WICHITA, Kan. — Evening shadows were almost across the water by the time I arrived.
My black-thumb gardening skills had stretched a morning’s job into most of the day and robbed me of two of three hours I’d reserved for gathering a few fillets.
After my fly rod was rigged from hundreds of assorted flies, I selected two exactly alike and left the others behind.
I headed to the water with the confidence of a hungry man walking to a seafood counter.
Fish come when I cast beadhead wooly buggers.
All anglers have go-to baits. For bass guys it’s often spinnerbaits and catfish folks cut shad.
Most fly-fishing fanatics would pick a wooly-bugger.
They’re simple combinations of a few feathers, sometimes a little tinsel for flash and a brass bead to help the fly sink.
They look amazingly alive in the water with the hundreds of feather tentacles wiggling and wagging.
On them, I’ve caught trout from New Zealand to Pennsylvania.
Two years ago I was casting one for two-pound tuna in the Panamanian Pacific when a few hundred pounds of blue marlin grabbed the fish I was fighting and headed for Columbia.
Holding a fly rod built for bass, I probably gained the distinction of suffering the biggest tail-whopping ever delivered to a fisherman by a fish.
Who knew a fly reel could go so fast in reverse and leave such bruises on knuckles slow to get out of the way?
Wooly buggers are especially effective in Kansas waters, too.
I’ve had several days of 100 fish on clear Flint Hills streams and pasture ponds.
I’ve filled buckets with thick crappie and pulled stout channel cats from the deep.
Last week I made 12 consecutive casts for 12 bass from 12 to 17-inches with a ’bugger.
The evening I was after fillets I landed one about 16-inches on my third cast and released it hoping to keep fish a bit smaller.
It didn’t look like that would be a problem.
I was short on time but long on timing. The shallows of my friend’s watershed were dotted with swirls and splashes popped all over.
With the lake’s level drawn down by drought, exposed banks had grown green with grass and weeds.
A recent rain raised the water level and hungry bass were attacking freshly-hatched little fish all over.
Eventually I waded out on a shallow point that met deep water and began casting to working fish.
Many targets were swirls, but I also laid the wooly bugger ahead of wakes pushing across the shallows.
I tugged the fly line in quick jerks to mimic the herky-jerky flight of frightened fingerlings.
Sometimes I didn’t get the chance. On several casts, the line jerked tight as a guitar string before I could start a retrieve.
Weighing two- to three-pounds, some of the bass made the stretched fly line and leader hum as they headed away.
The sun was down and my mental tally above 20 fish when I decided to leave... the first time.
Hearing nearby splashes, I peaked around a bend and saw nice fish had bait cornered against an old beaver lodge.
Five “OK, this is the last try, seriously” casts caught four bass.
I couldn’t resist a sixth when a thick green body pushed a wake toward the shore.
The strike was instantaneous and the fish about had me beat by diving deep into submerged tree top. Somehow I tugged and pulled enough to get the fish free.
It was the best of the day, with a Sumo belly and mouth big enough to hold my fist.
I guessed it a few fingerlings shy of four pounds, and set it free.
Walking back to where I’d clean a few fish for us and the landowners, I chuckled when I looked at what was left of the wooly bugger. It had had a bad feather day.
Its tail was gone and the once tightly wrapped body trailed loosely in one mangled piece.
I could tie another in 10 minutes, or buy one for about $2.
Cheap, super-effective and fun to fish, what’s not to love about fly-fishing with wooly buggers?
I can’t think of a single thing.
(c) 2011, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).
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