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Blown Away By Bass
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS

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 live TV?

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 weather.

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 any help."

"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 spinning rod.

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

About 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 'day job.'

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