Thinking that the lake FAOL Panfish writer Rick Zeiger
fishes during his lunch hours sits five miles east of
town, I didn't start paying attention to the road signs
soon enough and wound up overshooting the lake turnoff
by ten miles. At a rural house I stopped at for
directions, a helpful farmer pointed me back the same way
I'd come. Thanks to his help I arrived lakeside barely
ten minutes before Rick showed up. Whew! That was too
close; I hate being late when meeting someone to go
fishing, hunting, canoe tripping, etc.
Four days earlier in an email, Rick had told me the crappies
at this lake are in shallow water and I don't need my canoe.
Well, I could try it that way. It's been three weeks since
I last fished using the technique of standing on the bank,
but I still remembered some of the motor skills required.
At this lake the spot Rick fishes during lunch hour is
a public boating access that's been tricked out even a
bit more nicely by the installation of rip-rapped fishing
jetties, each jetty extending into the lake about 100
feet. Probably every state's natural resources department
builds these jetties the same way, and at lakes around
the country you can find people fishing from them a lot.
They're very handy. I've never had much luck at them,
though, which I attribute to the intense public pressure
The jetty Rick made a beeline for would be no different:
it was already occupied. Another angler - bait & bobber
type - was set up on its point. So halfway down we split
up, Rick taking the south side, me the north side. My
side had shallower water and the bottom quickly transitioned
from rip-rap to mud, whereas Rick's side had deeper water
and the limestone rip-rap extended underwater out of sight.
What impact these different bottom types would have on our
luck would become apparent soon enough, I figured. You
never know which one will be best until you try.
Once we began casting, the chaired man sitting on the point
began watching us out of the corner of his eye. The thought
flashed to mind that maybe this guy had not enjoyed any luck
this morning? If so, then if Rick or I was to have a run of
luck this fellow might decide to muscle in and seize said hot
spot from we two "fly rod wimps". . .like a modest number of
Iowa fishermen have done to Rick in the past, and for their
efforts found themselves forcibly enrolled in a "Sink or Swim"
lesson upon being bodily thrown into the lake. Also, in
addition to this one guy sitting on the jetty point another 10
or 15 minnow-dunkers were sitting on adjacent jetties and
rip-rapped shoreline. Not a one of them was presently seeing
I haven't been fly fishing that long, but one thing I've learned
is that we fly rodders will often be catching fish one after
another while non-fly rodders nearby are burning incense,
chanting incantations and attaching prayer strips to tree
branches in an effort to enlist the help of the Great Fish
Biting Spirit. If Rick or I started ripping into fish,
could these boys stand the strain?
Okay, here we go.
I'd made maybe ten consecutive casts with no hits when Rick
called to me across the jetty top, "Hey Joe, isn't this what
you're supposed to be doing over there, too?" I turned and
there he stood, holding aloft a wiggling 9-inch crappie.
Partly out of stubbornness (to keep trying my side of the
jetty until absolutely convinced it wasn't any good) and
partly out of a desire to demonstrate proper restraint (and
thereby not encourage watching anglers to bum rush Rick's
position) I stayed with my north side of the jetty and
flailed away. Rick on his side began tearing into 'em
pretty good; about once per minute I heard fish thrashing
about on the surface as he pulled them in, then came a
splash when he released them and they hit the water.
After some fifteen minutes of this, the guy sitting on the
point of our jetty decided he'd had enough and exited, stage
east. Whether he'd had enough of seeing Rick's luck or
whether he'd simply caught enough fish of his own to make
a good meal, I didn't ask him as he walked past. But now
Rick and I had the jetty to ourselves. I moved over by him
to see what was happening on his side and why. It confused
me, why he was catching fish and I wasn't.
This lake presently has an algae bloom going on. My north
side of the jetty had clearer water, and that's because the
jetty was intercepting the algae blown across the surface.
The wind was pushing the algae against Rick's south side only,
in the process creating a 10-ft wide band of algae scum. He
could cast across this scum and his line would move through
it freely and his fly and leader would sink down through it
normally, without picking up any muck. The crappie favored
this algae band zone, I think because the surface film muted
sunlight penetration while providing cooling shade and concealment.
Rick had been standing there long enough that he'd noticed
something very interesting: many crappies were in the shallowest
possible water, water barely deep enough to cover their dorsal
fins. It took some doing, but if we looked closely through the
algae scum we could see crappies swimming around practically at
our feet, seemingly oblivious to our presence.
We did catch crappies by casting out 20 feet at a 45-degree
angle into deeper water, but by far the most fish were caught
from water no more than two feet deep. It surprised me when
on one cast I dropped my fly uselessly close (I thought) to
the rocks, but before I could pick it up for another throw it
got hammered by a crappie that zoomed out attacked from the
bank side of where the fly had touched down. I've heard
fishermen talk many times about crappies moving in tight
against the bank, but until today I'd never personally
witnessed the event.
This was catch and release fishing and by the time Rick had
to go back to work I estimate we caught and let go 75 fish
between us. Quite the action. A few minutes before we left
the jetty, two men in a bass boat trolled in and anchored
off its point at a distance of maybe 75 feet away. Doubtless
they'd seen us unhooking fish one after another and had moved
over to share in the action. I was impressed that they anchored
a discrete distance away; during the frenzy of the crappie spawn
many powerboat fishermen will rudely invade the water other
people are fishing. These two guys were polite gentlemen.
While Rick and I were standing at the road saying our
goodbyes, I looked and the bass boat pair had pulled
their boat against the point of the jetty. One man
had disembarked and was standing on the exact spot Rick
had occupied; he was throwing his minnow/bobber rig into
the same water Rick and I had fished. This water, we knew,
was thick with crappie but the minnow/bobber guy couldn't
buy a bite. In fact, for almost ten minutes after Rick
left he still wasn't having any luck. Evidence that today,
in the crappie's opinion, Rick's flies fresh off his tying
vice were trumping live minnows fresh from the bait shop.
This made an impression on me.
Before Rick left, he pointed out for me a couple of spots
in this general area that might be good today and had been
good for him many times in the past. The closest being the
rip-rapped shoulder of the elevated roadway our trucks were
parked beside. Looks like a dam, but it's a road? I eased
down across the tippy rip-rap as quietly as possible and
threw a cast into the north end corner where the shoreline
leaves the rip-rap and curves back to the west. Wham! An
8-inch bull bluegill clobbered my fly. Next cast, same result.
My third cast went to the south and landed about ten feet
out from the rocks so that I could execute a parallel retrieve
along the road shoulder. A nine-inch white crappie promptly
gobbled the fly, and on the next cast into that area another
Hmmm. . .bluegills to the right, crappies to the left. The
ensuing mental coin toss was won by the crappies and I began
slowly working my way south along the rip-rap. I say
"slowly" because it's very hard getting motivated to move
when you're catching so many fish standing in one spot.
I'd started out the morning using Rick's flies - he'd handed
me a small box containing eight or ten he'd tied. The first
I used was (I think) a flash-a-bou minnow imitator. Although
the crappie liked it, the one they LOVED was the fly Rick
started off with - a white boa yarn leech. This was the fly
I began throwing parallel to the roadway rip-rap.
It was 1:30 p.m. now and I didn't need to leave the lake until
late afternoon. With the morning's action spurring me, I
decided to skip lunch altogether and keep fishing just to
see how many crappie I could catch. The only fish counted
would be the ones landed, lipped and physically unhooked.
By the time I worked down the rocks near to where a steel
culvert enters the lake after passing underneath the roadway,
I'd caught 65 crappies. (Again, this count doesn't include
fish that self-released.) It was just astonishing action.
At one point I looked up and across the way were six
minnow/bobber anglers sitting on the opposite bank, silently
watching me from a distance of about 150 feet. Sitting, but
not moving, because they weren't getting any bites, whereas
I was getting hits on virtually every cast and when I did
land a fish I unhooked and released it. They all had wire
baskets and coolers and were fishing for the table.
Times like this, when I'm really smokin', part of me loves
putting on a show for the crowd. Let people see how it's
done, all that good stuff. But it can be kind of embarrassing
if you're catching - and throwing back - good fish after good
fish when other people nearby are not having any luck and
they're obviously trying to catch and keep fish for food.
I love eating crappie myself, so I was hoping those six
fellows parked on their butts opposite me weren't taking
offense at what they might view as showboating on my part.
(Rick wasn't around to give them swimming lessons if they
Still, the thought came to mind that as frequently as Rick
fishes this place, as many hundreds (if not thousands) of
people who've see him do well here, you'd think all these
worm and minnow drowners would possess enough mental capacity
to connect the dots and conclude that fly fishing is the
fastest route to a meal of crappie fillets. Speaking for
myself, during my decades of minnow dunking in Kansas I
never once saw anyone fly fish for crappie, so I didn't
know what was going on. But here at Rick's "lunch hour
lake" he routinely gives the general public the opportunity
to study fly-rodding in person and compare the effectiveness
of different fishing methods.
A natural question therefore arises: what in the cornbread
hell are these guys waiting for? If they drive out here
with the intention of catching a mess of these prolific
and delicious panfish for the dinner table, then why don't
they take up fly fishing, too? I mean, how many thousands
of 9-inch crappie does Rick Zieger have to unhook and throw
back into the lake in full view of the static-positioned
masses before these folks admit to themselves that over
yonder stands a better way?
As the day's 90-degree plus hot afternoon sun began cooling
down, I went back to the truck for another drink of water
then looked over at the jetty we'd fished hours earlier.
In the time since Rick left I'd now caught and released
85 crappies. Were the jetty fish still hanging out at
the water's edge?
Creeping along the jetty top, I noticed that the changing
wind had blown the algae band away from the spot where Rick
had stood that morning. Probably because the sun was lower
in the sky now and its rays not as intense, the crappies were
still very shallow in this now-clear water despite the absence
of overhead cover. It was most interesting watching them swim
slowly side by side, paired up male/female. Some crappie
couples were rubbing against one another so intimately and
nose-bumping so energetically that if I'd had more cash in
my wallet I'd have offered it to them so they could go
someplace and get a room.
I racked up ten more crappies at the jetty then moved down
the lakeshore back to the roadway rocks to my original
starting point there, in hopes of hitting the "crappie
century" mark. A few casts later it was done. Then I
thought, "Well, it's only 5:30; why not try for 125?" But
after Crappie #101 was dropped back into the water I was
done. The day's cloudless sky sun had fried my exposed
arms and face real good, plus I was hungry from not having
eaten anything but a bagel at 6:30 a.m. Time to quit.
A day like this, action that burns white hot for hours,
when it's over it can leave you feeling not buzzed but
dazed. Rick told me later that we probably hit the lake
just as the fish were making their final push into the
shallows to spawn. He thinks the fish were actually
arriving at our feet immediately after we got there.
Certainly possible. All I know is I've never enjoyed
a day remotely close to this one, not on crappie. ~ Joe Hyde
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