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This Ain't No Crappie!


By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas

The whole thing looked like a waste of time. Too many people had beaten me here. Too many bait fishermen were sitting on the bank staring out at their bobbers; too many lure fishermen were casting mechanically, one throw after another, with no body language indicating that anything exciting was happening.

Then my eye was caught by the unmistakable throbbing bend in a spinning rod, a rod held by a lure fisherman who had waded halfway across the outlet riffle. He had something good on, his rod was bent deeply. Finally, he reached down and lifted from the water a long, silver-sided fish.

I was too far off to see what species it was. Not only that, I didn't care what species it was: if something that long with silver sides just got caught, it's possible more such unknown fish are hitting, and chances are they could be large crappies.

Big crappies were certainly a possibility here. A large-volume (5,000 cfs) release from the lake had been cut back to 100 cfs just two days earlier. In such circumstances, where fish have been getting flushed out of the lake for days while, simultaneously, river-dwelling fish in the stream below the dam have been migrating upcurrent to see what all the fuss is about, you have a situation where virtually every gamefish species in Kansas could be swimming in this now-reduced outlet pool.

Adjacent to the arc of excellent water immediately downstream from where stood the wading fisherman there are two good-looking spots. One was already taken by a bobber fisherman. The other, the one on my side of the pool, was occupied, too. But just as I began to voice disappointment about this, the guy who was fishing it abandoned the spot. Instead of moving directly to it, I eased down the rocky slope and took up a position about 50 feet downstream.

After about twenty casts using a Pheasant Tail Nymph of small size, I began thinking that the extremely muddy water coming out of the lake might be making it difficult if not impossible for the fish to detect a PTN. Or not. But I was excited, and twenty casts just seemed like a lifetime to go without a hit. Especially after seeing that guy in the riffle catch a good fish.

Looking through my little fly boxes, I picked out one of the flies Rick Zieger sent me after my stuff got stolen last month. This all-black marabou-tailed bugger with rubber legs looked like just what the doctor ordered in this dingy water.

Into the pool it went. Not along the bank or into the riffle-disturbed water, but farther down in somewhat calmer water. A few casts later it got grabbed hard by a fish that commenced making a series of drag-strip runs, one of which took my floating line clear across the stilling pool, where it angled down into the water almost at the feet of the bobber fisherman who was sitting opposite me.

Like a dummy, I'd forgotten to bring my landing net; it was back up in the bed of my truck, doing me no good at all there. As the fight wore on, I realized this would be one of those deals where I'd have to work the fish in against the rocks then somehow pin it there and land it by hand. Not the best way to do business with a fish this strong, that's for sure.

After making multiple runs across the pool and, times when it was close, resisting my attempts to bring it shallow enough that I could see what kind of fish it was, finally I caught a glimpse and was pleasantly startled to see a white bass/striped bass hybrid, or "wiper," with Rick's black bugger in its mouth.

Once I got the fish against the rocks it repeatedly shook loose from my attempts to "lip" it from the water. This forced me to scoop the fish sideways against the rocks. By sheer chance I lifted the fish into the air after slipping my hand underneath its belly. To my great surprise and relief the fish went totally inert. I could only hope that this lifting technique didn't damage its internal organs, as my intent was to release it (which I did, even though it measured long enough to be a legal keeper).

Moments after releasing this wiper I heard the wading fisherman call to me, asking what I'd used to catch the fish. I walked over closer, asked him to hold his spinning rod straight out horizontal in front of himself. I then laid a cast across his rod and told him to pull my line in and check out Rick's fly.

"That's unbelievable," he said, upon inspecting the fly. "I told my Grandpa over there (gesturing toward the older guy sitting on the bank watching his bobber) that when we saw you walk down to the water with a fly rod that here was a guy who was going to show us how it's done."

"Well, thanks. You should give fly rodding a try sometime; it works really good," I told him. "But hey, man, if you hadn't shown ME how it's done by catching that big fish you caught about 30 minutes ago, I never would have put a cast in the water today. What was that fish you caught, by the way?"

"It was a wiper, too. They're really in here thick after they (the Corps) cut off the water."

We'd no sooner finished this brief conversation than Grandpa got a hit on his bobber-suspended minnow. The wading fisherman returned to the bank, pulled a digital camcorder out of his pack and filmed the entire fight. Grandpa's fish turned out to be yet another wiper, a big one that fought with the characteristic stubborn struggle interspersed with lightning bolt runs across the pool.

I had to smile at how cool this was: one guy catches a wiper on a curly-tail rubber jig, I catch one on a black woolly bugger and a third man catches one on a minnow.

Wipers sure do know how to spread the fun around. ~ 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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