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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Earning their stripers

BY MICHAEL PEARCE
The Wichita Eagle

Paul Bahr caught a 44-pound striped bass at Wilson Lake last week that should become the state record once the paperwork clears.

But his probable record could fall soon because two experienced trophy striper anglers are determined to top his fish.

The dad in him would love to see his children succeed.

"Whitney's already said she's going to beat my fish," Bahr said of his 11-year-old daughter, who caught a 40.5-pound striper last month.

His son Josh, 15, landed a 34-pound Wilson striper last spring.

All of this family's big Wilson stripers were caught on shad usually 7 to 9 inches long.

He often uses planer boards- trolled plastic floats angled to take lines away from the boat to avoid spooking fish. He does best when they're trolled in shallow water.

"This time of the year we're mostly just running along the banks," he said. "I think the stripers are following the shad as they go in shallow (to spawn). I'm using the trolling motor and running the boards right up along the edge of the shoreline."

Some years, Bahr trolled his shad in a foot of water.

This spring's flooded vegetation has him pulling shad in about three feet of water.

The strikes can be exciting.

Big stripers sometimes roll or porpoise out of the water, trying to take a trolled shad.

"I was doing something else, but I probably heard Whitney's big fish snapping at the water three times as it tried to get her shad," Bahr said of the 40.5-pounder his daughter caught in mid-April.

As she fought the fish, the Bahrs thought they possibly had the kind of striper they'd dreamed about for years.

"I have an old clipping hanging up about the state record Chester Nily caught all those years ago," Bahr said.

"Breaking it is something I've always hoped for and dreamed about but realized we'd probably never get it done."

Bahr was quick to put his daughter's fish on the digital scales he keeps in his boat. When her fish weighed well below the record, they released it.

The last two years have been kind to the Bahrs in terms of huge stripers. For years they never landed anything near 30 pounds.

Last spring, Josh set the family bar with his 34-pounder. Bahr knew his daughter's 40.5-pounder might hold the family record forever.

And then came his huge strike on May 14. He got his first clue the fish was special when he saw it in Wilson's clear water.

"I figured I at least had something in the high 30s," he remembers thinking.

Another clue was when his fishing partner, Jack Petersen, struggled to lift the netted fish aboard after the 15-minute battle. Bahr's scales showed 45.2 pounds.

"It was a real fiasco getting it weighed on certified scales," Bahr said.

His first stop was at a local bait shop, where he found good scales but they weren't state certified.

Heath Barta, a Wilson State Park ranger, got a grocery store in Wilson to open to weigh the fish.

They had certified scales but they only went to 30 pounds. A co-op in Dorrance also had the right kind of scales, but couldn't handle such a large fish.

Eventually Bahr, Barta and several others ended up at a meat packing plant 25 miles away in Ellsworth.

Three hours after being caught the fish was at 44 pounds.

Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials will wait 30 days after receiving Bahr's paperwork before officially declaring his big striper a record.

Who knows how long it will last? Both Bahr children have it in their sights and know it probably could be broken.

Bahr is certain his big fish isn't the same one Whitney caught and released in April. His was a chunky female heavy with eggs.

Hers was probably a longer, more lean male that's only a few months of gorging on big shad away from topping 44 pounds.

Chances are Bahr will post articles about his huge fish next to the old clipping of the record he's probably broken. The dad in him hopes to someday post a third clipping of an even larger fish landed by one of his kids.

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