Our fishing team totaled nine, and ranged in age from a boy of 4 to me, in my mid-50s.
No matter, there’s something for seemingly everyone when fishing’s main tactic is simply tying lines to limbs, and potentially taking big fish off the hooks the next morning.
Wayne Simien Jr. was our ringleader, along with his fishaholic father, Wayne Sr. By the time I got to his house last weekend, Wayne had taken daughters Sehla, 6, Rael, 5, and son Simon, 4, to a pond and loaded a bait tank with hand-sized bluegill the kids caught with bobbers and worms. Some green sunfish and goldfish had been purchased.
While most people associate running limb lines for big catfish with rivers, the Simiens have done well at Clinton Reservoir, minutes from where Wayne and his wife, Katie, and five children live in Lawrence. Earlier this spring they hauled a flathead of about 64 pounds from the lake, so hopes were high last weekend.
At the lake we met Josh Hackathorn, a friend of Wayne’s and experienced catfisherman. I was with Josh in his rugged, plodding aluminum boat as we watched the Simiens jet off in Wayne Sr.’s sparkly bass boat that goes from zero to 50 mph faster than my car.
Josh and I mostly watched, and frequently laughed, as the Simiens set lines. Wayne, once an All-American basketball player at Kansas and now a campus missionary at the school, was in the bow while Wayne Sr. piloted the boat. In between the two men was a blur of pigtails, pinks, squeals, screams and rapid-fire chatter as the three kids “helped.”
The bait bucket seemed to be the center of the kid’s universe at the time, with six little hands rummaging through the water nearly non-stop. At one time the girls arranged an entire bridal party in their wedding of two goldfish. Meanwhile, the pair in Simon’s hands were engaged in some complex wrestling match only a 4-year-old could dream up.
At some sets, a line was tied directly to a limb with a barrel swivel holding a heavy weight about 18 inches above a hook the size of three fingers. On some limbs Wayne tied on a yo-yo rig, which features a spring-loaded spool that lets the hook and line be set to a specific depth. When a fish hits the bait, the spring snaps and sets the hook.
Hackathorn chuckled a bit at the rig’s lightweight design, with only 60-pound test line on a flimsy spool about the size of a poker chip.
By the time a limb line was tied off and set, one of the kids was ready with fish for their father to use for bait. Several times, the girls carefully placed the baited lines in the water.
The sets were about evenly split between limbs near rocky shorelines, where channel cats and flatheads like to spawn and feed. The rest were out where the old river and creek channels cut through the lake, prime travel routes for all kinds of fish.
Josh and I set our lines up another arm of the lake.
It was thunder, not an alarm clock, that woke me at 5 the next morning. We eventually left the house 90 minutes later than planned because of storms. Mother Nature teased us into leaving Lawrence with a let up in the rain, then had some fun with us with downpours of car-wash proportions as soon as we launched at the lake.
Wayne’s friends, Mark Christianson and Kyle Markham, were also along to help run the lines. The kids were wisely left safe and dry at home.
Even in good rain gear, the torrential rain leaked in around the seams. Several times visibility was down to 200 yards. But we didn’t care, because we were catching fish.
Several channel cats from three to four pounds came first, then the Simiens got in a good “told you they work” laugh as a 12 1/2-pound flathead was at the end of one of their yo-yos.
The day’s best catch came when it was raining the hardest, when Wayne lifted a line that appeared to be hanging lifeless and it instantly came to life. Water splashed and a tail the size of a ping-pong paddle slammed the boat as Wayne played give and take trying to get the fish’s shovel-sized head to the surface and into Markham’s net.
Eventually it happened and Kyle, a Wichita-area native and KU’s director of tennis, made a scoop and lifted hard. Rather than coming aboard, the fish stayed in the lake as the net’s hoop just kept bending.
Wayne grabbed both sides of the net’s hoop and lifted the 35-pound flathead aboard, whooping, hollering, and fist-pumping.
We ended up with another flathead of about 14 pounds. We kept a total of 10 channel cats, plus the three flatheads. The sun was out by the time we left the lake and headed to Wayne’s.
There the truck had just stopped when the door to his house opened and four children. Selah, Rael, Simon and 2-year-old Shepherd, came bouncing onto the driveway, each a nearly non-stop tyrade of questions and comments as they crawled all over the boat, then played in the tub of fish on the driveway.
Thanks to all the “help” we got from those kids, it probably took the adults twice as long to get the fish filleted and bagged. They also made the process a lot more fun.
So it goes when fishing becomes a team sport.