I came this close to not going fishing,
and anyone in my place would have done
the same. You're lying in bed pre-dawn
with the windows open and a cool breeze
blowing across your body, the calls of
wrens and other nesting birds sweet in
your ear, and it's Sunday. Common sense
tells you to stay snuggled under the warm
blanket and drift back off to sleep. It
was all I could do to get out of bed but
I finally did...an hour past when I'd
planned to rise. Getting away late is
not the way to start a fishing trip.
During the drive to the lake I felt the
wind coming pretty good out of the northwest.
At shoreside I no sooner unstrapped my canoe
and lifted it off the rack than the wind picked
up another 5 mph to where it now felt like
15-to-20 mph. Then while loading my boat with
gear the wind picked up even more. The wind
waited to do this until I was almost ready to
launch. And of course, the forecast for today
had not said one word about high wind.
The way the weather changes here in Kansas,
I'm baffled how any member of the state Board
of Education can claim that Charles Darwin's
theory of evolution hasn't been proven by
observable evidence. Who needs fossils when
every night on the 6 o'clock news we get to
see monkeys morphing into meteorologists on
I thought real hard about just loading back up
and going home. What stopped me was there were
no other fishermen in sight. You couldn't blame
people for staying away in wind like this. The
reason I was so irked at the deteriorating
conditions is because I'd come here psyched to
try for red ear sunfish using scuds, like Jim
Hatch in South Carolina likes to do. Only the
red ears I was after would be much smaller.
The problem with going after red ears was,
this wind would be pushing my floating line
all over the place, keeping a #20
super-lightweight scud from settling slowly
to a meaningful depth. Or at least, that
outcome seemed highly likely. Time for Plan B.
Studying the cove, I saw big waves moving
into an area where wave height was being
reduced by a thick stand of submerged brush.
So my strategy today would be to get myself
out to the leading edge of that brushy area,
lower my anchors and hope they'd hold, then
do the best I could finding places along the
perimeter to cast to, keeping the wind more
or less at my back. I'd have to use a heavier
fly, one that sinks pretty quick but not too
quick. Assessing my chances, the odds for
success looked poor, but the only alternative
was to go home and mow the lawn.
I fished my way out to this target area,
stopping briefly at various places along
the way where I'd caught crappie a few
weekends prior. Maybe the slabs would
still be around? But no, they were gone
now, probably they went to the same place
used electricity goes.
Reaching the upwind edge of the brushy cover,
I found large patches of aquatic weeds were
beginning to take over the lake surface.
Their presence helped me, as they helped
deaden the incoming waves. I maneuvered
to within 15 feet of a dual-opening M-shaped
weed pocket. Throwing from right-to-left
across my boat with the wind at my back, I
sent Old Reliable (#10 flashback Hare's Ear
nymph) curling into the left-side pocket.
For this effort I expected absolutely
nothing good to happen.
I let him sink a few seconds, began a
slow retrieve and five feet into it Old
Reliable got picked on by something that
felt like a heavy, serious fish when I
raised my rod against it. Whatever this
fish was, I never saw it. Our encounter
didn't last long because the beast
immediately fled into a weed tower and
pulled itself free of the hook. It was
over real fast. I felt grateful just to
get Old Reliable back again. This incident
rattled me, but in a nice sort of way.
Next cast went into the right-side pocket
of the M, and it took a hit, too - a good
bluegill that got loose just as I worked
it to the boat. My third cast went back
into the right-side pocket and was clobbered
by a stout fish that turned out to be an
8-inch red ear. I booked Mr. Red Ear a
room in the Panfish Motel, checked my watch
and it was 7:30 a.m. The sun was up and
already it felt too late in the day to be
having this kind of action, especially in
such windy conditions. Obviously, the fish
had a far better opinion of the morning
Soon another boat arrived, a bass fisherman
operating with troll motor propulsion. He
quietly entered the cove, giving the brushy
area I was in a wide berth. With his modest
sized craft and stealthy approach, I was a
mystified why he would show the brushy area
the same respect that most big-boat
powerboaters do. Serious bass folks must
be afraid of losing their expensive lures
and/or damaging their props in that stout
brush? Or maybe they think their boat will
make so much racket forcing its way through
the brush that all the bass will spook before
they can get within casting range.
For me it's not so much the fear of hanging
up my canoe as I'm afraid of losing flies
in that brush. But today I guess it was
the first three solid hits - strikes I
thought wouldn't happen but did. I began
feeling the daredevil inside me yearning
to be free. Before I knew it into the
thick brush I went, picking my way through,
creeping along with the wind at my back,
looking for small close-in places to anchor
near and cast into, spots that offered at
least a glimmer of hope that Old Reliable
might survive the retrieve. I kid you not,
this brushy area is no place for a fly fisher,
but there I was.
What happened next was so unexpected that
it bordered on the ridiculous. I got into
largemouth bass, and I don't mean hooking
and losing them. What I mean is they
attacked Old Reliable, I battled the fish
toe-to-toe in that submerged brush and
whipped them all using a 5-piece 3-wt.
rod. How on earth I managed to get each
one out of that brush with all the runs
and jumps they made, I'll never know.
The dice were rolling my way is the only
explanation that makes sense. I shouldn't
have caught even one of those bass but
somehow I did.
Not counting the big fish that escaped
after taking my first cast (which I suspect
was a bass) over the next two hours I pulled
in and unhooked five beautiful largemouth,
each one a member of the 2-pounder club.
Also, I landed and released a half dozen
smaller bass, some in the 1-lb. range.
In my glory days of bass fishing farm ponds
with spinning tackle, back when I was a
teenager, I never had a five 2-pounder
morning. And here I was accomplishing
that feat using a tiny nymph thrown by
a 3-wt. fly rod - what many would consider
ultra-light fly tackle.
After finally boating a nice bluegill,
I opened my cooler lid to put him on
ice and took a moment to do a quick
tally. I was startled to discover
that if things didn't pick up soon
in the Panfish Department, today I
would catch more 2-lb. largemouth
than keeper bluegills. The mathematics
created a weird feeling inside me; I'd
come here trying not for bass but for
bluegills and red ears (with dim hopes
of catching some crappie while I was at it).
The bass fisherman who'd passed by me
earlier in the morning was exiting the
cove around the time I decided to call
it quits. He'd been fishing downwind
of me the whole time that I was in the
whirlwind of this bass bonanza, so he'd
heard every loud splash of every bass
that jumped; he'd seen every fight. There
was no point trying to hide my good fortune
from him as our return paths crossed.
"You had some real luck back there," he said.
"The bass are going crazy in that brush,"
I conceded, "But enough time has passed
now that you might do some good in there,
too, if you want to give 'em a try. I
released every one I caught, if that's
"Makes you feel good, knowing they'll be
there for you another day," he said.
Makes me feel good indeed; I spent the
whole rest of the day fighting down the
adrenaline rush. Even harder, I was
fighting down the memories that came
flooding back, memories of how I used
to be into bass fishing to the exclusion
of all else. This was a difficult morning
for me in that sense.
The reason I prefer using nymphs to floating
flies is because of all the years I spent
ultralight fishing with tiny Mepps spinners.
With a size 0 Mepps I would gamble, gamble,
gamble - retrieving that small treble-hooked
lure ever deeper until I was fishing it almost
on the bottom, or as close to submerged cover
as I could. Why? Because around the bottom
and near cover is where gamefish spend most
of their time. So with nymphs I get to fly
fish the same way I grew up spinfishing, the
only significant difference being that I'm
using a fly rod instead of an ultra-light
I'm sticking with fly fishing for bluegills
because I dearly love their pinball machine
action, and they are outstanding table fare.
But if I sleepwalk myself into many more nasty,
wind-swept mornings like this one, my
flyrodding-for-bluegills niche might evolve
into a new form. Not a more advanced form,
not a superior form, just something a bit
different for me. ~ 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