I decided to start out by walking along Shunga Creek, hoping to see some bass in the deeper spots after the rains we’ve been having.
The turtles — some of which were as big as a good-sized snapping turtle — were mostly sunning themselves on the banks, though some smaller ones were swimming along. They would scurry into the water when I made a noise, a couple of times scaring the carp as several big splashes took place below my feet.
I don’t know a lot about carp, but I’ve heard the spawn usually takes place in late May and early June, as many bowfishing enthusiasts take this time to stalk the big, bony fish in creeks and rivers as they float near the surface. The carp reminded me of cattle, slowly meandering in big groups through the slow-running current and occasionally popping their mouth out of the water to eat whatever scum was floating on the surface.
I walked down farther to a spot with some nice cover, hoping some bass were hiding in a fallen tree that had apparently been turned into a den by a pair of muskrats I saw swimming close to shore. As I watched the rat-like mammals swim, a flash of movement caught my eye in the center of the creek as a big fish headed downstream at a fair pace. It was under several feet of water, but when the sunlight hit its side I noticed a lateral line similar to that of a big spotted bass or largemouth. If it was a bass, it must have weighed about 4 pounds. I tried casting near it, but the bass was clearly on a bee-line to some spot downstream and wasn’t stopping for my wacky-rigged worm.
As I walked through the woods, I saw several more critters, including wood ducks, mallards, rabbits and squirrels. At one spot, the fallen pollen and cotton from trees and bushes in the thick, humid woods littered the ground, looking like snow beneath my sandaled feet even though the hot, thick air made it feel like a rainforest. It was a surreal moment.
I walked down to a bridge, but the water was too low at that spot, so I decided to pick up some wax worms at a pet store and head to the Shawnee State Fishing Lake to the northwest of Topeka to try my luck at catching some crappie and bluegill. The crappie population at the lake reportedly is starting to improve, though the lake is best known for keeper-sized channel cats and lunker bass.
I pulled into a spot on the east side of the lake, threw a few casts with a bass bait to test the waters and then switched to my crappie pole after I saw a water snake swimming toward my bass lure. Clearly, no big bass here.
I rigged the 10-pound braided Spiderwire line with a pair of small, unpainted jigheads and tipped the hooks with a wax worm under a crappie float. After about three casts, my bobber went straight down and I set the hook. At first, I thought I had a nice-sized crappie or a small bass on the other end, but as I reeled in the line I saw I had doubled up on a pair of bluegill. I laughed and tossed them back in, and then tossed out some cheap cat food I picked up at the pet store as chum. Small fish began popping up all around me in just inches of water, and I soon had another bluegill on my hook.
A couple casts later, I hooked into a crappie on my other rod with a jig, but it came off on a rock near the bank and swam away. I caught two more bluegills on my wax worms after that, then hooked into something big that broke my braided line after fighting for a few seconds. I’m not sure what it was — my immediate thought was a big crappie, but I’ve caught 1 1/2- to 2-pounders on that line with no problem — but it could have been a lunker bass, a channel cat or even a walleye. The lake isn’t well-known as a walleye spot, but it is stocked with the fish and a recent sampling saw one that measured 7.26 pounds, so there are some big ones in there.
As the sun set, I lost sight of my small float in the darkness, though I could still feel the bites through my rod. I switched to a larger bobber that I could still see a silhouette of, but had little luck. When it got dark enough that I couldn’t see the larger bobber anymore, I switch back to the small float and fished off my sense of touch. That approach worked, as I pulled a small crappie out of the darkness on the wax worm.
I walked for what felt like an eternity and eventually heard the sounds of pond life, soon walking into a clearing near the dike. I heard some splashing and thought there must be a nice bass in the shallows, but soon saw that another angler, who had been hidden from sight, was casting into the scum. I cast out with a weedless jig, and the angler came up and told me that the bass were mostly hitting in the shallows. He had a nice stringer full of bass, so I thought for sure I’d get one.
On a log nearby, I saw a big snake shed that looked like it could have belonged to a rattlesnake — I didn’t want to get much closer. I cast the weedless jig over the log and soon had a nice tug on the end of the line. It fought like a good bass, but as I reeled it in it got caught up in the heavy weeds under the surface and got off the hook. I tried casting a frog over the scum but couldn’t get a reaction, and after my jig got stuck in the log I switch to a few other nonweedless jigs that also got snagged in the thick forest below the surface.
Running out of ideas, I took the wax worms out of my pocket and hooked one on the small jigs again. I cast it into an open spot in the scum and soon had a bluegill. Another cast, another bluegill. I put it out deeper in the open water, hoping a big bass would come along and take the bait. Eventually, the bobber got hit hard and I set the hook on a nice fish, but it again came unhooked as I tried to quickly reel it through the heavy hydrilla.
I kept trying the spot, but the fish were sucking the wax worms off the hook before I could get a good hookset. Finally, with the sun nearly set, I hooked into something heavy on my crappie pole and somehow kept it hooked through the forest of hydrilla to find a 1- to 2-pound channel catfish on my small jig. I laughed out loud, as that was the first catfish I’d ever caught on a wax worm, which I typically think of as a crappie/panfish bait. I later asked a Facebook group of catfish anglers, and many said they’d caught cats on waxies, as well.
I tossed the catfish back in, got lost in the dark woods as I walked back to the truck and eventually found my way to an open field with a great view of the Governor’s Mansion.
I walked along a grassy path until I found a sidewalk lined with trees, and as I headed toward the sidewalk in the darkness I saw the outline of something black and white. At first, the outline looked like a buzzard of some kind, but as I cleared my throat the critter took off running and I could tell it was a skunk. Glad I announced myself.
I got back to the truck finally, hot and thirsty, and drove back to my apartment, where I eventually just jumped into the pool with my clothes on to cool off. I walked about five miles in those two days, saw a ton of wildlife and caught several species of fish, but the bass eluded me.
Still, not a bad way to spend my days off.