It's April 24th. I was in the Kansas City,
KS Cabela's fly tackle shop popping for a
new reel. After scouting reels for some time
I'd settled on the Okuma 4/5 as the best way
to spiff up my 8 ½-ft. 3-wt. Stowaway rod.
The Okuma is a good fit; its weight aft of the
cork handle nicely counterbalances the rod's
forward weight. There's an adjustable friction
drag plus a spool rim that can be palmed for
manual control in case I goof up and hook
something really big. Best of all, the Okuma
is very quiet. When line is pulled off the
spool prior to casting the click mechanism
makes only a faint noise; on retrieve the reel
is deathly silent.
Cost-cutting meant cannibalizing the old reel's
WF-3-F line and backing. But once inside the
fly shop I decided to get a spool of Scientific
Anglers Master Series line and have that put on
the Okuma. The SA's high-visibility orange would
help me in the reduced-light conditions that I
The salesman behind the counter was Pinkie, who
from earlier visits I'd learned is a retired
school teacher. Pinkie has never mentioned to
me whether he was big into fly fishing back when
he taught school. If so, I'll bet his pattern
of springtime sick leave use came to the principal's
attention more than once.
Pinkie is a happy fellow who comes up to you
like an eager puppy. It takes a first-time
customer a few minutes to realize that the
puppy is you as Pinkie leads you through the
shop past all those pretty food bowls filled
with savory fly tackle. Next thing you know,
you're nibbling away. If this man ran a
restaurant, everybody in his neighborhood
would be overweight.
While Pinkie adroitly outfitted my new Okuma
with backing, floating line and a butt section,
I babbled on about what a thrill it is catching
nice-size crappies on fly tackle. Once he
finished spooling my reel, I was set to check
out. Just as I turned to leave, Pinkie nailed
my shoes to the floor with a sudden, excited
invitation: Could I take just a second - just
a second - to look at a new fly they'd started
Well...okay, Pinkie, sure. It can't hurt just
to look, can it?
No matter whose fly shop I visit, I try hard - I
really do - not to buy a half dozen of every fly
I see. Flies are so beautiful; each handmade, a
museum-quality work of art. Pinkie was leading
another lamb to the slaughter and whether he knew
that, I did; still, I couldn't flee. He opened
a large plastic storage box, reached inside it
then laid a silvery fly in the palm of my hand.
I felt its weight (very light), squeezed the
unusual reflective yarn comprising its body and
knew instantly that this minnow imitator would
be a stone cold killer on the shallow-water
crappies I'd been pursuing the last few weeks.
"You have to stay ready," Pinkie warned in a
hushed tone, "You're going after crappie, but
a largemouth bass will take this in a heartbeat."
Examining the minnow's meaty profile and the
all-angles reflectivity of its spiky metallic
yarn, I could appreciate how a bass would do
exactly that. Oh well, no crappie fly is
perfect; the odd largemouth could be released
quickly enough. And so with visions of crappie
slaying dancing in my head, I bought three of
At 7:00 PM the next evening I was on the lake
fishing from my solo canoe. My girlfriend,
Janet, was on shore grilling some of her dad's
homegrown beef burgers for our picnic supper.
From my floating vantage point it was a totally
bucolic scene - green grass and tree foliage
all around her, a deep blue sky above, lake
water reflections below, etc., etc. The only
thing intruding on this Kodak Moment were the
ravenous crappies pouncing on my #10 flashback
Hare's Ear nymph anytime it swam too near a
submerged tree trunk I'd discovered 100 yards
offshore. With each strike my appetite for
grilled burgers slipped another cog.
Suddenly I heard the horn on my pickup. It
was Janet. Had she honked it accidentally
while scrambling through my truck cab looking
for equipment, or was she signaling me that
the burgers are ready? I gave the second
possibility a questioning yell. She yelled
back that no, the food isn't ready yet but
it will be any minute.
To a jury of my peers, the phrase "any minute"
sounds reasonably close enough to "one more cast"
that I would use it in my defense if Janet cooked
those patties to cinders and later pressed charges.
I kept casting, and boated three or four more
slabs before reeling in and paddling with frantic
resignation toward the picnic site. See, back at
home two hours earlier I'd watched her put in a
fair amount of work packing this meal? I wasn't
interested anymore in eating, but now I was trapped
(for lack of a better word). And although I
subsequently ate two grilled burgers, a bunch
of chips and other stuff, I didn't actually
taste much of it.
If dragging oneself away from a submerged log
surrounded by hungry crappies ever becomes a
Relationship Predictor Exam that Cabela's
offers to fishermen with girlfriends, Pinkie
would give my effort today a C-minus grade
because only half of me took the test - the
body half. While we were eating, I vaguely
recall Janet's mouth moving when she faced
my direction, and me smiling and nodding,
but I don't remember anything she said. We
need to try another picnic sometime under
less stressful circumstances.
Thirty years later we finished eating and
stowed the picnic gear. Now, finally, I
could do what I'd REALLY come here for,
which was to get Janet into my canoe and
take her out on the lake so she could have
an up-close look at fly rodding for panfish.
I was a bit worried how my canoe would handle
with her in the back, though. Solo canoes
are designed to carry one paddler; there's
only one seat, located amidships. Putting
her weight aft of the paddling station with
no forward gear load as counterweight would
throw the boat out of trim. I wasn't sure
how a severely stern-heavy trim would impact
my ability to maneuver the canoe.
Lucky for me, Janet is pretty trim herself.
She wiggled into a comfortable position back
there behind me, her weight mostly down in
the bottom of the boat, and with our center
of balance thus lowered we moved around the
lake slowly but under good control. She of
course was wearing a PFD, as I was.
First spot we went to was right back to that
submerged tree. Creeping in then anchoring
20 feet out, I began false casting my Hare's
Ear nymph then stopped in mid-stoke and pulled
it in. This was the perfect place to test fire
one of the flies Pinkie had sold me the day
before. I knew crappies were here from my
pre-burger success. So I clipped off the nymph,
tied on a silver reflector minnow and sent it
10 feet beyond and just to the right of the
submerged tree's root wad. It never made it
halfway back to the tree before it got whacked
by a slab crappie.
As I lifted this fish into the canoe, I noticed
for the first time that Pinkie's silver minnow
has a fairly large hook (#8, maybe even #6) with
a wide gap. The problems I've had with crappies
throwing the nymphs I normally use, the thought
occurred to me that using flies with bigger hooks
might be the way to go on crappie from here on out.
After that initial fish, three more slabs fell
prey on my next three casts. (All four fish
went into my ice chest.) Seeing Pinky's fly go
4-for-4 on its first career at-bats...if I'd had
a bag of popcorn and a third arm to eat it with
I'd have been stuffing my face like a little kid
at the ballpark.
Once this submerged tree played out I paddled
Janet over to the submerged brush hotspot I'd
discovered a couple of weeks earlier. It was
dusk now, getting dark just like the night I
found this spot. We anchored at the 8 o'clock
position relative to the target zone. Testing
the right fringe with my first cast, a big
orange-tummy bluegill apparently burned out
on eating nymphs hammered the minnow. I
released the 'gill and studied the cover,
looking for an interior spot to throw to. From
my position it was tricky finding a decent open
area. I gambled and shot the silvery minnow
between two stickups, and got lucky when the
fly splatted down between the woody stems
instead of hanging up.
Almost immediately the minnow got hit hard.
Whatever grabbed it became violently offended
and rushed into open water toward my canoe,
then thought better of it and rocketed back
toward the submerged brush, putting me on
the defensive, forcing me to surrender line
between my left thumb and forefinger. If
this fish took much more line he'd reclaim
the option of moving laterally through that
brush tangle and there'd be hell to pay
getting him out of there. So I pushed my
luck by squeezing down on my escaping line,
and managed to brake the fish to a stop just
before it reached the tangle. Here's where
my 7 ½-ft. Umpqua 4X tapered leader earned
its keep (not that it hadn't already).
A fish this powerful had to be a channel cat,
a largemouth bass or one really big crappie.
A few nervous seconds ticked past before the
question was answered by a largemouth around
2-lbs. that broke the surface and went airborne,
trying but failing to throw Pinkie's minnow.
Moments later I lipped the fish, unhooked and
"Pinkie, you said this might happen and it did,
first day out," I thought to myself.
That bass didn't know it, but he was the first
representative of his size and strength category
to be hooked and defeated since I began using my
Cabela's 5-piece 3-wt. Stowaway rod. So please,
amigos, don't anybody out there lose sleep
wondering whether a 3-wt. rod can handle your
basic juvenile largemouth? Sure, each fight
will be too close to call until it's over, but
isn't that why they call it fishing instead of
The struggles of this bass must have freaked
out every gamefish inside a 50 foot radius of
the battle, because 10 minutes passed without
another touch. I lifted anchors, but rather
than power stroking to a new spot I shipped
my paddle, cam cleated both anchors in the
raised position and let the gentle evening
breeze puff us along slowly through the cove.
This allowed me to "pass shoot" single casts
into lanes that came briefly open as the boat
drifted through the brush. A few more good
crappies and bluegills fell prey before the
sky got too dark to continue. The last fish
I hooked wrapped around a stickup and broke
off the minnow.
Thank you, Pinkie! And thank you, Pinkie's fly;
I still have two of you left! ~ Joe
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