Until this week, that is.
I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the unusually warm day before the cold front rolled in, however, as the dock was loaded with about eight people, some outside and some inside. Luckily, my favorite spot was open and I settled down above a submerged tree and dropped a couple lines in.
On my ultralight crappie rod, I attached two pink FleFly Big Eye jigheads and hooked the minnows through the eyes. There are several ways to hook up minnows, and I usually prefer mouth-hooking them with smaller jigheads and tail-hooking or eye-hooking them with larger jigheads. Tail-hooking works best when you want a lot of movement from your minnows.
On my ice rod, I began with a pink and white FleFly lead-free feather jig tipped with Berkley Crappie Nibbles. I later tried mouth-hooking a minnow on them and dropping a jigging spoon with a minnow head on the treble hook, but even though I got a few strikes on the ice rod, I could never get a hook set.
After about an hour and a half of fishing, with no one getting any bites, one of my fellow anglers finally hooked into a small white bass. There was a big group of shad holding just beneath the surface in the warmer water, but they didn’t seem to be getting much pressure from predators. Soon after, I snagged a big shad on one of my Fle-Fly jigheads. I laughed and re-rigged it with a fresh minnow.
Not too long after that, while slowly dancing my ice rod about 15 feet down, my crappie rod suddenly jumped with a big bite. I dropped the ice rod, ran around the corner and grabbed the 6-foot pole, jerking back the hookset to some surprising cheers from my fellow anglers. That’s what I love about fishing — when one of us does well, we’re all usually happy. Usually because we’re hoping that first fish is a sign of a lot more to come.
My drag was screaming as something big dove deep and ran with the 6-pound Mr. Crappie high-vis monofilament line. My first thought was that it was a rainbow trout, but it was kicking its tail a bit too fast to be a trout. I tightened the drag a bit and after what felt like an eternity the silhouette of a fish emerged from the depths and I saw the black and white horizontal stripes on its side.
Another angler came over and helped me land the big fish while I held its head up out of water with the rod to keep it from diving again. Because of its size, I initially thought it was a wiper, but we identified the fish as a white bass by the tooth patch on the back of its tongue.
I measured the fish at 16 inches, which I remembered from my last fishing trip was the length limit to qualify for a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Master Angler Award. I was excited, as I’ve never caught a fish that was big enough but have come just short several times. My fishing buddy, Brendan Handy, caught a freshwater drum last year at Lake Shawnee that was big enough to qualify for the award at 26.5 inches — the qualifying length is 25 inches. That lake has been good to us the past couple years.
The angler who had caught the small white bass earlier caught a few more, and another angler hooked into a fat 13-inch white crappie later that night. The fishing can still be pretty good at times, but I worry it may shut off once the ice takes over the lake. Between December and February of last year, I think I caught two total fish at the heated dock despite seeing huge groups of crappie holding underneath. Since Nov. 1 of this year, I’ve caught 13 fish at the dock, so I’m holding out hope that it’s turning around this year.
Or maybe I’m just not as terrible at winter fishing as I was last year.
If you’ve been catching a bunch of white bass or other fish, let me know by email at email@example.com.
ANGLERS AWARDED BY FHBA
While I was hauling in my trophy white bass Wednesday, two other local anglers were catching trophies of a different kind nearby at Lake Shawnee’s Shelter House No. 6.
The Flint Hills Bass Association named Tate Herrman as its Boater of the Year during its 2018 meeting, while Washburn student Thomas Heinen earned the Non-Boater of the Year award for the third straight year.
Heinen, who is putting together a competitive fishing club at WU, also recently picked up a sponsorship from Pro-Cure Bait Scents after joining the Yakima Bait Company and Carhartt pro staffs in October.
Congratulations to both of those guys on a great season.