Sunday morning, Nov. 13th. No way would I be going
fishing with Rick Zieger today. No way at all.
It was dawn and I was camped at Nine Eagles State Park,
east of Lamoni, IA. Thick forest surrounded my non-electric
campsite and even the largest tree limbs above me were
high-kicking in the wind like those Irish babes in
"Michael Flatley's River Dance." This fishing trip to
Iowa was a lost cause.
At 1PM I telephoned Rick per our pre-arranged plan; he'd
told me earlier that Sunday afternoon was his only fishing
option. When he answered the phone, I opened the
conversation by saying I wasn't all that disappointed about
not being able to fish (the wind was blowing even harder now,
at 1PM, than it was at dawn). We could instead, I suggested,
pass the afternoon doing something equally valuable (to me at
least) if Rick could maybe show me a trick or two on how I
could use an old tying vise I own to outfit my factory-tied
nymphs with mono weedguards? Rick, I knew, ties his own flies.
I was making this phone call sitting in my truck in the parking
lot where he works, hoping the wind wouldn't roll my truck like
a tumbleweed. Rick listened, but didn't respond to my grievances
about the day's gale force wind ruining our fishing plans. All
he said was, "Stay put, I'll be right over."
A few minutes later Rick arrived and we entered his optometry
shop, an ingenious bit of public deception as it is located in
the same building housing his actual workplace - the fly-tying
closet. For the next 45 minutes he demonstrated a few basic
tools and skills, including how he ties his version of my
personal favorite, the #10 Hare's Ear nymph. Then, suddenly
it seemed, he backed away from his fly tying bench, stood up
and said, "Okay, let's go."
"Fishing. I know a pond that should be protected from the
worst of this wind."
I kid you not, dear reader: the lowest velocity gusts of
this day's wind impressed me as capable of capsizing my
canoe if I got caught broadside. And we would definitely
be canoe fishing; Rich had pulled into the parking lot with
his Old Town tandem racked. He was ready for battle. Was I?
One of my life ambitions is to live to a disgusting old age;
I want to be one of those shriveled up, smelly old men who
nurses avoid in the rest home. I quickly had to consider,
then, that the terrain surrounding Lamoni, Iowa is composed
of tall, steeply rolling hills deposited by retreating
glaciers thousands of years ago. It's an impressive
topography that doubtless offers many narrow valleys and
draws where deep ponds can be built that are largely shielded
from high wind. And that sort of pond, it turned out, is
exactly where Rick took us, him leading, me following.
And did I fail to mention how cold it was? Sorry, but I
didn't think to check my thermometer to get the exact reading.
It couldn't have been any warmer than 35 degrees. I was
frantically pulling on fleece pants, gloves, a stocking hat,
then covering everything with a lightweight nylon wind suit.
Looking at the pond, I could see this fishing trip would
involve no more than 100 yards of total paddling distance,
but even with a diminished wind the pond was still getting
swept hard. I was about to be subjected to as much wind-chill
as if I were canoe tripping the big, open Kansas River channel
Rick had brought a pair of 2-piece rods that were both already
lined and "flied," so he was first on the water. I was delayed
by having to extract my 5-piece pack rod from of its carry case,
assemble it, line it and tie on a fly. Just as I shoved my
doubled-over floating line through the tip-top guide, I glanced
across the pond and noticed Rick's rod bent down sharply from
resistance by a good fish. Soon, I saw a large area of flash
reflecting off a fish's body as he hoisted it from the water.
A bit too far off to tell what he'd caught. I assumed it was
a bass judging from the size, and that thought gave me comfort.
No pond is perfect; better it be a big bass than one of those
big crappie he's always writing about.
"Joe, come over here; they're along this line of stumps," Rick
called from across the water.
I finally launched my Wenonah Rendezvous solo and made it
halfway to Rick when it suddenly hit me that I'd forgotten
to put my camera in the boat. I hurriedly paddled back and
got it, then moved to a spot about 50 feet north of Rick
and anchored. I no sooner got on station and began casting
than he connected again, eventually boating…a very large,
beautiful crappie! Wow!
"Nice crappie!" I told him. "So this pond's got bass and
crappie in it, huh? That was a good bass I saw you boat
earlier. Boy, it sure didn't take you long to catch two
"That first fish you saw me catch was a crappie, a bigger
one than this one," Rick said. "And this fish here is the
fourth one I've caught since we got here. I had a fifth
one hooked, but it got off."
That comment made me want to throw my camera overboard.
So I finally got down to the business of fishing, casting
perpendicular into a shoreline area of submerged tree stumps
where the depth stairsteps from 3 feet down to around 12 feet.
My very first cast, a fat, beautiful crappie 10 inches long
grabs my #10 HEN and won't let go. Which is good, because
I don't want him to. Then the bluegills take over, and
they're running around 8-inches long apiece. It's still
very cold and windy, but I'm not especially noticing that
at the moment.
Rick in his canoe looks to be dressed much lighter than I.
Then it occurred to me: well, why wouldn't he be dressed
lighter? The guy's home state is Alaska, where summertime
highs are probably much like today's chilly Iowa fall weather.
No wonder this guy catches so many fish - he never quits,
while most of us Midwest weenies spend our cold weather
days comfortably indoors sitting at our computer monitors
reading his trip stories in FAOL. We ain't dumb?
After I boated my crappie and three of four bluegills, the
group of fish in front of me now heard this: "The Biting
Lamp Is Out." Rick's hot hand went cold, too. I re-anchored
my canoe to the north of the stumps and closer to shore, so
that I could cast beyond the stumps and bring my nymph back
parallel to the underwater breakline. Seemed like an
excellent tactic, but it didn't produce no matter how
deep or shallow I ran the nymph. Well, just before
quitting that spot I did fool one bluegill that was
lurking almost cheek-to-jowl against one of the stumps.
But none of his buddies duplicated his mistake.
Rick and I now split up and ranged independently, him
moving to the pond's north end where he worked the
shallows without success, I moved toward the dam to
probe the deeper breaks he said were there. I didn't
do any good, either. It was 30 minutes till sundown
now; maybe our initial flurry was as good as it was
gonna get today.
Once I abandoned the deep water area, I headed north
toward Rick's position not knowing what else to do:
figured I'd float around aimlessly nearby and just visit.
As I approached, though, he suggested I try an indented
shoreline area that lies in front of a "little tree" he
kept pointing to on the west bank. A number of short
trees were growing there and I was confused as to which
one he meant. So not wanting to appear clueless, I
anchored off the general center of the tree line and
fan-cast into the area. No hits.
Rick eventually moved behind and past me then began
working the center of the pond. As he eased by, he
suggested I relocate closer to shore and cast parallel
to the weed line. "Try it about two feet out from those
weeds." I did, and first cast, bingo! a really nice
bluegill pounced on my nymph without realizing he'd
bought himself a ticket for a one-way trip to Lamoni, IA.
Then the bluegills just kept coming. Some were huge; huge
to my way of thinking. The only one I took time to measure,
nose-to-tail was 10 inches long and the width across its
shoulders must have gone 2 inches - just a marvelous
It's now clear that I need to drive around the northeast
Kansas countryside on bitter cold, windy days and if I
spot a good-looking pond, stop and ask the landowner if
I can fish it that same day. The surprise factor alone
might be enough that I'll get permission. ("Why Ma, that
boy's crazy; I let him in because he'll never catch a damn
But let me tell y'all one thing: if it'd been you and
not me who caught that nice crappie followed by all
those big bluegills while fishing with Rick that miserable
day, right now you'd be going a little bit crazy yourself.
From Douglas County, 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