CLINTON RESERVOIR Chester Pew stood beside his longtime ride, his fishing boat, before he launched it on Clinton Reservoir, and reflected on its longevity.
“You know how long I’ve had this boat?” he said with a twinkle in his eye, knowing that few would be able to answer his queston. “I got it in 1955.
‘Just about everything in this boat is old.”
Including the fisherman. Pew is 93 years old.
He doesn’t act his age, though. Much like his boat and old Johnson motor, he was built to last.
Just about every two days, Pew tows his boat from his home in Kansas City, Kan. to Clinton Reservoir near Lawrence and goes crappie fishing.
That includes in the heat of summer, when the temperature often soars toward 100 degrees. “I have some of best days in July,” he said. “Why sit at home?”
Pew often fishes alone, though he runs into plenty of friends in other boats. And he does just fine on his own, thank you.
He has devised an easy way to launch and take out his boat, he handles his outboard with ease, and he uses his trolling motor to maneuver his boat exactly where he wants to go.
“I’ve outlived all of my fishing partners,” he said. “I miss them, but I’m not going to let that keep me home.
“People will say, ‘How can a guy that age go out fishing on his own? It’s not safe.’ But peole who know me don’t worry.
“IIf anything, I’m a better fisherman now than I ever was. I’ve learned a lot through the years.”
Pew provided an example on a recent weekday. After several days of rain, the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the 70s - a perfect day to go fishing.
Pew headds straight through a group of flooded trees about 30 yards from the bank and slowed his motor as he neared “the sweet spot.”
Most fishermen would use an electronic fish finder to determine if there was activity beneath the surface, but Pew didn’t need one. He has fished Clinton since the reservoir opened in the early 1960s, and he knows what lies below the water as well as any electronic gadget, he’ll tell you.
Once he wrapped a rope around one of the tree limbs, he pointed to the water in two places.
“Ther’s some good brush right here,” he said. Then moving his focus several yards to the left, he added, “And right there.
“Drop your line in there and you should catch a crappie.”
Pew used his sawed-off flyrod and old reel to drop a chartreuse jig down about seven feet. No sooner had it reached its destination than Pew set the hook and pulled a nice-sized fish to the boat.
I followed suit and dropped my jig into spot No. 2 and duplicated Pew’ success.
We caught two other keeper crappies at that spot and Pew grew impatient.
“Let’s go,” he said. ‘I know plenty of places.
“I don’t sit in one place too long.”
Pew spent the rest of the morning moving from spot to spot, catching crappies and tossing fish into his cooler. Before long, the two of us had more than 20 fish flopping around on the ice and Pew was planning a fish fry.
“I love to eat crappies,” he said. ‘But I don’t eat ’em all.
“I have a big family. I provide fish to a lot of people.”
Make no mistake, Pew can catch them. Looking over at Chester from another boat, Carlos Campos of Bonner Springs shook his head as he watched his friend pull in several fish in a row.
“Can you believe a guy that age whe can still catch fish like he can?” he said with a laugh. ‘Chester is unbelievable.
“He’ll catch his limit when no one around him is even catching anything.”
Pew’s secret? He uses a sensitive fly rod so he can feel light bites, and he uses plastic tube baits and tips them with minnows. Then he adds the secret ingredient, a Crappie Nibble.
“A lot of times, that little pellet is what makes the difference,” he said. ‘I don ‘t know what it is, but they like those things.”
Another key, Pew said, is finding which depth the crappies are holding at that day.
“Every day is a new day,” he said. ‘Just because they were on the bottom one day, doesn’t mean they will be the next.”
Pew has had plenty of days on the water to hone his skills. He proudly says, “I’ve fished all of my life.”
He gre up in the Trenton, Mo., area and would fish a creek that ran through the family’s land.
“We’d have a big fish fry every Fourth of July, so we’d have to catch fish,” Pew said.
Pew moved to the Kansas City area in the 1940s and resumed his fishing. By the time he retired in 1985, he was on the water constantly with his wife.
“Those were the best times of my life,” he said. ‘We weren’t tied down. We could go out and fish for as long as we wanted and we had a great time.”
That changed when his wife suffered a stroke in 1990 and passed away in 2003. Pew grieved, but he wouldn’t let himself stay at home. He dealt with his loss the best way he knew how. He went fishing. .He hasn’t stopped. He’s still good health, he said. And he still loves to chase crappies.
“Clinton is about the only place I’ll fish,” he said. “ I’ve always caught them here, so there’s no reason to go anyplace else.
“I caught more crappies last summer than I ever have. Hopefully, this year will be just as good.”