. The fish are still here, I
thought. They're biting right here, and I
will ignore this smoke and racket and whatever
else, if that's what it takes to put more fillets
in tomorrow's skillet. I'm on a mission and...
"Oh hell, what'd she do now? Hurry up, take
her down to the shore and put some lake water
Six or eight fish later, this first spot played
out. I slowly moved 100 feet down the lake arm.
Anchoring, I thought I had moved beyond the smoke.
But the overcast sky and humid air, combined with
the easterly breeze, made the smoke lay low on
the water and it found me and enveloped me again,
its density scarcely reduced by the extra distance.
But that was acceptable because the 'gills were
biting like mad here, too.
"We need WOOD! Go to town and buy us some
wood!" I heard one of the car engines
start, and Mom zoomed away in a hail of thrown
gravel. Maybe now the picnic area would quiet
down at least a little bit? Ho, ho, ho.
"...I gotta learn someday to be shuttin' my mouth
Stead-a talkin' 'bout stuff I know nuthin' about..."
Dad had turned on his boombox and it was sending,
ohhh, around 110 decibels of rap music into the
surrounding airspace. Hip-hop music was getting
pounded into my skull, filling it up inside, the
sound reverberating throughout the entire lake arm.
Leave it to a drunk to screw up a place so quiet
and beautiful: From my experience as a musician,
it's always your drunks who want the music played
at ear-splitting volume.
So...when exposed to hip-hop do even Kansas bluegills
get wild and crazy and start assaulting Pheasant Tail
nymph strangers on the street with no provocation?
I guess they do, because the gills never stopped
biting; they didn't even slow down. Part of me
secretly wanted them to quit biting so I could
quit this spot and paddle far, far away from
these Picnickers From Hell. But I was on a
mission; yes, a mission. I was catching fish
and had to continue doing so. I can do it; I
have to do it, I'm on a mission.
When Spot two played out after another ten fish,
I rubbed my smoke-filled eyes then moved across
the lake arm, away from the smoke trail to a spot
where an old creek channel comes in. The channel
runs close along the shore, and I began probing
the weedline with my PTN tandem. More 'gills
and another big crappie were all too happy to
see those nymphs.
It started getting hard to fit fish inside my
small ice chest. Time to leave. By now, Mom
had returned from town with more firewood.
Crackhead - I mean, crack-tail - Dad was doing
an imitation of Kevin Costner in the movie
"Dances With Wolves." You know, where Costner
hops around the fire stabbing at it as though
it were a buffalo? About 15 minutes earlier
the three small girls, unescorted, had taken
off down a perimeter gravel road on their
bicycles. They hadn't returned yet and
suddenly it dawned on Mom and Dad that it
was starting to get seriously dark out?
"YOU GIRLS COME BACK RIGHT NOW! COOMMMME
BAAACCCKKKK!" both parents began bellowing.
Thoughtfully, Dad turned off his boombox
before commencing yelling, giving the girls
a better chance at differentiating his call
from the bellowing music. After playing the
boombox for the last hour, I was mildly
surprised that he didn't try rhyming the
text of his comeback call.
As I beached my canoe, the white Volvo with
Dad driving it roared out of the picnic site
and headed at high speed down the timber-bordered
perimeter gravel road in the direction the
girls had disappeared. I racked my canoe and
began stowing gear, saving the fly rods for
last. Then from the direction the Volvo had
gone came a loud cracking noise like a huge
creature crashing through the woods. A few
seconds passed, then through the trees came
that unmistakable, high-pitched whine of
"You have GOT to be kidding," I muttered,
"He DIDN'T." But I knew he had.
Fast as my hands could move, I began clipping
flies off my leaders, storing them back in my
fly box, then started breaking down and casing
my rods. I'd zipped the second case shut and
laid it in the bed of my truck when out of the
corner of my right eye I caught sight of a pale
white beer belly approaching...
"Hey, dude, I got a little crossed up back there
and went off into the trees a little ways. This
is your pickup, right? Well, you gotta help me
out, dude. I've got a rope; give me a little
pull and get me out of there, dude."
Marvelous: and I'd been mere inches from a clean
getaway. If I'd only gone retro today and used
ultralight spinning tackle instead of these two
fly rods, I'd already BE gone.
"What kind of rope?" I asked with retro enthusiasm.
"Stout. It's in my car. Mountain climber rope."
Which it definitely was NOT, as I saw immediately
once we arrived where his Volvo was sloping
downhill with its front bumper jammed against
a big pile of blowdown limbs. The car was stuck
at a weird angle, only its right rear tire was
still in contact with the gravel roadway. I
couldn't help wondering if drunk Dad had
miraculously swerved at the last second to
avoid running over his own children, all of
whom had biked into the picnic area only minutes
before he'd hiked back.
The first gentle tensioning pull from my pickup
and this "mountain climber rope" popped like a
champagne cork. Proof that wannabe mountaineering
line is best used for domestic tasks performed by
the wife of the household - jobs like tying your dit
ship husband to a backyard tree every Saturday
afternoon so he can't become a menace to society.
Beergut Bubba was at least aware enough of his
condition that he turned down my offer to call
a wrecker (since the call would have brought a
sheriff's deputy as well, resulting in his
incarceration for DUI). So I drove off, finally
free of this family's non-stop assault on my
What a day in the Great Outdoors. I took home
25 panfish (all but three were 'gills), thereby
adding 50 more fillets to the 28 already bound
for the farm.
Boy, was Janet ever right: next day at dinner,
her dad taste-tested one small bluegill piece
then waded into the tall platter of deep-fried
fillets like a wolverine cheating on a
berries-only diet. And me? I'd skipped breakfast
on purpose, so guess who else was grabbing and growling.
From Baldwin City, 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