Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Three On One

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas

The last time Rick Zieger brought me to this pond its surface was getting swept by a bitter cold 20-mph northwest wind. As happens every time I fish with him or read one of his FAOL stories, I learned something new that day; namely, that crappies and bluegills will eagerly take flies in cold water during atmospheric conditions that are distinctly hostile to us humans. No small realization for a one-time Kansas farm boy who grew up strictly a warm weather fisherman.

It's now the morning of June 9th and we're back. The southwestern Iowa air is cool yet warm enough you can wear a T-shirt and be very comfortable. The wind is almost dead calm. Rick, Dave Rosset (aka "Anglerdave") and I will be fishing from canoes.

Dragging my Wenonah Rendezvous solo canoe through dew-slick grass toward a mirror of water neatly tucked between two hills, I get a feeling we've caught this pond at a moment so perfect that within minutes we'll be playing it like a pinball machine. I couldn't admit to myself for another half hour, but I was mistaken. Following a few quick victories each, we would have to work hard for every fish we caught. But that's okay; the three of us are blue collar types who don't mind working for fish. Working for a fish beats...well, it beats working.

We launched our boats. With Dave in the bow seat ready to cast at any moment, Rick was in no particular rush to go anywhere and began sneaking his Old Town tandem north along the pond's west shoreline.

Rick and Dave

I cut straight across and began fishing the east side at a point midway along its shoreline. From there I progressed slowly northward toward the pond's shallow end, but not before catching this nice bass on a tan marabou sparkle fly one of Rick's creations that he told me is good on crappies.

Joes Bass

I also caught a number of female bluegills whose bellies appeared swollen with eggs. These fish I released.

The east side of this pond has an area of submerged stumps. During my earlier cold weather visit here Rick had lit into the crappies and bluegills bigtime. I hadn't thought to ask him before this trip if those stumps are a good spot during warm weather, too. Surely they are and if so, I wanted Rick and Dave to have first crack using their two lines instead of my one.

Besides, during my first visit here I'd not explored any of the pond's shallow end and this morning that north end looked very interesting. Given the early hour, it seemed a no-brainer that lots of panfish would still be in those cool shallows hunting insects and minnows.

This pond is quite wide and long. (See Rick's Panfish story titled "Saturday Washout" that contains photos of it.) Once our boats separated it became nearly impossible to converse with Rick and Dave due to distance. And by the time they quit the west shore and crossed to the east side to fish the stumps, I'd moved well north of that spot. My persistent northward movement thus kept my partners directly astern where I couldn't see how they were doing without twisting my head around like an owl.

I was not, however, totally out of contact. "Happy fisherman" sounds soon began emanating from the submerged stump area behind me. I smiled: the fellas were back there gettin' into 'em. This information was useful indirectly: the farther north (shallower) I went the deader the action became. Indeed, once I moved beyond the first spot I anchored on this side, forty-five minutes elapsed when I couldn't attract a single strike despite using four different flies. The action was happening in the deeper half of the pond.

Eventually I conceding that the fish either were not in the shallow half this morning or else I was not doing what was needed to entice them. I decided to paddle south to the pond dam, retool and start anew. Dave and Rick some minutes earlier had moved out of this area so any fish still holding there had likely stopped hyperventilating. I would endeavor to re-activate their predatory reflexes by retrieving through their habitat a certain nymph I've come to like a lot. You know the one.

A few casts thrown parallel to the weedline brought a sharp hit from this eager beaver:

Joes Bass

Hoisted aloft for a photo op, Mr. Bass glared at me with his left eye and with his right eye glared at Rick and Dave anchored in the distance, probably trying to decide which of these two enemy watercraft was the first he'd love to see hit a mine and explode.

From the east foot of the dam I moved north a short ways and began working a sizeable shoreline inset. If I could name this spot I'd call it Panfish Bay. The bottom slopes out gradually to a depth around six feet then drops sharply into water that is deeper than my anchor lines are long. I began casting to its curving weedline, dropping Old Reliable as close as I could without snagging. On the third or fourth cast a fish grabbed my nymph and swam straight at me, resisting with what felt like little puny head shakes before recognizing the danger, swapping ends and taking off the other direction like a runaway freight train. My leader didn't break, but not for lack of the fish trying. This long-line release artist probably was a big bass. It may also have been one of the huge crappies Rick does battle with in this pond from time to time. I never saw the fish.

Only ten feet to the north of where Big Boy grabbed my nymph, I threw into a small patch of weedline whose edge was home to some very big bluegills. They welcomed Old Reliable with open arms. One rooster 'gill was 10-inches, pushing 11-inches long.

Hog Gill

After photographing this behemoth I paddled over to Rick's canoe seeking advice. Rick applies a "keep or release" formula that encourages panfish growth in ponds he fishes; I wanted to support his effort but didn't know how a bluegill this big should be treated.

The verdict: keep him. As Rick lowered his wire basket (with my big 'gill it's newest inhabitant) back into the pond, I caught a glimpse of a tail fin connected to a large crappie. He told me he'd caught it along the west shore only minutes after we'd launched. Folks, you gotta watch Rick Zieger like a hawk; you just never know when he'll catch a crappie so big it makes your heart skip a beat.


At 11AM we anchored both canoes near one another, and then from thirty feet out the three of us bombarded the pond dam's weedy fringe. On his next trip here Rick will benefit from the marksmanship of his bow turret. Dave, you see, was deliberately throwing long; his fly repeatedly plopped down amidst the tangle of leafy pondweed that Rick and I were trying hard to avoid. Snagging his quarry, Dave would use straight pulls to break away multiple stalks of the offending weed, after which he would drag his trophy out to Rick's canoe for burial at sea. After cleaning off his hook he would cast long into the same spot again, snag another batch of leafy pond weed, drag it out to the canoe, and so on.

"I'm opening future casting lanes back to where the fish are," Dave explained to us matter-of-factly. Moments later, by accident, I threw long into the pondweed. As if to vindicate the logic behind Dave's technique a huge bluegill instantly swirled up, engulfed Old Reliable virtually on the surface then jumped straight into the air. Like a bass, only tastier?

Oh, and before I forget: Dave's expertise at opening casting lanes is something not every pond owner or fishermen possesses or even wants to master when you take into account modern society's already over-burdened work schedules. Indeed, as a service to the public Dave hires himself out for this task. His fee is quite reasonable: thirty dollars an hour on-pond time, plus travel expenses to include beer and cigar money. Think about it.

Where was I? Oh, right. As noon approached I assumed we'd be leaving soon. The whole morning I had not fished the west shoreline and before leaving I wanted to give it a few minutes. I excused myself from Bombardment Row and paddled to a point just north of where Rick and Dave had launched four hours earlier.

Spotting a nice gap in the weedline (thank you, Dave!), I whipped Old Reliable into it and quickly bagged three big bluegills on a half dozen casts. Immediately suspecting that a school of big 'gills was occupying this spot I called out to Rick, asking if he could bring Dave over so he could cash in on the fruits of his own labor.

No sooner did Rick move into position and lower his stern anchor than Dave's helping nature compelled him to shoot two casts into a willow tree whose branches overhang this hot spot. Unfortunately, his 3-wt. rod and 3X leader were too weak to uproot and remove this irritating obstruction. The good news is he was able to free both casts from the willow's branches, which enabled his fly to drop into open water where it tempted a nice bass that he neatly hooked, boated and released.

Dave fighting bass

This trip marked the first time I've watched two fly fishers operating together out of a tandem canoe. I took careful note of how they handled the risky business of casting. The fear of two long rods getting waved around in a tandem canoe has been a phobia of mine ever since the day two years ago when I fished with my buddy, Donnie, in his tandem canoe. We both had fly rods that day and it was a miracle we didn't whack our rods together and fracture them both, as we were constantly casting at the same time -- from habit formed during years of standing side-by-side on farm pond shorelines using much shorter spinning rods.

When I described my phobia to Rick the evening before our trip, he shrugged and said, "Dave and I take turns casting. One of us will cast first, the other one waits. Once that first line is down on the water then the other guy casts. That way our rods don't collide."

Well...DUH! I need adult supervision to figure out some of the simplest things. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer, now retired. 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 recently retired from 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 former 'day job.'

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