Mark Fowler had the glasses to watch Monday’s eclipse. What he didn’t have was the spare time to put them on his face.
The fishing was that good the hour before and after the 1 p.m. height of the eclipse.
Through those two hours, Fowler seemed to have either a bucking rod or a dip net in his hands. Sometimes he had one in each. Many times his two lines, each with two lures, held four fish.
And these weren’t tiny fish. Most were wipers well past the lake’s 21-inch minimum length limit. They were bull fish, thick from their eyes back, and they used every ounce of their 6 to 8 pounds trying to pull our fishing rods overboard.
“This is insane, look at the size of those two fish,” Fowler said as he tried to wrestle aboard wipers of six and seven pounds on the same line. “As far as catching big wipers, this has to be the best ever out here.”
The trip had initially been planned for last week, so I could do a story on the great fishing for wipers, white bass and wipers at Cheney this year. That story will come this weekend.
But planned trips fell through last week. Rain pushed Monday’s sunrise launch to closer to noon.
“This will give us perfect timing for fishing through the eclipse,” Fowler said when we launched, something we had discussed earlier.
To be fair, fishing with Fowler is hardly a fair test for Cheney. He has fished the lake dozens of times per year since 1993. His gear is as good as his knowledge. He had done well several times recently, but he’d never fished during an eclipse.
We put out two rods, each with two lures, and trolled them behind his boat. They weren’t in the water three minutes when the right rod started bucking as if alive. Seconds later the left rod did the same.
“They’re here, look at that,” Fowler said, pointing at the screen of his sonar, which showed a thick school of big fish near the lake’s bottom. For nearly two hours his sonar looked the same and the fish remained aggressive.
At least six or seven times there were quadruples: a fish on both lures on both lines.
One fish often pulled free if it was two big wipers on the same line, though we landed many such doubles. Several times we had white bass of 15 to 17 inches on one lure and one of the big wipers on the other.
As we trolled, a school of shad busted the surface nearby, jumping like popping corn as they tried to evade white bass or wipers barely beneath the surface. Fowler and I grabbed light spinning rods and cast shiny spoons amid the melee and quickly caught white bass. Then both trolling lines snapped tight with fish on all four of those lures.
“Six lures, six fish,” Fowler said as he unhooked fish and dropped them back into the water. “Amazing.”
We noticed the action was hottest around 1 p.m., the time of the eclipse. All along we wondered whether the great fishing was because of the eclipse. Of course we’ll never know for sure, but …
“You never know, lower light conditions are normally when fish feed, like early in the morning or late in the evening,” Andrew Schaefer, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist for Cheney, said Tuesday. “If it started to get darker in the middle of the day maybe the fish were fooled into thinking it was time to feed up a bit.”
And the fish kept feeding so much I eventually just sat down and let Fowler take three or four doubles in a row. Then, they stopped biting.
“They’re just not here any more,” Fowler said when he checked his sonar at about 2:30 p.m. “The eclipse is over, and they’re gone.”
The little silver clicker on the dash of his boat showed we’d boated 44 fish, probably 35 of which were big wipers. We headed in to clean the two big wipers we’d each kept.
Tuesday morning we exchanged text messages about Monday’s fishing.
“I contribute a lot of it to the eclipse,” he typed in one text.
Since then, I’ve talked to others who went fishing in other states and said the eclipse made no difference for them. Who knows?
But the next eclipse is in 2024. I’m betting Fowler and I will be fishing that one together, too.