Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sometimes when Goliath wins, David still had more fun

Last weekend I watched an angling version of David and Goliath at Wilson Lake at the Kansas High School Fishing State Championship.

Brady Sherman, left, and Sam Starr were the favorites to win the state bass fishing championship. Both are 18 and have fished bass tournaments for most of their lives.

Goliath was a team of two 18-year-olds who have been seriously fishing bass tournaments much of their lives.

Sam Starr and Brady Sherman know more about bass than most fisheries biologists. They have the same equipment you see at The Classic and were full-grown men on a mission.

Winning the state championship earned them a trip to regionals in Illinois. Doing well there could send them to a world championship and some amazing prizes.

On the other hand Fritz Berger, 14, and Riggs Walter,15, were just a couple of buddies enjoying an incredible day of fishing.

The table was set amazingly well for the state’s first high school championship.

Three days prior an 80 boat tournament had been held at Wilson.

Riggs Walter, 15, left, and Fritz Berger, right, missed winning the state bass fishing championship by five ounces. They seemed to have a ton more fun than any other team, though.

About 1,400 pounds of bass had been released right by the ramp where the high school event was held after the fish had been weighed at the adult contest.

Not only were bass stacked in the area they were famished.

Wilson Lake is running very short on gizzard shad. Competition for food is great and that can make for outstanding action.

Five teams launched at about 6 a.m. and most had their tournament limit of five within minutes fishing around the ramp.

Most of the fish were barely over the 15-inch minimum length limit.

From the start it looked like a horse race between the Starr/Sherman team and the Berger/Walter pair.

Berger’s dad, Tommie, was piloting their boat. He’s Wilson’s fisheries biologist and a good angler, too.

Starr’s dad, Lyle, was the mandatory adult in their boat, though both boys could operate the craft with ease.

Lyle Star has decades of tournament fishing experience.

After a quick limit Goliath’s boat headed for other places hoping to find some bigger fish.

The Davids stayed within sight of the launch cove all day.

I was able to drive state park roads and check on the teams whenever I liked.

Let me say that Starr and Sherman are far from bullies.

Both are fine young men, the kind that give you a little more faith in this country’s future.

They’re pleasant, polite, intelligent, articulate, hard-working, funny…and bass fishing machines when they’re on the water.

Every motion they made had a purpose as they sprayed the shoreline with rapid-fire casts. They made ready use of a stack of fancy baitcasting outfits all rigged with different lures.

They were a pair of highly-trained men working specialized jobs.

Heck, they were even dressed in specialized tournament fishing clothing.

Things were far different in Berger’s boat.

The kids were using one mid-priced spinning rod and reel apiece. Some of their casts were longer or shorter than others.

And they appeared to be having the time of their lives.

Even against the wind I could hear them laughing and yelling when a bass took a lure. The kids were dressed in the same knock-about clothes you’d see them in playing around at a local creek, tossing a football or doing homework.

I watched as they caught fish after fish. Many times both were fighting a bass at the same time. Fritz even had two bass hanging from the same lure at once.

The last hour of the tournament David and Goliath weren’t more than 200 yards apart, catching dozens of bass per young angler.

Everyone knew the championship would come down to the wire.

Most of the fish looked like they’d been stamped from the same mold at about 15 to 16 inches.

The kicker, I thought, was a 3.6-pounder Walter had landed.

But at the weigh-in Goliath checked in 12.8 pounds.

David had just 12.3 pounds.

I don’t think the younger boys got out-fished as much as they got out-teched.

Tommie Berger just went by sight and gut-feeling when he helped the boys cull their fish.

Lyle Starr had a balance beam that let him compare two fish at a time. Even the slightest difference in weight was obvious.

Goliath won by one ounce per fish. Amid their 75 or so bass the David’s released were probably some that could have given them the tournament.

But as the winners the Goliath team is heading to a big regional competition where they’ll be super-serious fishermen, never wasting a second, putting a wide variety of lures exactly where they need to be.

That same weekend the David team will also probably be fishing somewhere, simply having fun.

Of that I’m glad.

That’s the main reason we all go fishing, anyway.

Fritz and Riggs have plenty of time before they need to take life too seriously.

High water closes part of state park

Heavy rains in early June still have Glen Elder Lake about 10 feet above normal conservation level.

Lake levels 10-feet above normal have flooded much of Glen Elder State Park.

Fishing is still pretty good but it’s playing heck with the lake’s state park.

Lisa Silsby works at the state park and said some roads remain closed because they’re covered with water.

Especially hard hit are some of the primitive campground areas.

Silsby estimated about one-third of about 300 primitive campgrounds are currently closed because of high water.

Several roads in Glen Elder State Park now lead into high water.

Portions of several improved campgrounds are also closed because of high water or closed roads.

The popular state park still has room for lots of campers.

Fishing for crappie, white bass, wipers and walleye has been good. Water clarity is nice, too.

The lake’s level has already dropped about 1 1/2-feet.

Release rates on several swollen Kansas lakes is going slower than many would like but high levels on the Kansas and Missouri Rivers mean release rates have to be modest until there’s room for more water.

Water volleyball anyone? Glen Elder Lake's high level has water about two-feet deep at the state park volleyball area.

Water levels are also high at several other Kansas state park.

Linda Lanterman, state park director, said Glen Elder is the most seriously impacted.

Long periods of high water could lead to increased bank erosion at the lake, too.

Squirrel calling 101

Kansas no longer has many squirrel hunters. The few that exist probably envision cool autumn days with leaves falling in sheets with every breath of wind.

Squirrel calling is at its best when there's a lot of foliage. The season opened June 1.

Whatever, that’s still fun but there’s a lot of fun to be had between now and them, too. Squirrel season opened June 1 and it’s prime-time to hit the jungle-like woodlots with squirrel calls.

The most productive squirrel calls, and I’ve tried most over about the past 22 years, is the distress whistle that sounds like a squirrel getting attacked by a predator.


Like kids to a playground fight the sound of one squirrel in a tussle can bring others in a hurry. Often they’re barking and chattering like mad.

One of the keys, though, is to totally replicate the sounds of a struggle by thrashing the ground with a leafy limb or a bent over sapling. Crashing the limb three or four times and following it with the most desperate distress calls you can make can sometimes make squirrels do some amazing things.

I once shot at one squirrel four times while he kept barking and getting closer. Oh, those shots were with a .36 muzzleloader so there was a huge cloud of smoke and probably 30-45 seconds between shots. I eventually shot him at about 10 yards. I’ve shot them much closer, too.

I’ve often had five or six squirrels start barking at once. Some run right in, coming right down the trunk I’m leaning against. Others hold their limbs and I sneak in for the shot.

Often incorporating some excited barking and chuckling with a bellow-style squirrel call will help get the locals a bit more fired-up.

Seriously, it works and it’ll work on about any public hunting area in Kansas that has a few trees.

Keep in mind, though, that once the leaves start to fall the squirrels won’t be nearly as anxious to betray their location for fear of being next in line on the losing end of the cycle of life.

Keep in mind that like with all things involving wildlife you’ll have some great days and days when the squirrels seem to have totally disappeared.

Stick with it, though, it works and it can be danged fun and exciting.

Gov. Brownback declares today American Eagle Day in Kansas

Gov. Sam Brownback has drawn some cheers during his political career.

Seldom was one more appropriate than this morning when Kansa, a female bald eagle, let loose a loud call just after Brownback declared today American Bald Eagle Day in Kansas.

Gov. Sam Brownback talks to the crowd after declaring today American Eagle Day in Kansas. Kansa, an eagle from a Lawrence nature center was at the event.

Brownback made the proclamation at the Great Plains Nature Center.

That current status of bald eagles in Kansas is certainly something for the birds to crow about.

Mike Watkins, an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist, said Kansas has at least 52 active bald eagle nests this year. They’ve produced at least 73 eaglets.

Brownback said growing up on a farm in eastern Kansas he never considered the possibility of seeing a bald eagle in Kansas.

“That was something you might see if you went way up north, like Canada or Alaska,” he said. “At the time you didn’t associate them with Kansas.”

He vividly remembers the first time he saw a Kansas bald eagle near Lawrence several years ago. “They truly are an amazing sight,” Brownback said.

During the  ceremony Brownback said Kansas’ first nesting pair of bald eagles in modern times were at Clinton Lake, near Lawrence, in 1989. Watkins said last year Kansas had 45 active nests and 69 fledged eaglets.

A nest is considered active when eggs and incubation are documented.

“This is a great example of what we can do when we help Mother Nature do her work and get a species to recover,” Brownback said in an interview. “A lot of people came together to help.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Kansas landowners were given credit for helping with the comeback.

America’s bald eagle population dropped to about 2,000 birds and about 400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in the 1970s. The main villain was DDT, a pesticide, that accumulated in the birds and resulted in weak-shelled eggs which broke during incubation.

Bald eagles have been removed from Kansas and federal endangered and threatened species lists though they’re still a protected species.

Watkins credited the creation of more than 20 federal reservoirs in Kansas for creating ideal places for migrating eagles to spend the winter and eventually nest. Bald eagles feed heavily on fish and now nest at most reservoirs and major rivers in central and eastern Kansas.

He said Kansas annually has had several nests and eaglets destroyed by high winds.

A few adult eagles die or are injured in Kansas every year.

Jenn Rader, of the Prairie Park Nature Center in Lawrence, said Kansa struck a power line in 2003 and can’t be returned to the wild. Poachers have shot a few Kansas eagles. Rader said deaths from digesting lead shot while eating carrion is still a national concern.

Eagles can be long-lived birds. Watkins said one male has returned to nest at Clinton Lake for at least 22 years.

Bob Gress, Great Plains Nature Center director, said eagles had an active nest in Sedgwick County in 2010. That nest isn’t active and he’s heard of no other active nests in the county this year.

That doesn’t mean they’re not there.

“The last few years it seems like we’ve had bald eagle nests popping up all over the place,” he said. “But they’re not as easy to find as you think they might be.”

Leaves on surrounding trees and remote locations can make finding nests difficult.

Watkins said he was once returning from a spring turkey hunt when he noticed a bald eagle carrying a fish as it flew across the sky.

“I turned around and followed the bird and it led me right to a nest,” he said. “When I talked to the landowner he said it had been there (several) years and he’d been wondering when we’d find it.”

Asian carp useful – as monster catfish bait

With populations of Asian carp solidly established and expanding in many midwestern rivers some states are trying to find uses for bighead and silver carp.

They’re hoping they can be used for human and pet foods. Other options include high quality fertilizer.

There’s no question the invasive species make danged fine catfish bait.

Gene Davidson used cut Asian carp to catch this 43-pound blue catfish from the Kansas River. It's not the first huge blue cat taken on cut Asian carp.

Tim Davidson recently sent me a photo of a 43-pound blue catfish his brother Gene caught on the Kansas River near Kansas City. He was using cut Asian carp for bait.

Last year a Missouri angler fishing on the Mississippi River used a hunk of cut Asian carp to land a blue catfish three times bigger than Davidson’s admirable catch.


Now if we could just get every trout, crappie, bass, pike, salmon, sturgeon, bluegill, walleye, bullhead, grayling, gar, drum, buffalo, white bass, striper and sunfish angler in the world to start using cut Asian carp maybe we could put a dent in their population.

Nah, but if we could figure out a way to use them as an alternative to fossil fuels!

Kayaks, Canoes popular at Riverfest

Wichita’s home to some impressive outdoors groups.

The Flatland Fly Fishers annually save the day at The Eagle’s Kids Fishing Clinic.

The Wichita Audubon Society shares their wonderful Chaplin Nature Center with the public for free.

The Arkansas River Coalition regularly leads free kayak and canoe floats, with all equipment furnished, down the Arkansas River that range from a few evening hours locally to overnight trips of many miles.

This year Ark River Coalition members furnished the equipment and man-power for more than 1,750 people to try floats during Riverfest.

Member Wally Seibel recently sent out an message saying 34 volunteers totaled about 556 man-hours. Many members donated life jackets, canoes and kayaks to help with the event, too.

Pretty impressive.

For more information on the group and upcoming floats go to (Hopefully they’ll get it updated soon!)

Fishing clinic a success, thanks to many

For the tenth year some of us arrived at The Eagle a bit tired this morning, eventually  gathering to reminisce the recent kids fishing clinic.

One of this year's best fishing clinic memories was watching legally-blind Ada Wahl touch a fish for the first time.

Though often sore and sun-burned we all agree it’s an event more than worth the pain.

Saturday we had about 325 kids come through the clinic that’s part of the Great Plains Nature Center’s annual Walk With Wildlife.  Many were city kids who’d never before wet a line. A lot of children were brought by single parents or grandparents.

A high majority caught fish. As well as with a Wichita Eagle backpack that held candy,some fishing tackle and information most of the kids left smiling.

I’d estimate we’ve hosted around 4,000 kids at the fishing clinic at Chisholm Creek Park through the years. We’ve certainly had some amazingly good help.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has long been an instrumental partner. Local fisheries biologist Jessica Mounts, and before her Ken McCloskey, had the pond loaded with fish, all of the equipment furnished and readied with plenty of staff to see things went smoothly.

It’s a serious commitment of time, equipment and money.

I don’t think the Flatland Fly Fishers Club spends much money to help with the event but they supply time that’s invaluable. Annually I’d guess about ten members come for all or part of the day.

Rather than going where they can personally catch a lot of fish they’re giving up half a weekend to help children simply catch a fish.

Seeing a few hundred such smiles certainly makes the annual Wichita Eagle Kids Fishing Clinic worth the trouble.

In the nine years they’ve helped I’ve never seen a member lose patience with a child or a parent. They’ve gone above and beyond so many times for a child who is struggling to catch their first fish.

To Jessica and her staff, the Flatland folks and Wichita Eagle volunteers I once again say “Thanks!”

It’s a great event…but you obviously already know that or you wouldn’t be doing so much year after year.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Here are the photo galleries from the day: A.M. 1 | A.M. 2 | P.M. 1 | P.M. 2 | P.M. 3

Wichita sisters put it to the fish, each other

The sisters are two of the top business types in Wichita. Missy Cohlmia rides herd on communications for Koch. Carol Skaff pilots her own marketing firm.

Sisters Missy Cohlmia, left, and Carol Skaff took time from being business executives to go fishing amid Thursday's heavy rains. Hard to tell if they had fun, huh?

Both are widely respected for their involvement in civic, social and church programs.

And last night I had them drenched from head to toe, wading through tall, wet grass and slipping and sliding through gooey mud while they laughed and caught fish after fish.

I got wrangled into taking the sisters fishing last year when Carol shocked her friends and entered a raffle for a guided fishing trip at The Eagle’s Christmas open house.

She won. We went with Missy along.

Nothing but fun has followed on fishing trips to local lakes and pristine Flint Hills streams.

With spouses and other friends we’ve also shot semi-automatic handguns, blown up jugs of water with high-powered rifles and stuffed ourselves at a March “Beast Feast” with 10 courses of wild game dishes.

Thursday’s  fishing trip to Harvey County was met with threatening weather and quick success.

Both sisters caught nice bass on their first cast. (I lied and told them the fish were the exact size so their famed sibling rivalry was a bit delayed. Carol’s was a bit bigger, though.)

Rain started the second we arrived but the sisters kept fishing while I rigged more equipment and kept my eyes on the skies for signs of close lightening.

Once when I returned from getting a stringer I thought Carol had taken a direct hit.

Then I remembered her face always looks like that when someone (me) jams a writhing fish in her hands and leaves.

(She’s fine with fish on her line or plate. It’s the touching while they’re alive that gives Carol the creeps.)

Close lightening and heavier rain made us take shelter in the pick-up where we spent the 20-30 minutes needed for the sisters to empty a bag of venison jerky.

After Missy’s umpteenth “It looks like it’s slowed enough, right?” we stepped into rains that had diminished from like being in a car wash to just a downpour.

We were quickly as wet as the three bass that hit our lures on our first cast from the pick-up.

During probably 90 minutes of actual fishing I’d estimate we caught 35-40 fish. I put enough on stringers to give Carol a nice meal with a friend and Missy a feast with all kinds of planned company.

We released more than we kept.

As well as the fishing action the trip held other fun and accomplishments.

We had a gorgeous rainbow above us for 20 minutes. As the trip ended we watched horizontal lightening spread like neon spiderwebs across the eastern sky.

Carol eventually got to where she’d touch fish after only 10 seconds of encouragement. Her innate ability to place a cast as well as a perfect phrase got even better.

Missy became more self-sufficient at fishing.

She followed my “Don’t worry about being gentle. Push the hook back out the way it came as fast as you can” advice for unhooking fish.

Soon she was dragging fish ashore, man-handling the hook out and casting for another within seconds.(She’s such an outstanding Republican!)

My biggest enjoyment was watching a sibling rivalry that reminds me of my kids when they were very small.

It’s the first time I’ve seen fish tossing become a competitive sport.

But as I filleted fish Carol and Missy were at the water’s edge, seeing who could chuck the skeletal remains the greatest distance into the lake.

And a warning for those who know her…

Do not ask Missy who was the only one to NOT catch a big bass on their last cast of the day.

Instead ask her who caught the biggest bluegill. I’m sure she’ll be glad to fill you in.

Fawning (deer) all over

Early June means new life across Kansas. Young robins are leaving their nests and fist-sized cottontails are bouncing around pastures, thickets and yards.

Few things, though, seem as special as seeing newly-born whitetail or mule deer.

Friends recently sent me this neat photo of two young fawns on their Butler County ranch.

The first few days of life the wobbly-legged fawns depend mostly on camouflage and lying perfectly still to avoid predators. Within a few days they’ll be able to run behind their mothers.

Most whitetail does have two fawns. Those that breed early, like when they’re six or seven months old, often only have one. Triplets aren’t too uncommon in older does that are in good health.

No wonder America’s deer population is growing rapidly in many areas. There’s also the fact that hunting isn’t allowed, or not allowed often, in many areas with dense deer populations.

Many fawns won’t live long enough to see hunting seasons, though. Many are killed by predators like coyotes and bobcats. In western Kansas golden eagles can easily kill deer and antelope fawns.

Free-ranging dogs are another potential predator. One summer a relative’s free-roaming giant schnauzer killed at least five fawns on our farm in Leavenworth County.

And occasionally the same agricultural practices that give deer easy living claims a few fawns, too. I’ve talked with several farmers who have killed fawns while cutting hay. The critters instinct for staying low or immobile in alfalfa or brome led to their demise.

Not to worry, though. Such animals are quickly cleaned up by such scavengers as vultures and coyotes.

And Mother Nature certainly has granted deer the gift for making rapid replacements.