Sometimes, the fishing gods have a way of putting you exactly where you need to be to catch fish — even if it’s on your butt.
That’s where I found myself last Sunday, covered with mud in the bed of Shunga Creek with my new tackle bag in the water and the tip of my favorite fishing pole broken off.
It got me to thinking about some of the creeks in our area and whether they had fish in them. Shunga Creek, which stretches across Shawnee County and connects to two major lakes — Shawneeand Sherwood — and the Kansas River, seemed like a place that should have plenty of nice fish in it, but you never hear of people fishing on that creek. It made me wonder what sort of fishing there was to be had on the creek, as many native Topekans think of it as more of a drainage ditch than a fishing destination.
With recent rains raising area lakes to the point where they’re letting out huge amounts of water, I figured it was likely that at least some fish had gone upstream into the urban stream looking for food. I grabbed my pole and drove to the old McDonald Field, where I set off south along the Shunga Trail. It was a warm, overcast day, with a strong breeze hinting at oncoming storms, and the water levels were up considerably thanks to the rain.
I walked through the brush until I found a spot where I thought I could get a cast off. I put on a black Tightlines UV plastic worm and put a cast between the trees. The strong current immediately began moving the worm downstream, with its twisty tail twirling in a natural, snakelike motion. I tried fishing the worm topwater first, with the worm rigged Texas-style so that the hook was hidden in the body of the worm. I figured the black outline would stand out against the cloudy, gray sky overhead.
I put out a few more casts but didn’t have much luck. I kept walking a bit upstream, looking for another opening to put a line in the water. The area near the creek bed was pretty heavily overgrown with trees and other plants, making it difficult to cast, though the walking trails made traversing the creek easy enough.
I stepped on a tree branch underfoot and heard a splash below. Figuring it was a bass popping up to grab a bug off the surface, I crept forward and looked over the edge of the cliff toward the bank below. I heard two more plops in the water, and then saw that I had stumbled upon a family of softshell turtles sunbathing on a large rock. I laughed and the remainder of the turtles jumped in the creek and dove to the bottom. I didn’t want to get a turtle on my line, so I kept moving upstream. I found another spot and put out a few casts, but soon got hung up in some trees. It was a difficult way to fish, casting through trees and bushes on a windy day from a cliff 15 to 20 feet above the creek.
I found a spot I liked and threw out a vintage Heddon Hellbender, which Topekan Marty Reddick emailed me about in a recent column I wrote. This lure is probably a half-century old but still holds up great. I aimed for a spot to my right where some submerged lumber sat and tossed it near that for a bit, then let the water take the swimbait downstream and reeled it through the current as a mallard duck flew past. That tactic made it easier to avoid the trees, but I wanted to get closer to the creek.
I kept walking and found a good spot near a bend in the creek where I thought I could climb down. The bottom looked a bit muddy, but I figured I could make it down. I set my tackle box down on the ground for a second to prepare my descent, but it soon began rolling downhill toward the creek — with my keys, wallet and GoPro camera inside. In a panic, I took a step toward the rolling tackle box only to realize the entire cliff was basically just loose mud.
Both feet slid out from under me and I fell back on my tail, sliding down toward the creek until I was about a foot from the water. My tackle bag sat in the water about 3 feet in front of me — making its way downstream. I quickly grabbed my pole to catch it by the shoulder strap, not realizing that the tip had popped off during my graceful slide down the hill.
I finally caught hold of it on the Hellbender’s treble hooks and dragged the waterlogged bag back ashore. I opened it up to let the water drain and let out a few of my favorite curse words in frustration. I’m sure the joggers on the trail above me were impressed by my extensive vocabulary. Oh well, it’s not the first time Shunga Creek’s left me on my posterior.
“Well,” I thought, “I’m already down here. Might as well make the best of it.”
With the sun overhead peaking out through the clouds and creating the perfect metaphor for how my luck was about to turn, I cast out my line — broken rod tip still attached — and began retrieving the Hellbender. It shook as the water moved over its brim. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped shaking — it, instead, began flying upstream.
Flabbergasted, I yanked my pole hard to my left and set the hook. The fish on the other end of my Sufix Siege 20-pound test line turned sharply and dove, but I wasn’t about to let him get away. I reeled like a madman, and when I saw that flash of green in the translucent-brown water below, I launched him up onto the shore next to me. Still in shock, I picked up the healthy-looking bass. He had a lot of weight to him. I estimated him to be about 2.5 to 3 pounds.
In one cast, all of the frustration I’d had from losing lures, falling down creek beds and breaking equipment melted away. I caught a nice bass on Shunga Creek, of all places. I proved it could be done.
I took a video and a picture with my phone, and then laid the bass back in the creek. With a mighty flick of its tail, it vanished into a cloud of mud.
All in all, a great day outdoors.