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Going Chinese
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS

My recent successful trip using a Parachute Adams dry fly on panfish led me back to the same lake a week later for another dose of feel-good medicine. This time, though, the 'gillies, crappie and bass pretty much ignored my PA even though I fished it the same fashion, and in the same places, as I'd done earlier.

I suspect their disinterest was related to a 3-inch rain a couple of days earlier that put a foot of new water in the lake. As a result of this storm inflow, the weedbeds I normally fish the edges of were still present and in the same places, but were now totally submerged. Result? Fish were still lurking at the weedbed edges, using those edges as ambush points, except now they also had a foot of water above the beds in which to hunt prey. For them, their habitat of choice had become a "super weed bed." Indeed, I could see surface and near-surface feeding activity going on all around me as I anchored and began casting. This was going to be fun!

But for reasons known only to the fish, they were simply not enthused about a mayfly-imitating Parachute Adams. Maybe they were burned out on mayflies after gorging on thousands of real ones just before the storm? Whatever, after working the PA for thirty minutes and getting very few hits I clipped it off, tied on a small Yager's cork popper and gave it the old heave-ho.

It didn't matter where I threw it, that popper was definitely the ticket. Just guessing, but those little gurgling sounds a popper makes as it twitches through the water were exactly what the fish required in order to locate my offering. The water clarity may have been stained just enough that they couldn't readily see a Parachute Adams, and it's understandable why they couldn't hear a PA coming, due to its design. But they could hear a popper gurgling somewhere nearby and rapidly close on it employing their lateral line direction-finding equipment.

Little bass were what I began catching the most, bass about 8-to-10 inches long. There seemed to be no end to them. This was fun, of course. What always interests me more, though, is bluegills and crappie. So I left the weedbed I started at and moved over to a shoreline area where the water was shallower. Maybe the storm surge had put the 'gills up against the bank?

Some were there, but not many. Or, if they were there maybe they didn't like seeing a popper and wanted a mayfly imitator instead. But I had a popper tied to my leader now and it was starting to get along toward dusk - no time to start switching flies every few minutes; you lose too much fishing time fussing with knots in the dim light.

I abandoned the shoreline place, paddled silently into the mouth of a nearby feeder creek and anchored in a spot that let me throw left into a 120 square foot pocket that lies underneath the limb of a sycamore tree that stands out over the lake. Not long ago, I'd tossed a little Yager's popper into this unremarkable-looking spot about 50 times and caught nearly 40 keeper-size bluegills.

The popper landed and I held my breath, anticipating the same instantaneous assault that had happened prior. Twenty casts later, my face was turning a dangerous shade of blue from holding my breath so much.

"Well, they're obviously not here, either - or if they are, they don't like this popper anymore," I told myself, "so you better do something fast."

"Right!" myself agreed, "Let's try that next spot up the creek channel where we ripped into 'em a few other times before."

Hauling up and then cam-locking my soft bag anchors, I crept my canoe about 30 feet forward, re-anchored and began casting to an area along the left bank where I knew the water dropped off from 1 foot down to about 4 feet. There was a submerged weedbed here I knew.

It was now getting almost too dark to make out the popper; its location could be determined only by reflections from the little waves it generated every time I twitched it. The popper started getting hit on by a fish that was trying but missing. Three or four casts I shot back into the same zone, trying to inspire this little pretender, when something finally grabbed the popper for real.

I lifted my 3-wt., the rod bucked down sharply, line got pulled involuntarily from my hand and...WHOA...this ain't no bluegill!

Glancing at the floor of my canoe to assess my stripped line status, I saw no loop knots or knee pin-downs that would interfere with a sudden hard run by the fish, and felt confident that I was as ready as I'd ever be for a knockdown, drag-out battle with a lunker channel cat. Because the way this fish was keeping down and surging strong, this had to be a big channel cat.

One advantage I felt was in my favor was the underwater terrain. This feeder creek channel is narrow enough that a big fish can't move laterally very far either direction. It can swim up the channel a ways but not very far before running into shallow water. Same thing if it swims back past me trying to escape into the lake; there's a mud bar "barrier reef" that the fish has to cross. I learned long ago that once hooked, most big fish hate feeling the bottom rub against their stomachs; they will do anything to avoid getting pulled aground.

As a result of this terrain advantage, then, the fight would be restricted to a 500 square foot area. I just might have a chance to catch this catfish. Mentally I dug in, trying to stay relaxed and alert to any sudden movements made by the fish. You don't want to be a "haul it in hero" in a situation like this.

About five minutes went by with no glimpse of the fish when finally it rose and I caught my first look. Big overlapping scales. Damn, a carp. But was it? A few seconds later I got a brief look at its head; a torpedo-shaped noggin with a small oval-shaped mouth resembled the eating end of a grotesquely overgrown creek chub.

Well, isn't this marvelous? The most productive panfishing time slot in the whole evening is getting wasted in a protracted fight with...an Asian grass carp.

As I began learning the hard way, a grass carp has got a lot of gas in its tank. This fish swam alongside my canoe many times in a way that made me think it was whipped, only to burst away again and again on powerful runs. Not surprising, I suppose, for a carp variant some 3-feet long. But when all I could do between those runs was sit there with rod in hand contemplating my navel while the fish stubbornly resisted coming in, the whole thing soon became a bit annoying. I finally lost patience and decided to force the issue by putting maximum pressure on the fish, trying to lead it to hand.

Once the fish came in, though, I discovered there wasn't anywhere on its body I could get a secure hold on. And truth be told, I didn't want the huge beast inside my canoe anyway for fear it might bust up some of my gear thrashing about. So when its tiny mouth finally came within range I reached down, grabbed Yager's popper and tried a quick push into the mouth, hoping the hook barb would pop out. It didn't: what happened instead was the popper's cork body disintegrated in my hand, leaving the hook stuck in the mouth of this again rapidly-disappearing Moby Dick.

Aw, what the hell; I yanked back, broke my leader and the fish and I were finally free at last, free at last.

The fight had devoured so much time that it was almost dark now. Which wouldn't have been bad except mosquitoes were humming around me earnestly searching for any square centimeter of skin or clothing I might have missed with my repellent applicator. And you always miss something...

This encounter was my first inkling that Asian grass carp are present in this lake. I don't know how many are there, or whether to be happy about it or not. I guess my feelings on the subject are irrelevant; they're here. I just hope I don't hook up with any more of them. ~ 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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