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It's All Good

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence KS

It doesn't matter how a person goes about doing something they can do reasonably well. Once you become aware that other people recognize your talent at doing it, human nature kicks in. You start feeling obligated to keep doing this "whatever thing" the same way, over and over.

Case in point: In the FAOL Archive my early efforts as a contributing writer are marked by story after story detailing my preference for fishing out of a canoe. And if sheer numbers are considered, over the last four years I've spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, more hours fishing from a canoe than fishing from dry land.

One early spring evening two years ago this "canoe first" focus suffered its first serious fracture. As usual, it happened as a result of an error on my part.

I went to the lake that evening with the canoe strapped on my pickup's roof rack. It takes me around ten minutes to unrack my canoe, rig the bow and stern anchors, load the boat with fishing and paddling gear and then launch it. But that evening I got to the lake so late there wasn't time to do all these necessary steps and still have enough daylight left for fishing (due to the distance I needed to paddle to reach the spot I wanted to try). Angry at myself, I left the boat on the rack and half-heartedly stepped to the shoreline at the would-be launching point to make a few absent-minded throws. Just something to do for a few minutes before heading home.

And what happened? I ripped into a school of crappie that was holding about thirty feet off the shoreline. This "failed trip" impressed on me that if I had arrived a few minutes earlier and launched my canoe I'd have unwittingly paddled right over the top of those crappies and not caught a single one. Moreover, I might not have caught any fish at all that evening — anywhere in the lake — if I'd forced the issue by pressing my canoe into service.

In a story he wrote for FAOL this summer, Rick Zieger made passing reference to trying a few casts in the shoreline zone prior to carrying his boat down to the water? Rick is as dedicated a canoe fisherman as you'll find. I don't know if "casting before launching" is one of his standard techniques, nor do I know how long ago the idea occurred to him to start doing this. Regardless, this was yet another of the smart, seemingly little things Rick does that I read about, try hard to mentally file away and occasionally remember to emulate.

But that's not what I mean. What I'm talking about here is the number of trips I've done in the last couple of years where I arrived at the lake with my roof rack empty because I didn't take the canoe at all. I deliberately left it at home, gambling that it wasn't needed. Usually my motive involved a desire to quickly catch ten or fifteen panfish so I could hurry home, fillet 'em and have 'em for supper that same night.

It's fine being in a big hurry to enjoy a meal of panfish, but haste alone will never fill your tummy. There must be a population of keeper-size panfish inhabiting the water you're casting into. And even if those keepers are present, somehow you must catch enough of them to make a meal. Whether casting from a watercraft accomplishes this collection task better, or faster, than casting from shore or casting while wading … I don't know; all three ways can be endlessly advocated and intelligently debated.

Since taking up fly fishing seriously four years ago, what I'm learning is that it's all good. My first couple of years in these cyber-pages I doubtless came across as an advocate of canoes being the very best choice for a fishing platform. Two years is a long run, doing something the same way almost every time? And it still feels strange, hopping into my pickup and driving to a lake or pond with no canoe on my roof rack. But I'm getting more comfortable with it.

The weird thing is, starting at the age of five and lasting until I was in my mid-fifties fishing from the bank was about all I ever did! For years, though, I secretly yearned to fish successfully from a canoe. Not until I cobbled together my 2-anchor system could the ambition finally be pursued with any semblance of boat control. After the 2-anchor system proved itself, enthusiasm and behavioral momentum took over and canoe fishing was all I wanted to do.

So is the Great Wheel of Fishing Techniques now spinning around to where I'll soon be in another exclusive groove, one that has me fishing only from the bank again? No; I won't let that happen. It feels too good, catching fish from my canoe and from the bank. (Wading …now that's something I need to work on. If only I weren't the world's biggest baby when it comes to walking in water where I can't sense the depth ahead.)

One of the funniest things about fishing in lakes is watching people in boats prowl the shoreline, slowly moving parallel forty or fifty feet out, expertly casting lures or flies to within mere inches of the shore. Ask them why they do it and they'll say, "Because so many good fish are in water only inches deep, right up against the bank." And they're right.

Now watch people who are fishing from the bank. They step to the water's edge and cast as far out into the lake as their tackle and skills allow. Ask them why they do it and they'll say, "Because so many good fish are out there deep, where the water is cooler (or warmer, depending on the season)." And they're right.

Evidence, I submit, that people who love fishing never do feel 100 percent happy or confident operating in whatever spot they happen to be occupying at any given moment. We're a restless bunch.

Just the other morning I was standing on a lake shore, casting to a spot thirty feet out. Near my left foot lay one end of a braided nylon cord, the other end was tied to a floating fish basket. The fish basket was in the water and behind its mesh swam eight bluegills and one crappie — all nine destined for the skillet. (Before the morning was done a green sunfish and eight more keeper 'gills would join this group.)

A bass angler in a powerboat was slowly approaching. He trolled past moving left-to-right, about forty feet out. To my surprise, he pivoted in his seat and sent a cast toward the bank, his lure splashing into the water very close to shore and no more than ten feet away from my right foot. It was an incredibly rude, aggressive invasion of my fishing space; surely he knew this but he did it anyway.

On retaliatory instinct, the Nile crocodile region of my brain told my left hand to strip fifteen feet of line off the reel so my right arm could gun a hard cast smack into this jerk's face. I thought about it but didn't do it. And I didn't complain out loud either because, well, this guy was a powerboat bass fisherman? Most bass fishermen who use powerboats are poster boys for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; which is to say there was a high probability that within seconds he'd be gone, relentlessly in pursuit of the elusive largemouth "hawg."

Still, this guy had abused me. I couldn't resist entertaining myself at his spiritual expense.

"Doin' any good?" I asked with a smile.

"Ungh," he grunted. "Coupla little bass. Back there," indicating with a gloomy nod over his shoulder the direction he'd come from. Like I hadn't noticed.

"Really? Try a cast into this water right here in front of me. I've been doing real good at this spot." Like he hadn't noticed.

He immediately pivoted farther around in his swivel seat and — no surprise — laid a cast across my floating fly line. And as happened on his first cast, for this second rude effort he didn't get a touch.

"You using a little spinner? I didn't see what it was you dropped at my feet on that first cast."

"Plastic worm."

"Oh. Well, me, I'm after bluegills and they're really hammering this little nymph I'm using. You ever eat bluegills? Man, they're delicious!"

Giving no vocal or physical response that would indicate my comments had triggered an intellectual comprehension within the synaptic confines of his skull, the man silently resumed trolling downshore. Moments later his boat was out of view.

See what I mean? This is exactly the kind of tummy-filling fun that's so hard to find unless you're standing on some lake shore using fly tackle. ~ 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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