That was especially true for me this past year, when I made a list of fish I’d like to catch in 2018. I called it my “bucket list,” though it was not the traditional definition of the term. The phrase was originally coined as a list of things to do before you die, or “kick the bucket.” Not one for thinking about mortality, I prefer to consider it a list of fish to put in my 5-gallon bucket — even though I released many of them instead of keeping them.
For instance, some of the big species on my list were fish I’d never caught before or ones I caught when I was too young to remember. Since I’ve basically been fishing from the moment I could hold up my little Mickey Mouse pole, there’s been plenty of fish I’ve forgotten over the years. Making things even more complicated is the fact that I literally dream about fishing just about every night, and sometimes I get confused about which long-ago fishing trips were real and which ones were a figment of my imagination.
Among the top species on my list for last year were many I’d never caught, including smallmouth bass, drum, rock bass, warmouth and wiper. I also had white bass on the list, a species I’m told I caught a lot of as a kid but I can’t for the life of me remember.
As luck would have it, I knocked off most of those species this year — strangely enough, all within about a mile of each other at Lake Shawnee. The local lake is packed with a variety of fish species, and its deep waters mean plenty of space for fish to hide and grow big. My first smallmouth, drum, rock bass and warmouth were all caught at different times of the year at the same spot near a bridge where I’ve had good fishing success over the years. The white bass started biting strong during the fall at the heated dock and bit well through the end of the year, only recently shutting off when a nasty arctic cold front blew in.
Aside from the smallmouth, I really wasn’t targeting a specific species when I caught them all. But I like to think that when you make goals for yourself, the universe gives you opportunities to make them happen.
The funniest ones to me were the rock bass and warmouth, small panfish I hadn’t ever caught before and didn’t know much about, but wanted to see in person. I actually caught several rock bass and a couple warmouth, to my surprise. It was like the moment I finally caught the first of a species, suddenly the seal was broken and they all started coming to find me. It may have been pure coincidence, but I like to think my little “bucket list” of fish was always there subconsciously in the back of my mind.
I also caught some fish I’d caught frequently throughout the years but hadn’t seen much recently, like white crappie (I’ve caught mostly black crappie in recent years) and a couple new personal bests — namely rainbow trout and a 16-inch white bass. Speaking of rainbow trout, the tasty, speckled salmonid was among the new species I put on my list in 2017, and I caught a few during that time.
So I will again make a list of fish I’d like to catch, some new and some familiar:
• Wiper will again top my list as one of the species I have yet to catch. While I got plenty of experience this fall catching its parent species, the white bass, this hard-fighting hybrid nevertheless eluded me again this year.
• Yellow perch are, in my opinion, one of the coolest-looking freshwater fish and are supposed to be quite tasty. There are reportedly still some in Lake Shawnee, and I’d love to hook into a nice one, especially during the hardwater season.
• Walleye are probably my favorite fish to eat, and some of the more difficult to find at times. I’d love to catch a few more in 2019, for sure.
• I’ve caught small blue cats before, but I’d love to catch a monster one this year. Milford Reservoir is among the top spots to find a big brute in Kansas, and I may try to find a big boy in those waters before the year is through. A 20-plus pounder would make my day, a 40-pounder would blow my mind. A 60- or 80-pounder? I can die happy.
• Northern pike is another species I’ve never caught, as they are quite rare in this region. Still, there are a couple spots (even here in Kansas) where this toothy fish can be caught, and I’d love to finally check that off my list. I’d also like to catch its smaller cousin, the pickerel.
• Finally, I’d like to catch a nice, big carp. I’ve caught some nice ones before, but never on purpose. Typically it was when I was fishing for catfish with my dad at Lake Perry’s Hog Trough. I’d like to actually go target a carp with dough balls, and while I’d be happy with any kind of carp, the mirror carp is the top one on my list. It’s another insanely cool-looking fish.
I hope my 2019 bucket list gave you some good ideas for your own list, and I hope to hear from you when you scratch a fish off from it!
I’ll be sure to tell you all about mine, as well.