Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Three Times In A Week

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence KS

The lake I go to the most is maintained in such a way that citizens enjoy a democratic mix of spots where they can fish. You've got large public access shoreline areas with limbed-up trees and nicely mowed lawn turf, where a person can fish for a while then spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic lunch, with perhaps a little sunbathing thrown in for good measure. You've got private access shorelines where cabin owners and their guests fish from shore or from a private boat dock.

You have public boat ramps used primarily by the powerboat crowd, giving those folks easy access to virtually the entire lake. (I've used these ramps a few times but generally prefer not to.) Last — and most appreciated by a shallow-water angler like me — the lake offers a small number of areas where the shoreline vegetation is thin enough, the bank slope gentle enough and the footing solid enough that I can carry my canoe a short distance to the water's edge, launch and not have to paddle far to find spots where the fish are biting.

In today's world where high-end powerboats roar across federal reservoirs so huge they boast fifty or more miles of fishable shoreline, a lake that offers barely 200 surface acres attracts little interest. On lakes this small your typical big horsepower bass boat doesn't have enough acceleration distance to reach Warp Factor 8 before its pilot must throttle back to sub-light speed and sound the collision alarm before running aground. But one fisherman's frustration can be another's satisfaction; I am more than happy to live close to such a small but productive lake.

Even though I've fished this lake for four years, fished it from my canoe and from the bank, I've explored barely one-fourth of its total shoreline. Intellectually, I acknowledge that I'm missing out on enjoying many new and excellent panfishing spots by not undertaking long-range explorations of the shoreline in my solo canoe. It still surprises me that I haven't tried more of this lake, given all the canoe trips I've done there.

It's because I'm a dawdler once I get in a canoe. First, I don't like paddling fast; "fast" requires so much concentration on power strokes and steering that I miss seeing things of interest to a fisherman. Things like fish swirls, insect activity, etc. Second, I don't like fishing fast; on a lake or pond I poke along, anchoring and fishing a spot for maybe ten or twenty minutes, then I lift my anchors, move a short ways, re-anchor and fish there for ten or twenty minutes, and so on. Funny, how an entire morning or long afternoon will evaporate while I cover spots of water that cumulatively add up to no more square footage than a basketball court.

Canoe fishing, then, is a means to enjoy mobility, to get myself free from the shoreline with all its backcast-snagging obstacles. However, I use my canoe in a fashion that duplicates the generally static nature of shoreline fishing. I just enjoy going slow, creeping along very quietly, pausing at likely-looking spots and giving each a fair try. Horribly boring stuff to watch, no doubt about it, but for me this s trategy succeeds more often than it fails.

After spending five months in Boise, Idaho I am greeted back to Kansas by what, so far, has been a warm, humid Indian Summer fall. The thought occurred to me last week that I might have enough time before the weather turns bitter cold to explore more of the lake's (to me) unknown and mysterious shoreline areas. The lake will still be here whenever I get around to snooping the rest of its shoreline, so I've been on a "re-acquaintance tour," visiting canoe fishing spots I've hit in the past. I'm fishing those spots first, just to say Hi to all the pannies and let 'em know I'm back. After this, if weather permits, I'll explore the more distant, unknown spots.

So last Tuesday I hit the upper end of one of the lake's three main arms. From shore to around 300 feet out the water runs one-to-four feet deep before falling away to depth. The shallows here are more or less a broad mudflat, and in various spots within this submerged plain I've caught many good fish. Today, one of the first I caught was this 9-inch red ear sunfish that mistook Old Reliable for a helpless prey item.

A few bluegills later, word apparently got out that a large nymph pattern is too dangerous to touch. I switched to a smaller nymph and caught a few more fish. About thirty minutes before sundown, fish began rising to grab surface prey (or prey barely below the surface, I couldn't tell which). Seeing and hearing all this splashing around the canoe told me that by sticking with nymphs I was fighting City Hall and losing.

Looking through my fly box, I picked out a foam spider. (If memory serves, a spider tied by Stew Denton. Or maybe Robin Rhyne or Robert McCorquodale? Later in this story you'll see this spider in action, after which would its creator please stand and take a well-deserved bow?)

For the next forty-five minutes the long-legged foam spider murdered 'em. Bluegills and red ears just couldn't leave it alone. And then abruptly they shunned it, which made no sense because fish were still rising all around me. Maybe the fish wanted something noisy?

I changed to a tiny cork popping bug. The puny popper promptly popped plenty more pannies into my fish basket before the sky became too dark to see the lake surface clearly. Time to head home and clean eighteen fish.

Friday evening I launched my canoe on a different lake arm, intending to fish the opposite shoreline. My hope was to find red ear sunfish holding against the far shoreline, like happened one afternoon a couple of years ago around this same time.

Upon drawing close enough to the opposite shoreline, it came time to lower my rear anchor and slow the boat's progress. With my left hand I reached around to grab the aft anchor line and pop it out of the cam cleat. I felt around, kept missing it. Huh? I glanced behind me and… no anchor line! I looked forward: no anchor line there, either! I'd been in such great haste to go fishing that I forgot to rig my canoe with its two anchors.

Grumble, grumble, turn around and paddle back for the anchors. A guy/girl couple was fishing from the bank very near to where I'd launched minutes earlier. Mercifully, neither said a word as I beached my canoe and stepped ashore. They were probably wondering, "Why did this idiot paddle all the way to the other side of the lake only to immediately turn around and come back?"

After dragging my canoe onto land and outfitting it with the anchors, I re-launched. Now I was too embarrassed to paddle back across the lake arm, so I stuck to my side and began working westward along the weedy edge. The first two places I stopped at, almost every foot of anchor line was needed to reach bottom. The lake gets deep quick once you leave this shoreline. Whether the structural arrangement was a good fit for the tiny cork popping bug still on my leader, I wasn't sure. Time was getting late, the light dim enough that a popping bug seemed a reasonable first choice.

And it was, too. However, for some reason the bluegills were in a mood to devour the little popper, not just hit it. They took the popper so deep inside their mouths that even using curved forceps the fit was so tight that I killed two fish I wanted to release, just trying to extract the hook. After ruining the second fish, I reluctantly clipped off the popper and went with Old Reliable, my #10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph.

Fifteen minutes of nothing told me the fish weren't interested in Old Reliable tonight, no way, no how. Here is where I decided that my best chance for success was to become a bird-brain.

I'd come to this lake four times since getting home from Idaho, and each time I saw a pair of osprey hunting it. Ospreys are really fun birds to watch, how they fly above a lake then suddenly pull in their wings and plummet into the water with a big, loud splash and then fly away carrying a small fish they've caught, shaking their feathers like a black Lab holding a mallard he's just retrieved.

Now, finally, it hit me: Ospreys catch only those fish that are swimming at or very near the surface. And from the minute I arrived here tonight these two ospreys were repeatedly dive-bombing the same shoreline where I'm fishing. No surprise, then, why Old Reliable didn't catch anything. Old Reliable works best at depth, but in this lake arm tonight even the fish occupying deep water are holding near the lake surface, inhabiting an area not far away from the shoreline. These two ospreys are telling me where the fish are that I want to catch.

Off came Old Reliable, back on went Tuesday evening's long-legged foam spider. I began fan-casting in front of my anchored canoe, working from the weed edge out to some forty feet off shore. I wasn't ignoring the weedline just because the ospreys weren't attacking anything there. Ospreys play their game; I play mine. Up ahead, about ten feet off shore was an old tree stump whose top poked two feet above the water. This looked like a good spot to throw the spider in such a way that it would splash down close to the stump, mimicking the fall of a large, careless spider.

My presentation must have mimicked this real-life scenario pretty accurately because the bass pictured below took predatory notice and responded violently. This bass is still in the lake; I lifted him out only long enough to photograph him, unhook and release him.

Fifteen bluegills later my Friday night was done (except for cleaning the fish).

Saturday evening I hit the lake again, third time that week. The highlight of this trip happened on the drive home.

Not far from the spot where I'd launched my canoe (a spot where I've fished from the bank many times) the gravel access road turns to asphalt blacktop. Pulling away from the lake in the dark, in my headlights I spotted a long, shiny object on the blacktop and recognized instantly what it was. I stopped, set my parking brake and stepped out to shoo the creature out of harm's way.

I don't understand why so many drivers take pleasure in running over snakes they see on the road. Snakes have an important place in nature. This snake was an Osage copperhead, a species found around the lake in good numbers due to the surrounding area's rocky, upland forest habitat and wealth of small mammal, amphibian and large insect prey items. True, the Osage copperhead is a venomous pit viper. That's no reason to deliberately crush one to death with your tires just because you see it warming itself on the roadway. I could have driven around him, but the next vehicle that came along might not.

My headlights may have been blinding him, because when I waved my hand over his head the snake didn't budge. With open sandals on bare feet, no way was I going to risk a painful bite trying to coax Mr. Osage off the road with a nudge of my toe against his tail. Into my truck shell I went, out came my trusty Nifty Nabber trash picker-upper. A gentle squeeze with its cushioned tongs grasped the snake firmly enough that I could lift/drag him a couple feet onto the road shoulder grass, where he promptly took off.

It wasn't lost on me that this copperhead was crawling away from the lake shore when I first spotted him. Here's hoping he returns the favor should I accidentally come too close to him while we're both sneaking through those tall shoreline weeds, him hunting frogs, me fishing from the bank. Next time I do that here. Sometime or other; I can't say exactly when. ~ 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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