Category Archives: Fishing

bass, a boy named

4th of July Celebration, Canadian style

I celebrated the 4th of July closer to the Arctic Circle than the U.S./Canadian border, spending about an hour fly-casting for Arctic grayling in shallow rapids.

I’m a patriotic sort of person. The Star-Spangled Banner means something to be at sporting events. I get a bit defensive when I hear others running down our country.

But last week I spent the 4th of July not with family at our home or family farm or even a nearby lake. I was in northern Canada, closer to the Arctic Circle than the U.S./Canadian border. I was actually up there most of last week, and on the 4th I spent the hot and very windy day casting flies for big northern pike and grayling.

Arnold Stene with a big northern pike I caught on a fly-rod on a 4th of July trip to northern Canada. Other 4ths have been spent fishing in the Yukon, Alaska and Panama.

Somewhere during the trip  I took a few seconds to count up the number of July 4s I’d been out of the U.S., usually fishing and visiting old friends I’d made during my feral days as a full-time freelance outdoor writer.

There was a trip to Alaska to fly fish for rainbow trout the size of salmon, and Jerrod was with me once in the Yukon as we fly-fished for lake trout, grayling, pike and a few other species. He was also along about five or six years ago when we headed to Panama to fly fish for 100 pound sailfish and mahi-mahi and use big, conventional tackle for tuna and marlin.

Three or four times I’ve been in northern Canada, fishing with guide/friend Arnold Stene from a lodge where we first met 25 years ago.

It’s not like I make one of these trips every year, let alone several per summer. I don’t request the 4th of July, though it is nice because it saves me a day of vacation. Dunno, it’s just when the airlines, and my friends, usually have some space and time.  When I can pair an invitation, with some funds to buy airline tickets,…I just go.

This year I celebrated the 4th of July flying to an outpost lake with Arnold, and making about a 20 minute boat ride to one of his favored spots, a line of aquatic weeds near a steep drop-off at a mid-lake reef.  Fish #2 of the morning was a northern pike of 40-inches that came up from within the weeds to take a quail-sized streamer.

Heavy winds, and 90-degree temperatures, made fly-casting difficult and tiring, especially after three days of the same. We took our lunch break at the base of some swift, shallow rapids where I got out of the boat and cast dry flies for very gullible grayling. More pike followed in the afternoon, including a 38 or 40-incher I worked on for 15 minutes, drawing three for four short-strikes, before it finally committed, inhaled the streamer, then took off for Alaska.

The famed over-sized dorsal fin of an Arctic grayling. Some are three times as big. The fish are suckers for about any dry fly floated down the rapids.

(Biggest fish of the trip was a 43-incher that pulled hard but put up no speed. Most memorable fish was a 38-incher that was using the boat’s shadow for cover and rushed out to take the fly as I was lifting it from the water, showering me at the strike. That fish had power and speed, taking me around the boat several times, and three times pulling “I don’t think so, see you later!” runs as I was pulling it to the net. Another good memory was fly-catching a dozen 18″-22″ walleye in about an hour.)

Sure I’d liked to have been home, with my All-American family in our All-American city for the cook-outs and the fireworks. But I guess being able to make such a trip was, in a way, celebrating our great nation.

There aren’t many places in the world where someone can take a career dream that started when they were six-years-old and turn it into a living, and then work hard enough to have the finances and personal freedoms to so enjoy the rest of the world.

God Bless America.

 

Casts and Blasts from June 27 KDWPT Commission meeting

More details from Thursday’s Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission meeting in Garden City.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL STORY IN SUNDAY’S EAGLE.

– Most commissioners really seemed to feel they were in a “no-win” situation when they voted on the game warden’s request to make it illegal to use vehicles and/or two-way communications for hunting coyotes during the firearms deer season.

The request was made because game wardens regularly come across people illegally hunting deer with those two methods, and saying they’re hunting coyotes.

“The toughest thing for me is to not give our law enforcement guys the teeth they need,” said Commissioner Don Budd, of Kansas City.

“We need some baseline data….we’re not going to know if anything we do is really effective,” Commissioner Randy Doll, of Leon, said of wanting to now exactly how many complaints game wardens get annually about such illegal deer hunting.

B.J. Thurman, supervisor for about half of Kansas’ game wardens, estimated all of his officers get about two such complaints each firearms deer season, but indicated the problem could be more wide spread.

Every commissioner verbally expressed a fear that passing such a regulation would unfairly punish coyote hunters who are using vehicles and two-way communications legally.

Commissioners asked for more exact numbers of such complaints, and wish to discuss the issue further next year.

–Tom Bidrowski, Wildlife and Parks waterfowl biologist, said duck limits, and seasons and limits on geese, should closely resemble last year’s. Commissioners will vote on seasons at an Aug. 1 commission meeting in Yates Center. See the above link for possible conflict between staff and commissioner recommendations.

– Debate for setting the season for Kansas’ southeast duck zone was less “spirited” than last year. Budd said he didn’t want things to be as heated, and said his recommendation gives Kansas hunters three opening weekends.

– Keith Sexson, Wildlife and Parks assistant secretary, told commissioners the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced they’ll delay deciding if lesser prairie chickens should be placed on the threatened or endangered species list until around March 31. That means Kansas can have a season for the birds this fall and winter.

– Linda Craghead, tourism and state parks director, said the state’s new Park Passport program, which allows people to purchase annual state park passes at reduced rates when they register their vehicles, is doing fairly well.

She said the department’s goal is to get at least 5 percent of all vehicles to carry such tags. Currently, the rate is about 3.5 percent. About a dozen counties currently are getting more than 10 percent of their vehicles in the program. Butler County is one  of those counties.

Craghead said they need at least 4.5 percent to off-set losses in funding from the Kansas a legislature.

– Jim Pitman, Wildlife and Parks upland bird biologist, said about 73,500 turkey permits or tags were sold for the 2013 spring season. That’s an increase of about 10,000 from 2012. He said increased turkey numbers across eastern Kansas were probably responsible for the increase. Pitman predicted the 2013 spring harvest was probably also better than 2012.

– Mike Miller, information chief and Pass It On coordinator, said the department would like to decrease the costs youths pay for hunting permits in Kansas. Miller quoted figures from Missouri and Nebraska that showed youth participation can grow quickly when prices are lowered.

For instance, when Nebraska dropped non-resident youth deer hunting permits from $177 to $5  sales eventually went from 128 to 921 permits sold. Early discussion is that no youth permits would be cut by more than half in Kansas, like non-resident deer permits going from $300 to $150.

Miller hopes the decrease in Kansas prices will be made up for with the sale of more youth deer permits.

– All seven commissioners were in attendance. It was the last meeting for Commissioner Debra Bolton, of Garden City, who had served two terms.   Gov. Sam Brownback has yet to appoint her replacement

 

Casts and Blasts on Theresa Vail -Avid Bowhunter/Miss Kansas

A few details that didn’t make the Sunday Outdoors page feature on Theresa Vail, the current Miss Kansas that’s loved the outdoors for most of her life.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE STORY.

–Theresa actually got her start squirrel hunting in Germany, where she claims they have “huge fox squirrels.”

– The family squirrel recipe is a stew that includes sauerkraut and beef broth. (Yes, I will be getting that recipe.)

– Like many women, she’s left eye-dominant and shoots a left-handed bow. Theresa said her success shooting military weapons improved greatly when she started shooting left-handed several years ago.

– Her right forearm holds a slight scar from where the bowstring often slaps her skin after the shot.

– She’s successfully hunted wild turkeys with a shotgun, but wants to hunt them with a bow.

– Though her schedule is very busy with Miss Kansas duties, she hopes to try bowhunting for mule deer this fall near Pratt.

– One of her dreams is to hunt bears with her bow and arrow.

– She has no photos of herself  and the 150-class eight-pointer she shot last fall in Ohio. She said the shot was made late in the evening, and she had to catch a flight early the next morning. That’s when her friends recovered the deer. She does have a video clip of the hunt and her voice can be heard after the shot.

– Though she likes to hunt deer with a bow, and squirrels with a 20 gauge, Theresa said she has a 12 gauge with a red dot scope for her home defense weapon of choice.

– Theresa is at least the fourth Miss Kansas, including both the Miss America and Miss USA pageants, to enjoy shooting and/or hunting in about the past 15 years.

Yet another problem from ticks

Just this week my family learned that a friend hunting turkeys on our wooded lands north of Lawrence picked up a few ticks on his April hunt. At the Dr. for another matter, they ran a blood test and found he’d tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fortunately, they got treatment started  before symptoms arose and all should be well.

About the same time I started hearing about a disease spread by the Lone Star tick, or at least that’s what the disease is named. We had an article about the disease in today’s Wichita Eagle. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT IT. I’ve also heard several reports lately of the disease being found in Missouri.

And, unfortunately, Lyme Disease is still too prevalent in many areas, including Kansas. Some groups are also claiming America’s health industry isn’t giving tick-borne diseases enough attention, or treating them properly when diagnosed.

Personally, I’ve had a lot less ticks since I started treating some of my garments with Permethrin, a spray you put on your clothing and let it dry before wearing. It lasts up to six weeks, even through a few washings.  YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PRODUCT.  Several brands of spray contain the chemical. As per the directions, do not get it on your skin while the spray is still wet!

Legislature leaves park fees, approves new public area

The Kansas legislature ended up not taking $500,000 from state park earnings, according to Chris Tymeson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism attorney.

In March the House Appropriations Committee recommended taking that much from fees gathered from renting state park cabins. Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, the committee chairman, said they looked into many department funds as a way of coming up with the about $400 million lost to the state budget because of Jan. 1 tax cuts.

The proposal drew the ire of many Kansans, many of whom noted that the state parks had been working hard to become self-sufficient for many years.

The proposal would have taken the $500,000 from money earned from state park cabin rentals.

Also during the recently ended legislative session, according to Tymeson –

– The legislature OKed a Wildlife and Parks purchase of about 800 acres in Jefferson County. It will be used largely as a public hunting area. Federal funds gathered from excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment will pay for most of the about $1.2 million paid for the land.

– Boating under the influence laws have been changed to more closely mirror similar laws for driving automobiles.

– Wildlife and Parks game wardens have been granted to power to help the state agriculture officials when it comes to laws pertaining to domesticated deer.

– Tax rates on boats will gradually be reduced until they are about 1/6th of what Kansans are currently paying.

– Wildlife and Parks can legally issue up to 10 deer permits to “Wounded Warrior” hunters who have had at least 30 percent disability from military-related injuries. The permits will be sold at regular costs, and are for soldiers who sign up for such a hunt after the general state non-resident deer permits have been sold.

 

Casts and Blasts, June 3

A few things of outdoors interest.

- A month or so ago Tuttle Creek Reservoir was about 10 feet below normal pool. Over the weekend it was about 10 feet above normal pool. Even my limited math skills knows that’s a 20 foot change in water levels. That can happen at Tuttle Creek, which probably has the largest drainage area of any reservoir. (Fishing was very good at both extremes.)

- Meanwhile, Cheney Reservoir only gained about 1 1/2 feet with last week’s rains, and is still about 5 feet below normal. That’s a lot at a lake built as shallow as Cheney. It’s surprising such a short raise came after much of the drainage got three to four inches of rain one night last week.

- Thomas Warner, K-State’s Wildlife Outdoor Enterprise Management director, returned a call from last week. I’d hoped to ask Warner about Pratt Community College’s new Wildlife Enterprise Management program. Monday Warner said he supported junior colleges, and the service they provide for students across America, and wished the best for the Pratt program.

Warner’s program is in about its fourth year, and admission to the program is highly competitive. Those who graduate from the two year Pratt program will have to go through the regular application process if they hope to be accepted into the K-State program.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ SUNDAY’S STORY ON THE PRATT PROGRAM.

More Casts and Blasts from the Cottonwood River

Sunday’s column about setting lines for big catfish on the Cottonwood River netted me several e-mails and phone calls from anglers who knew and appreciated the river. The one I appreciated the most was from Bob Hoch, a retired Wichita Eagle employee of many, many years.

It turns out Bob had spent some of the best summers of his childhood with his grandparents, who owned and farmed the stretch of the Cottonwood I’d written about. Bob had even had the great fortune of fishing with legendary angler Ned Noll, his uncle.

Not only did Bob confirm what I’d written about Noll, but also about the probable presence and size of Noll’s version of a great white whale…a huge flathead he’d named “Ol’ George.”

Read on, and enjoy what Bob has agreed to let me reproduce.

 

“HI MICHAEL:

I enjoyed your Sunday Outdoor feature story about fishing on the Cottonwood River.  Alex “Casey” Case is my cousin and Ned Noll was my uncle.  I spent lots of my youth on the Claude Noll farm where this story takes place.

I used to live with my grandparents there during the summer harvest time.  Back in the 1930’s, Grandpa hired someone with a bulldozer to cut wide paths from the farm down to the river and back up the bank to the field on the other side.  That saved him from having to drive his old John Deer tractor and various implements out on the highway to get to that field.  He also had that guy shove some rocks to make a short “dam” — just below where that campfire ring is.  Now he had a “deep end” and the “riffles” below.

A couple times after spending the day plowing the field across the river, Grandpa would stop the tractor in the riffles and we’d strip down to our underwear and cool off in the river before going back up to the farm house for supper.  We would often sein for bait and float some crawdads down the riffles and slowly reel back in.  Caught some nice fish that way.  And the quietness of those surroundings were, indeed, relaxing.

Uncle Ned became a doctor after he came back from World War II.  Several years later, he came down with Lupus which was fairly unknown at that time.  He spent a couple weeks in the Mayo Clinic for testing and treatment.  He actually was the one to diagnose his illness.

He taught me lots of tips to catching the big catfish.  Yes, we used what he called #12 hooks — giant beasts that would barely fit in the palm of your hand.  He was very scientific about this, too.  Before using those hooks, he would soak them in a mild acid solution to take the shine off them.  He also taught me not to bother setting lines during the days around a full moon — too much moonlight and the turtles and gar would steal the bait.

We used large carp or goldfish for bait, hooking them under the backbone.  To place limb lines most effectively, we would row up and down the river — me rowing and him probing the bottom of the river with a long stick looking for places the big catfish wallowed-out “nests” in the mud.  When we found those, we’d look for the nearest limb from which to hang a line.  Bait placement was key, too — about one foot off the bottom.

One Sunday afternoon, Ned and I were doing some limb line maintenance when we spotted what might have been “Old George”.  A huge catfish was nosing the surface of the water.  While I slowly rowed/drifted up to that fish, Ned put his arm down under the water and I watched in astonishment as he slowly ran his hand up the back of that fish.  When he got to the back of its head, he “walked” his outstretched palm twice across its head.  (Now hold out your hands away from you, stretch your fingers out and touch thumbs.  That’s about how wide across the back of its head that fish was.)  Then he spooked and took a dive.  I know that sounds like a “fish tale”, but it’s the honest-to-God’s truth.

The summer of 1962 was our most prolific fishing summer.  We caught flatheads ranging from 51 lbs, 48, 43, several in the 30 lb range and many other “smaller” ones.  We had a trotline stretched from bank-to-bank below the riffles where the water was about thigh-deep.  We were actually throwing back fish weighing 3-5 lbs because we had too many bigger ones.  Simply amazing!  (I have a picture of me with the 51-lb flathead, but I can’t get my scanner to work.)

In 1963, we got skunked.  Couldn’t catch a cold on that river that year.  Then, Ned passed away in 1964.

Ned and Dale Snelling who was the Marion County Lake Superintendent for many years, used to trap beaver on the Cottonwood.  For many years, I had a beaver skin rug that measured a little more than 3 feet in diameter that Ned made for me.

Thanks for the ride down memory lane.”

 

Casts and Blasts from the Cottonwood River

Central Kansas’ Cottonwood River is long and beauty and fishing tradition.

A few more details from last weekend’s time along the Cottonwood River, in Marion County.  YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY THAT RAN ON SUNDAY’S OUTDOORS PAGE.

– The section of the river being fished by Alex Case and his collection of about 20 college chums, local friends and family members is between Marion and Florence, and flows through private properties so it’s not legally accessible to the public. Case has had permission to fish the land which has been in his family for decades.

– Though there are plenty of stories of flatheads to 65 pounds from that section of river decades ago, in 25 springs of setting lines on the Cottonwood, Case and his crew have probably never topped about 35 pounds. Probably the largest flatheads on the Cottonwood come from the section of river just north of Marion Reservoir. Growing fat on gizzard shad and other fish in the lake, catfish pushing 60 pounds aren’t too uncommon upstream. Many believe most major lakes in Kansas are supporting numerous flatheads of more than 75 pounds.

– The Cottonwood River flows into the Neosho, which for the state’s first 100 or more years was known as the best catfish river in Kansas.

– Case and his friends have spent the past two weekends camping in a small meadow yards from the Cottonwood. For most years they camped at a campground at Marion Reservoir, but decided to move their camp when Corps of Engineers regulations changed and put more restrictions on where they used to camp.

Griffin King, left, helps Jarrett Johnson and Mark Johnson carry a load of catfish to a wire fish box in the Cottonwood River. All the fish were cleaned after the annual

– Normal procedure is to bait lines just before dark, then run them at about midnight, and again early the next morning. Case likes to run them after about 8 a.m. because some catfish feed during the first hour or so of daylight.

– All of the sets were in one pool a few hundred yards long, and included about 15 bank or limblines and one trotline with about a dozen hooks. Anglers waded the pool while setting the lines, and seldom found water that was too deep to wade easily.

– Memorial Day weekend has long been known as a great time for running lines on Kansas rivers, as the big flatheads are on the move for their annual spawn.

– Yesterday, May 25, Case and friends baited the same lines, but didn’t check them until the next morning when they found five channel cat from about eight to 12 pounds.

Ben Riedel, right, and John Aldrich add to the mass breakfast on the first morning of the annual campout/fishing trip.

– As well as the lines set on the river, some campers spent some time fishing on Marion Reservoir. The camp also regularly enjoys nighttime horseshoe games played by the light of lanterns and headlights.. Meals are usually cooked over the campfire, and served in huge portions.

Boaters Beware, some local lakes have hazardous conditions

Wichita maybe enjoying a wet spring, but beware if you’re heading to a local lake. Water conditions are low enough in many places to make for hazardous boating.

Still 6.6 feet below normal, Cheney Reservoir has more challenges than normal. El Dorado Reservoir  could be flat-out dangerous.

“Even with the rain, we’ve come up a whopping 4/10ths of a foot this spring so we’re still about 4.4 feet low. It’s been a while since we’ve been this low this time of the year,” said Craig Johnson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist for El Dorado. “There are places where you can be a couple of hundred yards off shore and still only be in ankle-deep water. There are a lot of trees (near the surface) where I don’t remember seeing them in the past.”

Shane Eustice, who regularly boats and guides anglers at El Dorado, fears the timing for such low water could accentuate the problems.

“A lot of people are really going to be anxious this weekend to finally get out, and they’re just going to jump in their boat and go,” he said. “I’m afraid someone  could really get hurt.”

Johnson told of someone who bought a new boat last Wednesday, then wrecked the lower part of the motor in a shallow area the next day at El Dorado. He’s surprised it hasn’t happened more often.

“I see a lot of people going fast in their bass boats, ripping across some of these (hazardous) areas,” he added. “They either know the lake really well, or they’ve just been really lucky.”

Eustice and Johnson say boaters should be careful around all points of land that jut out into the water. Often the water is only inches deep. It’s sometimes the same where old roadbeds go into the lake. Easily boated over a year ago, many areas now could struggle to float a canoe.

Both lake experts said the water several hundred yards off Bluestem and El Dorado Point areas will probably be too shallow for safe boating. Eustice spoke of a sizable island about 400 yards off Bluestem Point that’s so low many boaters may not see it. Even if they do, water on both sides of the island is probably too shallow for most boats.

“You just have to respect every point you go around,” he said. “People just won’t believe you may be 600 yards from shore and still not be in safe water.”

Other potential dangers are where timber was left standing along original river and creek banks when the lake was filled. Through the years many of the long-dead trees broke at various heights. Eustice said hidden trees that once let boaters pass over with no concerns could now lead to a damaged boat, or worse if people are thrown from boats that hit the obstacles at high rates of speed.

At Cheney Reservoir, fisheries biologist Jeff Koch said boaters don’t need to worry about striking flooded timber, but some of the areas close to shore could be too shallow for safe boating. “You just have to plan on staying several hundred yards off shore on the main lake, and if you get closer, do it slowly,” Koch said. “It’s way too shallow up north, but I can’t think of anything in the middle of the lake that could be a problem.”

Simply getting a boat launched on to Cheney could be the biggest problem. Koch said the only operational ramp is in the state park on the east side of the reservoir.

Two boat ramps, the west ramp in the Boulder Bluff area and another east of Shady Creek Marina, are closed at El Dorado. Johnson said boaters should show caution around some courtesy docks because of shallow water conditions.

 

Crappie Time!

NIce crappie are spawning in the shallows at most central Kansas lakes.

It’s here. After probably a half-dozen half-hearted starts and stops because of weather fronts, it appears the 2013 crappie spawn is running full-speed in central Kansas.

Craig Johnson, Wildlife and Parks biologist for El Dorado Reservoir called this morning to say he saw a lot of anglers, catching a lot of fish, at the lake on Monday. Johnson, an avid angler, said most traditionally popular areas held fishermen.

Up at Marion Reservoir last evening, Alex Case said he probably saw about 60 anglers spread out along the lake’s dam, catching nice-sized crappie and white bass. Arriving late, Case said he kept a half-dozen nice crappie and released more than that number of white bass.

Bob Roberts, of Salina, traveled to Milford Reservoir with a friend just to check out the fishing conditions. Fishing from shore they caught most of a five gallon bucket of nice crappie. Roberts has heard it’s been some of the best spawn crappie fishing the lake has seen in a while. He also reports that the spawn has finally started in earnest at Glen Elder Reservoir. (Any making the trip to Glen need to remember their 20 crappie limit this year.)

Further north, former KU All-American Wayne Simien, Jr. caught a dozen nice crappie from the shore at Clinton this morning and predicts he may be a tad late for work again tomorrow morning.

Of course the great action is the result of steady weather and the water finally warming into the 60s. No clue how long the fishing will stay hot, but it’s never more than the next cold front away from turning off.