On New Year's Day, ice covered most of the flatland reservoirs that stipple the countryside of northeastern Kansas. Two of the ice-free reservoirs were warmed by power plants. Because some Midwest anglers have to travel more than a hundred miles to fish these warm-water environs, they are often reluctant to make that wintertime foray, and instead they stay home and eagerly await for the ice to melt at the nearby reservoirs.
To provide a historical perspective about when northeastern Kansas reservoirs become ice-free, and when we were able to be afloat during winter's past, we examined our logs from 2004 through 2013. Here are the dates of our first outings during those years: Feb. 27, 2004; Feb. 14, 2005; Jan. 3, 2006; Jan. 2-11, 2007; Mar. 3, 2008; Feb. 10, 2009; Mar. 5, 2010; Jan. 30, 2011, Jan. 25, 2012, and Jan. 28, 2013.
It is interesting to note that unseasonably cold weather arrived on Dec. 5, 2005, driving area thermometers down to -13 degrees on Dec. 8, and ice quickly covered our cold-water reservoirs. But shortly before Christmas, a spell of unseasonably warm weather erupted, causing the ice to melt. Thus, as the last sheets of ice were disappearing on Dec. 26, we were afloat, and from that date on, our reservoirs were ice-free for the rest of the winter of 2005-06.
Back in January of 2007, we fished on Jan. 2, 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11. On those six outings, we plied an 11,600-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reservoir three times, a 195-acre community reservoir twice and a 416-acre community reservoir once. The surface temperature at these reservoirs ranged from 39 degrees to 41 degrees. On every outing, we fished from about 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m., and we caught and released 135 largemouth bass. At the 11,600-acre reservoir, we caught only 35 largemouth bass, but several of them were four-pounders. After Jan. 11, 2007, ice eventually covered all of our reservoirs except our 2,600-acre and 5,090-acre warm-water reservoirs, and we didn't get afloat on what we call our cold-water reservoirs again until Feb. 26, 2007.
Cold and murky water usually confounds our wintertime largemouth bass fishing. And on Mar. 2, 2008, Mother Nature walloped much of northeastern Kansas with an inch to two inches of rain, which muddy many of our cold-water reservoirs. The rain melted the ice on our reservoirs but the water clarity was so murky that we didn't catch a largemouth bass until Mar. 12, 2008.
This January Old Man Winter allowed us to fish four times. Three of those outings transpired at a 2,600-acre warm-water reservoir and one occurred as the ice was melting at a nearby 416-acre community reservoir. We fished 15 1/4 hours and caught 140 largemouth bass, which is an average of nine largemouth bass an hour. In addition to the four logs that describe those four January outings,Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, Chris Rohr of Overland Park, Kansas, and Dave Weroha of Kansas City contributed several logs and piscatorial insights to this monthly guide.
January 6 log
Dave Weroha of Kansas City reported to the Finesse News Network that he had a solo outing to a 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir in northeastern Kansas on Jan. 6.
He fished from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. When he began fishing the wind angled out of the west by northwest at 10 mph and diminished to about 5 mph as his outing ended. At 8:45 a.m., it was 26 degrees and 36 degrees at 1 p.m. The sky was cloudless. The barometric pressure was 30.32 and rising at 8 a.m. and rising to 30.36 around noon and fall to 30.34 around 1 p.m.
The marina reported that the water level was one foot below normal. Weroha noted that the water was stained, exhibiting about two feet of visibility. Weroha fished the southern half of the reservoir, where the surface temperature ranged from a high of 48 degrees to a low of 43 degrees.
Ten other boats were afloat, and they were plying lairs within the plume of warm water that flows out of the power plant. The plume flows to the north. Weroha didn't venture into that plume. But he did fish the southern outskirts of it along two bluffy shorelines on the west side of the reservoir, where the surface temperature ranged from 46 to 44 degrees and on the outside riprap shoreline of the hot-water channel on the east side of the reservoir, where the surface temperature was 48 degrees. Then he ventured to the southern end of the reservoir and plied the riprap of the dam, where the surface temperature was 43 degrees
Weroha caught 17 largemouth bass, and all were between 13 and 15 inches in length. He caught nine along the two bluffy shorelines, three along the outside riprap of the hot-water channel, and five along the riprap of the dam.
He caught those 17 largemouth bass on a Z-Man's Fishing Products' green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig, a Z-Man black-and-blue four-inch Finesse WormZ on a 1/32-ounce jig, and a Z-Man's Smoky Shad 3 3/4-inch StreakZ on a 1/32-ounce jig. He trimmed 1 1/2-inches off the head the Finesse ShadZ, making it 2 1/2-inches long.
He failed the catch a largemouth bass on a Z-Man's 2 1/2-inch watermelon-and-white ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig and a Z-Man's Mud Minnow hue Hula StickZ on a 1/32-ounce jig.
The most effective retrieve was an excruciatingly slow one. He would deadstick his baits for 30 seconds or more, and then he would lightly twitch it and occasionally hop it. He was fishing shorelines, but all 17 of the bass were caught 10 to 15 feet away from the water's edge in depths of five to eight feet of water.
Weroha concluded his report by saying: "I did not journey north to the third and fourth bluff area as boater congestion combined with my curiosity to fish colder waters in the south led me south bound. In a future outing I would like to explore some flats, creek channels and breaks €¦" rather than just fishing shorelines.
Mike Poe of Siler, North Carolina, filed a report with Finesse News Network about his Jan. 6 outing on a community reservoir. He noted that this reservoir had ice on it on Jan. 5, but by the time that he launched his boat at 11:30 a.m., the ice has disappeared. Area thermometer hit a high of 51 degrees, and Poe estimated that the surface temperature of this small reservoir was in the low 40s.
The water level was three feet below normal, and the water clarity in the upper portions of the lake was stained but relatively clear elsewhere. The wind was nil.
On this solo outing, he fished to 3:30 p.m. and caught 10 largemouth bass, ranging in size from 14-inches to three-pounds, and they were extracted from about four feet of water.
All of them were caught on a green-pumpkin-red 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a blood-red 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig. Every strike occurred on the initial fall, and after that initial fall, he failed to garner a strike with all of the Midwest finesse retrieves that he implemented, which he described as perplexing and aggravating. At times, he wielded a crankbait, which failed elicit a strike. He said it was one of those outings when it seemed that they only way to get a strike was to be fortunate to make a cast that landed virtually on the head of a largemouth bass.
January 7 log
At 11 a.m. on Jan, 6 my cousin Rick Hebenstreit of Shawnee, Kansas, and I launched my boat for the first time since that about 11 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2012, when I had an encounter with a patch of algae. That skirmish with the algae at a 416-acre community reservoir caused me to fall on the boat ramp and slide partially into the water. When I fell, I broke my wrist severely. A week later a surgeon pieced some of the bones into place with screws and a metal plate.
Except when my wife, Patty, took me for three short bank-walking outings at a nearby 195-acre community reservoir, and Terry Claudell loaded me into his boat for a short spell at a 100-acre community on Dec. 4, I had not fished since Nov. 2.
Since then all of the reservoirs in northeastern Kansas had become ice covered except for the two that are graced with hot water that jettisons out of power plants that lie on their eastern shorelines
So, on this maiden outing of 2013, Rick joined me on the 75-mile jaunt to a 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir. This is the same reservoir that Dave Weroha of Kansas City fished on Jan. 6.
Area thermometers registered a morning low of 26 degrees and a high at 3 p.m. of 51 degrees. The normal high temperature for date is 38, and the normal low is 19 degrees. While we were fishing from 11:20 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., the wind angled from the southwest at 13 to 23 mph. The sky was fair until around 2 p.m., when it became slightly cloudy, but the sun was still in our eyes when we made our last casts. This time of the year when we fish western shorelines and we are moving from north to south, the sun is usually in our eyes, which can be a rather irksome ordeal. Around 11 a.m., the barometric pressure was 30:29 and falling. The solunar calendar indicated that the best fishing time occurred from 6:44 a.m. to 8:44 a.m.
The water clarity was stained with an algae bloom to the point that we could barely see the propeller on the trolling motor, and this what we call our Kansas Secchi disc, and if we can see the propeller, we call the water Kansas clear. So, it was almost Kansas clear. We ventured to the southern edge of the warm-water plume, where the surface temperature was 47 degrees, and we also examined the northern reaches of the plume, where the surface temperature registered 43 degrees. (It should be noted that the wind direction and velocity, as well as the amount of electricity that the power plant generates, effects the water temperature and the whereabouts of the warm water at this reservoir.) According to the folks at the marina, the water level was a foot below normal. The warmest water that we fished was 53.9 degrees.
Because the wind was brisk we spent nearly three hours hiding from it by fishing two long bluffs within the confines of the warm-water plume, where the surface temperature ranged from 53.9 to 50 degrees. We spent about five minutes fishing a small bluff on the northern border of the warm-water plume and the surface temperature was 45 degrees. We spent the last 20 minutes fishing a bluff near the southern border of the warm-water plume, and here the surface temperature ranged from 49 to 51 degrees. All of these bluff were situated along the western shoreline, and they were mostly from the southwest wind.
Our spinning rods were dressed with a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on either a 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig. (Traditionally, this Finesse ShadZ is the best combo at this reservoir in December and January, and it was the best combo on this outing.) Our spinning outfits were also dressed with a Z-Man's pearl Finesse ShadZ on a 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig, a Z-Man's pearl Rain MinnowZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a four-inch Z-Man's black-neon Finesse WormZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a four-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse WormZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a 2 ½-inch Z-Man's black-and-blue FattyZ customized tube on a red 1/16 Gopher jig, and several colors of a Z-Man's 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ on a red or blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. Of that array of baits, all of them but the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ caught some fish.
We caught 44 largemouth bass along the two bluffs within the heart of the warm-water plume. We also caught seven big crappies along these two bluffs. We failed to land seven largemouth bass, and we tangled with another five that we didn't see before they liberated themselves.
We didn't garner a strike on the bluff where the surface temperature was 45 degrees. At the bluff along the southern edge of the warm-water plume, we eked out only four white bass and one largemouth bass
Our total catch was 45 largemouth bass, including one that weighed five pounds, 11 ounces and another that weighed five pounds, three ounce, and both of these big ones were caught on bluff No. 3
The biggest bass engulfed the 2 ½-inch black-and-blue FattyZ customized tube. The five-pound, three-ouncer was inveigled on the green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. The Finesse WormZ caught six of the largemouth bass. The pearl Finesse ShadZ caught four largemouth bass. The FattyZ customized tube caught two largemouth bass. The green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ caught 33 largemouth bass, and the Finesse ShadZ dressed on a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig was slightly more effective than the 1/16-ouncer. The pearl Rain MinnowZ caught only one largemouth bass and two white bass. The green-pumpkin ShadZ caught two of the white bass and all of the crappie.
The best retrieve was a subtle hop and bounce with some shakes. We caught a come with a drag-and-shake presentation. A few were also allured with a short deadstick routine.
At the two bluffs with the warm-water plume, we were joined by two boats of power anglers. One boat had two anglers in it, and the other boat was manned by Mike McKinsey of Ozawkie, Kansas. From about 45 minutes, we fished about 20 to 30 feet behind one of the boats, and we saw this pair of anglers catch two largemouth bass. What's more, we zigzagged in and around the McKinsey's boat several times, and for more than an hour, we fished the same bluff that he fished with a skirted jig affixed to a NetBait Paca Chunk. Despite that angling pressure, our Midwest finesse tactics allured 44 bass while we fished the same water that those power anglers thoroughly pounded.
After 1:45 p.m., the strikes became far and few between. Our most productive fishing stretched from 11:25 a.m. to 1:30.
Throughout this entire outing, it was readily apparent that my left arm, wrist and hand was a long way from being as strong and flexible as it was before 11 a.m. Nov 6, 2012. Nevertheless Rick and I caught our first fish of 2013, which was a joy, and I fished better than I fished on the four short endeavors that I struggled through in November and December. On Jan. 9, the surgeon who operated on my wrist told me that I should be back to normal in mid-February, but a few minutes earlier before the surgeon entered the room, the surgeon's assistant told me that it usually takes a year to regain the strength, flexibility and dexterity after an episode with a severely broken wrist. We will write a report in mid-February.
January 11 weather notes
The National Weather Service issued this report: "Patchy fog before 8 a.m. Otherwise, mostly cloudy, with a high near 64. Breezy, with a south wind 15 to 25 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph." The high temperature failed to hit 64 degree, but it did reach 57 degrees, and some wind gust hit 31 mph. This weather knocked the ice off many of the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas for a short spell.
January 12 and 13 logs
Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, posted this report on the Finesse News Network:
"We were blessed last week and this weekend with record warmth. The fish responded accordingly.
"On Saturday Jan. 12, I fished with North Carolina's bass fishing legend, Abe Abernathy. He put on a power fishing clinic catching around 20 largemouth bass with the largest five probably weighing between 23 and 26 pounds. And he was fishing from the back of the boat.
"He was catching them in a few feet of water on Rapala's No. 5 Shad Rap in a blue steel color and an Ed Chambers' mutt crankbait in a red color. While finesse caught the first one the rest of mine came on a Shad Rap as well in a brown color. Mr. Abernathy is the antithesis of finesses having brought deep water dragging with heavy weights to the scene decades ago. Normally he would be jigging deep bass but that bite has not materialized this year.
"We had 30 some for the day and the average size was great. The warm water temperature had the fish in the feeder creeks with the bait. Water color was six inches to one foot of clarity.
"On Sunday, Jan. 13, I went solo, getting out at 11:30 a.m. and catching 23 largemouth bass. Twelve of these were caught on the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig with a green-pumpkin-red 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, including one five-pounder The best areas were little bluff sections along a creek channel that were inside the small feeder creek arms. Most of the largemouth bass inhaled the ZinkerZ combo on the initial, and they headed to deep water immediately. The other largemouth bass were caught on a Strike King Lure Company's quarter-ounce Red Eye Shad and an Ed Chambers' mutt crankbait in a red color. The wind was a factor yesterday as the bass aggressively took the crankbaits on some windy points. I believe in all I had six bass that weighed more than three pound each. A nice day for sure."
"Last week, the Gopher jig and ZinkerZ combo was my only hope, and this week it gave me my largest bass of the weekend. Last week it was icy the day before I fished, this week it was 73 degrees. Not many baits do so well under such varying conditions.
"In addition, my son-in-law Preston Parks caught 30 last Thursday in the Haw River, floating a section of the river in a canoe. The Gopher jig rigged with a watermelon Strike King Lure Company 2 1/2-inch Zero accounted for his entire catch. Interestingly he was employing a deadstick retrieve among the rocks in the head of the pools. He estimated that he let the lure remain motionless for 15 seconds or more in some cases.
"This is the best shallow January fishing I have ever had in North Carolina. We used to do several outdoor shows during this period so I would know of action happening all across the state, and the last two years have really been an exception to what has occurred in past Januaries. Hope it continues."
January 15 Log
On Jan. 12 and 13 Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, and Dave Weroha of Kansas City reported on the Finesse News Network that the ice was off of the reservoirs that lie along the Interstate Highway 70 corridor between Topeka and Kansas City. And upon reading that report, choruses of glee and alleluias rang loud and clear from the mouths of a goodly number of Midwest finesse anglers. But on the morning of Jan. 15, the ice cover had returned after Old Man Winter sashayed back into Kansas, dropping the temperature to 6 degrees at 5:52 a.m. on Jan. 14. In fact, for three days Old Man Winter prevented area thermometers from broaching 30 degrees.
Despite this onslaught of cold weather, Travis Perret of Overland Park, Kansas, and I made the 76-mile drive to fish several of the warm-water lairs at a 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir on Jan. 15. And as we traveled south of Kansas City, it got colder, dropping from 27 degrees in the southwest suburbs of Kansas City to 25 degrees at the boat ramp. There was not a drop of snow in Kansas City or Lawrence, but around this reservoir there was about an inch of ice and snow covering the countryside.
Perret and I fished from 12:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m., and 27 degrees was the warmest it got while we were afloat. Consequential, ice incessantly coated the guides on our rods and the line on the spools of reels. And we were bundled with many layers of winter apparel. Nevertheless, we caught a largemouth bass on our first cast and our last cast. And during the three hours and 15 minutes between that first and last casts, we caught 50 more largemouth bass, five big crappie, one wiper, one white bass and one channel catfish. We also tangled with six largemouth bass that liberated themselves before we could liberate them. All of them were caught in two to six feet of water.
Weather-wise, the saving grace was that wind was mild-mannered, angling from the northeast at 6 to 7 mph, and there were spells when it was nearly calm. Since the wind didn't howl, the wind chill ranged from a low of 19 degrees to a high of 23 degrees, which Perret and I found to be very tolerable, as long as we wore gloves, state-of-the-art Norwegian long underwear and other winter wear. In addition, it was sunny and the relative humidity was 66 percent. The barometric pressure was 30.27 around 12: 45 p.m., and it dropped to 30.21 around 3:45 p.m.
The solunar calendar indicated that the best fishing times began at 1:24 p.m. and ended at 3:24 p.m. We fished through the entire two hours, and the fishing was fruitful, but it was also fruitful during the hour before the best fishing times commenced.
The reservoir looked to be slightly more than a foot below normal. The water clarity was besmeared by an algae bloom. (Because the wind was light, we used the transom trolling motor rather than the bow-mounted one. The motor on the transom electric trolling is deeper in the water than the one on the bow, and we could not see the propeller or the motor.) We fished along the southern fringe of the warm-water plume, where the surface temperature was 51 degrees. We fished along the northern edge of the warm-water plume were the surface temperature was 45 degrees. And we fished near the heart of the plume, where the surface temperature was 53.9 degrees, and the heart of the plume was several hundred yards to the north of the warm-water outlet. The whereabouts and size of the warm-water plume can fluctuate from day to day, depending the amount of electricity that is generated and the intensity and direction of the wind.
We caught 15 largemouth bass from the western edge of a submerged creek channel that meanders across a mud flat on the west side of the reservoir. Then for about two hours, we fished two bluffs, where the surface temperature ranged from 53.9 degrees to 52 degrees, and from these bluffs, we extracted 35 largemouth bass, including one that weighed five pounds, 14 ounces, as well as two four-pounders and two three-pounders. After we fished those bluffs, we plied two mud flats where a submerged creek channel crisscrosses them, but we failed to catch a largemouth bass. We also fished a mud-flat point that didn't yield a largemouth bass. We finished our outing by quickly fishing two bluffs long the southern perimeter of the warm-water plume, and we eked out only two largemouth bass. All of the bluffs that we fished were along the western side of this reservoir.
We caught four largemouth bass on a Z-Man's PB&J Rain MinnowZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. We caught one largemouth bass on a Z-Man's pearl Finesse ShadZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. All of the rest of the largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish, white bass and wiper were caught on a green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on either a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher jig or a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig.
The best retrieve was a subtle swim-glide-and-shake retrieve that also incorporated a few hops and bounces on the bottom. We also caught a few on the drag-and-deadstick motif. We caught only one on the initial drop. All of the fish were caught in two to six feet of water.
Before our trip, Perret had spent part of the morning working with Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kansas. Perret is Chapman's physical and pain-free trainer, and Chapman is in the midst of training for the 2012 Bassmaster tournament season. At the end of their workout session, Chapman gave Perret one of his new flutter spoons to test. Perret rigged this gargantuan spoon on one of his big casting rods, but we started catching largemouth bass straightway with our Midwest finesse tactics, and neither Perret nor I gave Chapman's new spoon a whirl.
All three of the largemouth bass in these photographs were caught on a green-pumpkin Z-Man Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig.
January 19 log
A week ago on Jan. 11 and 12 Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, reported that the ice was off at a 416-acre community reservoir. Then the ice reappeared on Jan. 13 and 14. On Jan. 19 Holscher reported that the ice was melting again, and there was an angler afloat. We suspect the ice will reappear on Jan. 20 and 21 as area temperatures plummet again.
Dave Weroha of Kansas City, Duc Pham of Kansas City and Bob Gum of Kansas City fished the 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir that was featured in the Jan.6, 7 and 15 logs. They fished from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
He wrote: "It was a surprisingly tough day, eking out 21 largemouth bass, one white bass, one freshwater drum and one carp. We failed to land seven largemouth bass. The largest largemouth bass weighed only two pounds. Today was the perfect outing for finesse because power fishing would have yielded virtually no fish.
"Duc asked other anglers at the marina how their day went and the unanimous response was 'we only caught a couple, it was slow.' Other anglers near the bluffs echoed the same response.
"The air temperature when we launch was in the lower 40s, reaching a high of near 60 degrees in the afternoon. At 8:30 a.m. the wind angled out of the south-by-southwest at 25 to 30 mph, but it dissipated to 5 to 10 mph during the afternoon. We were puzzled why a day like Saturday — with the highs near 60 degrees and in the 50s on Friday — did not make Saturday a favorable day to fish.
"The wind and an algae bloom reduced the water clarity to less than a foot along the southern rim of the water-water plume. At the core of the plume and along two bluffs along the western side of the reservoir, the clarity improved to two feet of visibility. The surface temperature along the two bluffs at the southern edge of the warm-water plume was 53 to 54 degrees. Along the two bluffs in the heart of the plume, the surface temperature was 58 degrees.
"The fish that we caught were caught along bluffs in the heart of the plume. We ventured to four of the reservoir's five bluffs, part of the rip-rap shoreline on the east side of the reservoir, and one creek channel along a mud flat.
"Gum had success with a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig affixed to a Z-Man's pumpkin-green-flake Finesse ShadZ and a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig on a Z-Man's pumpkin-chartreuse 2 1/5-inch ZinkerZ. All of his catches were on the deadstick phase of the drag-and-deadstick retrieve and were caught in two to six feet of water.
"I had success with the white 1/16-ounce Gopher jig on a four-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse WormZ and a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig on a green pumpkin Finesse ShadZ. All of my catches were on the glide phase of the swim-and-glide retrieve and were caught in two to six feet of water. I also tried the hop-and-bounce in the creek channel along the bluffs to no avail.
"Pham caught a fish on a black 1/8-ounce round jig affixed to a 2 1/2-inch YUM's red-black Dinger near the water's edge along the bluffs, employing it on the drag-and-dead-stick motif."
January 25 log
At 10 a.m. I joined Bob Gum of Kansas City at the same 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir that was featured in Jan.6, 7, 15 and 19 logs. Then around 1 p.m. Dave Weroha of Kansas City joined us. This was my third significant outing since the cast on my left arm had been removed.
Since Jan. 18, the temperatures across northeastern Kansas had fluctuated wildly from a high of 63 degrees to a low of 10 degrees. Besides the vacillating temperatures the wind was pesky. The cold and wind prevented us from making the 76-mile journey to this power-plant reservoir, which is the best warm-water reservoir in the region, until Jan. 25.
A pair of anglers reported to us that the upper end of the reservoir was ice covered, but the surface temperatures at the areas we plied ranged from 51 degrees to 55 degrees. Those areas were in the center of the warm-water plume and towards its northern and southern edges. The water clarity was stained with an algae bloom. The water level looked to be slightly more than a foot below normal.
Traditionally the week of Jan. 20 to Jan. 26 is a wintry one in northeastern Kansas. But on this outing, the weather was relatively nice. The morning low temperature was 15 degrees; the normal low is 18 degrees. The afternoon high temperature hit 48 degrees; the normal high is 40 degrees. It was sunny, and the wind was mild mannered, blowing no harder than 9 mph from the northwest. Around 10 a.m., the barometric pressure was 30.22 and falling slowly. It was chilly enough, however, that Gum and I wore gloves and many layers of winter garb throughout the entire outing, but Weroha, whose body is very tolerant of cold weather, didn't wear gloves, a hat, a hooded sweatshirt or a coat.
The solunar table indicated that the best fishing times were from 8:39 a.m. to 10:39 a.m. We fished about 39 minutes of this spell, and we caught only four largemouth bass, one white bass and one channel catfish during that spell.
Our fishing, however, wasn't as fruitful as it was when my cousin Ricky Hebenstreit of Shawnee, Kansas, and I fished La Cygne on Jan. 7 and when Travis Perret of Overland Park, Kansas, and I fished it on Jan 15.
On this outing Gum, Weroha and I fished for about 5 ½ hours. We plied four of the reservoir's five bluffs, one submerged roadbed and approximately a 100-yard section of the submerged river channel where it crosses a shallow mud flat.
We caught five largemouth bass and one white bass along the submerged river channel and one largemouth on the submerged roadbed. The surface temperature at both of these spots was 55 degrees. These spots were in the center of the warm-water plume.
At the two bluffs along the southern fringes of the warm water plume, where the surface temperature ranged from 53 to 55 degrees, we caught six largemouth bass, one channel catfish and one white bass.
The two most productive areas were along two other bluffs. One bluff was situated in the heart of the warm-water plume. The second bluff began in the center of the plume and extended to the northwest reaches of the plume. Along these two bluffs, we caught 30 largemouth bass, 11 big crappie, one freshwater drum, and one bluegill. We plied the second bluff until the surface temperature dropped below 53 degrees.
The most effective bait was a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher Jig. Another productive combo was a watermelon-hue Finesse ShadZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. A red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig affixed to a Z-Man's mud-minnow-hue Rain MinnowZ allured five largemouth bass, and this Rain MinnowZ had been mixed with some chartreuse Z-Man baits, which created a chartreuse-mud-minnow. A green-pumpkin Rain MinnowZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig caught one largemouth bass. And a four-inch green-pumpkin Finesse WormZ on a white Gopher jig caught one largemouth bass. A 2 ½-inch green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig caught one largemouth bass. (It needs to be noted that Z-Man no longer manufactures the Rain MinnowZ.)
Subtle variations of the swim-glide-and-shake retrieve elicited most of the strikes. During the retrieves, we did a lot of shaking. At times we executed some dragging and shaking, some deadsticking and shaking, and some hops and bounces with a lot of shaking. All of the fish were extracted from less than seven feet of water.
The biggest largemouth bass weight four pounds. We caught six largemouth bass that were 15 inches or more in length. Nine largemouth bass liberated themselves before we could liberate them from the jig's hook, and one of them looked to be at least a three-pounder.
There were three other boats of bass anglers fishing some of the areas that we fished. All of them were power anglers. We talked to two of them. One was there when Travis Perret and I caught 52 largemouth bass on Jan. 17. He asked Bob and me if one of us was Ned Kehde. He said after he watched Perret and me catch many of those 52 largemouth bass that he went to the Bass Pro Shops in Olathe, where he told the staff in the tackle section that he saw a couple of old men (Travis is in 30s, but I am well into my 70s; so he wasn't totally correct in his description of what was transpiring) using crappie tackle and catching an unbelievable number of bass. Although I have not had the opportunity to visit the Bass Pro Shops in Olathe, Kansas, its staff somehow surmised that it was me, and Perret and I were using Midwest finesse tactics. After that this power angler went home and made a Google search and discovered In-Fisherman's blog site. As we talked, he was using his traditional power tools, and he said that he had only one strike and failed to land that largemouth bass. But he confessed that he was interested in learning about out Midwest finesse tactics. He said that he had purchased a package of Strike King Lure Company's Finesse Worms, which Z-Man makes, but his smallest jig was an 1/8-ouncer. We told him to shorten the Finesse Worm to 3 ¾-inches. We also gave him some 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Gopher jigs, as well as a few 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZs and Finesse ShadZs. We told him to use the green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on this outing with a 1/32-ounce jig. We crossed paths one more time, and he was working with a spincasting rig, 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig affixed to the Finesse WormZ. He said he was catching a few on the Finesse Worm, but he had failed to catch one on the Finesse ShadZ. He also complained — as do many newcomers to Midwest finesse — that he was having trouble keeping the Finesse Worm affixed snuggly to the collar of the jig, and we told him that he would learn how to deal with that after he has a few outings under his belt. As we watched him, we noticed that he was not shaking his rod. Instead, he was allowing the jig and Finesse Worm to merely glide along the bottom rather than swimming, gliding and shaking it or dragging and shaking it or bouncing, hopping and shaking it. For us the shake was a critical element in our retrieves. What's more, he was using eight-pound-test monofilament line, and perhaps the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig works more effectively on eight-pound-test braided line with an eight-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. We advised him several times to shake his rod, but for some reason, he failed to do it.
In regard to the importance of adding the shake to our retrieves, Dave Weroha wrote in an e-mail after outing a short description of our shaking tactics. He wrote: "I would point out to readers that the shake is very subtle, not vigorous. Based on my observations today, without question the subtle shakes allure the fish to strike. Conventional wisdom would have me deadstick the lure when the bite is tough. Under the circumstances today, however, I believe the deadsticking motif would be inferior to the subtle swim, glide and shake."
Near the end of our outing we crossed paths with another pair of power anglers, who told us the river was ice covered and that they hadn't caught a bass anywhere on the lake. One of these anglers was working with a humongous skirted jig and plastic trailer. They asked us, as many power anglers do when we talk to them, how many crappie we had caught, and we politely replied that we were fishing for largemouth bass, but we had inadvertently caught 11 crappie and at that point, we had intentionally caught 40 largemouth bass. Upon hearing this, they seemed to react as if we were being more than a tad mendacious. This occurs quite frequently if the power anglers don't see us catching a few largemouth bass, and this pair of power anglers didn't see us catch anything other than a crappie. Across the years, whenever we have crossed paths with recreational power anglers, we have attempted to spread the word about the manifold virtues of employing Midwest finesse tactics, and as we have called attention to the merits of these tactics, we have never uttered a mendacious word about the numbers if bass that we tangled with and what we finesse baits that we were using.
Our ability to catch this reservoir's largemouth bass began to peter out around 3 p.m., and as these diminishing returns developed, we quickly probed a couple traditional wintertime largemouth bass lairs as headed back to the boat ramp, and we eked out only two largemouth bass.
January 26 log
On Jan. 26, Dave Weroha of Kansas City returned to the 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir that we fished on Jan. 25.
At 11 a.m. the wind angled out of the south by southwest at 10 mph. The air temperature was 45 degrees, and it climbed to 55 degrees at 3 p.m.
He fished from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and caught 17 largemouth bass and five crappie. His biggest largemouth bass was a 17-incher.
Along with a flotilla of other anglers, he fished two of the bluffs that were in the heart of the warm-water plume. The surface temperature along these two bluffs ranged from 59 to 60 degrees.
He caught the bulk of his fish on a green-pumpkin Z-Man Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig, but he caught four largemouth bass on a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin ZinkerZ on a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher jig.
This was the second time that he had used a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. Like many bass anglers, he was reluctant to use it because he thought that its No. 6 hook was too small, but after this outing and the one on Jan. 25, his negative opinion about the effectiveness of the No. 6 hook is beginning to wane.
In regard to retrieving the extremely lightweight combo of a Finesse ShadZ on a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig, Weroha wrote: "It takes practice and some getting used to the no-feel retrieve of finesse fishing, but I see the value in it. After fishing with you and Bob, I see clearly that determining the retrieve the fish want (versus what we want) is very important."
As he followed the other anglers along the bluffs, he retrieved the Finesse ShadZ and ZinkerZ combo with the swim-glide-and-shake routine. He wrote: "I shook the lure six to eight times on the initial fall and six to eight times after the glide. When shaking just two to four times, it seemed less effective at eliciting strikes."
January 28 log
Northeastern Kansas' weather patterns have been topsy-turvy this winter, becoming bitterly cold for a few days and then turning warm enough, as it was on Jan. 28, that Clyde Holscher and I saw an angler wearing a T-shirt. What's more, we have had two ice-ons and ice-offs since the winter solstice.
Holscher of Topeka and I ventured to the scene of my spill on the algae covered boat ramp. That tumble on Nov. 6 caused me to break my arm and necessitating the handiwork of a surgeon to put my arm, wrist and hand back together again.
On this outing at Lake Shawnee (416-acres), the south wind howled at 16 to 36 mph. Area thermometers register a morning low temperature of 49 degrees; the normal low temperature is 18 degrees. The afternoon high temperature hit 75 degrees, which was 35 degrees above the normal high temperature. Around 11 a.m., the barometric pressure was 29.83 and falling. The sky was sun splashed, but around 2:30 p.m. it became partly cloudy.
The solunar calendar indicated that the best fishing times occurred from 10:58 a.m. to 12:58 p.m. We fished from 11:45 a.m. to 2: 20 p.m.
About 15 percent of the reservoir was still covered with ice. The surface temperature ranged from 37 to 40 degrees. The water clarity was the clearest that Holscher and I have seen it since last winter. We estimated that the water level was more than four feet below normal. Holscher has lived around and fished this reservoir for decades, and he has never seen its water level as low as it was on this outing.
A brisk wind is the bane of wintertime Midwest finesse anglers. Ice is another woe, and when it covers more than five percent of a reservoir, we have found that the largemouth bass fishing is extremely problematic, which it was on this endeavor. In fact, we didn't catch a largemouth bass until we reach our last stop of the outing. This somewhat fruitful lair was a wind-blown, main-lake point on the east side of the reservoir, sitting about 250 yards from the dam. From this point, we eked out four largemouth bass and one rainbow trout from about five feet of water on the inside section of this main-lake, wind-blown point.
The rainbow trout and three of the largemouth bass were allured by a 2 ½-inch Z-Man's pumpkin-chartreuse ZinkerZ on a white 1/16-ounce jig. One of the largemouth bass was caught on a green-pumpkin Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. We failed to elicit a bite on a PB&J Rain MinnowZ affixed to a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a mud-minnow-hue Hula StickZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig and a California-craw-hue 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ on a red 1/16-ounce jig.
Postscripts and footnotes:
The National Weather Service office in Topeka, Kansas, reported that the temperature of 75 degrees on Jan. 29 eclipsed the record high for the month of January. During the night of Jan. 28, area thermometers hovered around 63 degrees, and the wind howled out of the south. Then around daylight on Jan. 29, the wind began howling of the northwest at 15 to 25 mph and thermometers fell to 50 degrees, and gradually thunderstorms crisscrossed northeastern Kansas. The warm winds and thunderstorm melted all of the ice.
The National Weather Service reported that some area thermometers plummeted to 4 degrees during the night of Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. That was a 71-degree drop since Jan. 28. And on the morning of Feb. 1, Clyde Holscher of Topeka reported that the 416-acre community reservoir that we fished on Jan. 28 was covered with ice, making it the second time that its ice had melted and then froze again this winter. Weather-wise in northeastern Kansas, it was topsy-turvy January indeed.
Chris Rohr of Overland Park, Kansas, reported on the Finesse News Network about his quick stop at a Kansas strip pit.
He wrote: "I was finally able to get out for the first time this year. I was driving from Kansas City toto Tulsa for a business trip and had about an extra hour in my schedule. I fished the mined wildlife area near West Mineral, Kansas. All of the pits were free of ice, but with the howling winds of 20-30 mph, casting was a challenge with a 1/32-ounce jig . I fished four different strip pits, focusing on the north, wind swept sides of the pits, which traditionally is more productive. Unfortunately, the fish on the north ends were not cooperating. I decided to go against conventional wisdom and decide to try the south side of various pits. I found success in shallow coves fishing in less than three feet of water. As it typical with many of these pits, water clarity was about five feet, which by itself can present challenges. After changing leadheads and baits many times, I finally found an effective combination, which was chartreuse 1/16-ounce jig with a watermelon-white 2 1/2-inch Z-Man ZinkerZ. I landed 10 bass ranging in size from 12-16 inches. All fish responded to a constant shaky retrieve. The hits were very aggressive as if it were a mid-summer strike. I only observed one boat with three anglers and a couple of shore anglers who had been fishing for about four hours. Neither parties had any fish nor any hits for that matter.
"In a side note, I spoke with a buddy who fished the strip pits near Amsterdam, Missouri, on Jan. 27. He reported having caught 15 crappie and 2 bass yesterday in about 2 hours on a red 1/16-ounce lead head with a PB&J 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. A slow steady retrieve as close to the bottom as possible was the ticket for him."
Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, sent a report about his wind-blown outing at a 6,930-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reservoir on Jan. 28.
Bivins reported that he battled wind-gusts that hit 40 mph for two hours. He probed deep-water lairs by positioning his boat in 40 feet of water and wielding a 3/8-ounce Kastmaster spoon affixed to 10-pound-test Trilene Big Game monofilament. Despite the trying wind conditions, he was able to catch four spotted bass and three smallmouth bass. The spotted bass were 15 to 15 1/2-inches in length, and one of the smallmouth bass weighed two pounds.
Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, sent a note to the Finesse News Network about his experiences of fishing the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas that have more than five percent of its acreage covered with ice. He wrote: "I agree with you on the ice cover; for some reason it hinders the fishing in some unexplainable way. I'm still baffled; you would think if the fish migrated under the ice, some could be caught along the edges, but I rarely catch one."
On Jan. 28, Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, climbed into his float tube and fished a pond for two hours with a green-pumpkin Hula StickZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce football head jig that Bill Ward of Warsaw, Missouri, recently created, and which was a featured in a blog entitled "Finesse News Network's Gear Guide: Bill Ward's Midwest Finesse jigs. And Reese tangled with 21 largemouth bass.
In the Jan. 25 log, we noted that we introduced a power angler to Midwest finesse tactics, and he was having trouble keeping Z-Man's ElaZtech baits straight and firmly affixed to the collar and head of his jig. This problem frustrates a lot of angler, and on July 15, 2012 and July 26, 2012, we posted two blogs that explained how anglers can remedy this problem.
Here are the links to those blogs:
"Finesse News Network Gear Guide: Super Glue Bait Hitch Barb Wire Collars and More"
"An Update to the Finesse News Network Gear Guide: Super Glue Bait Hitch Barb Wire Collars and More According to Stacey King"