Fishing with history

COUNCIL GROVE LAKE — Born in 1930, Miles Brooks has seen a sizable part of American history.

These are the good ol' days for what's really important in his life.

"We have a lot better fishing now then we used to," said Brooks, of Manhattan. "Used to be all we had was bullheads and catfish in creeks and rivers. Now we're really lucky to be in Manhattan because we've got Council Grove, Tuttle Creek and Milford (Lakes) so close."

Brooks then went on to name about 10 other lakes his family fishes on a fairly regular basis and the many species they pursue.

Tuesday he fished for crappie at Council Grove, letting his son, Gary, pilot the boat that's rigged with the latest electronics and stuffed with bags and boxes of lures and rods and reels made from space-age materials.

That's a far cry from the way he started fishing.

"We used to mainly set lines or fish with (cane) poles," said Brooks, who started fishing with his father as a youngster. "My first fishing rod was a steel rod about four feet long. Some friends and I built our first boat in high school. There were six of us who hunted and fished together for about 50 years. Only two of us are left now."

Like many who grew up in the depression, Brooks takes extra special care of his gear. Lures are organized and stored. His boat is 16 years old and has been used to drive through ice and towed thousands of miles.

It looks much newer and shows little wear because of Brooks' frequent attention.

Brooks throws little away. He has more than 50 rods and reels hanging in his garage at home.

Much of his fishing now is with his son and/or grandson, Jared Brooks.

A week before they were on Council Grove, using electronics to search for schools of gamefish feasting on schools of baitfish in submerged brush or along drop-offs in about 20 to 25 feet of water.

On that trip they'd caught white bass until they were literally tired of winding them up. That's saying something.

"White bass are probably my favorite fish to fish for. You can catch a lot and they really fight," Brooks said. "I've always thought they're a great fish to get a kid started."

They also caught about 50 crappie that day once they tired of white bass.

Fishing was slower on Tuesday.

Gary Brooks found a nice school early but the morning's wind coming over 36-degree water made it too miserable to fish in the open for long.

Schools seemed to be moving and the fish were suspended off the bottom and hard to pinpoint.

Gary Brooks kept on the move, staring at the depth finder as they checked spot after spot. There was no shortage of spots to check.

Miles Brooks said it's been more than 30 years since he and friends learned crappie fishing isn't just a sport of the springtime spawn.

The cold water of fall and winter usually gathers the fish in big schools on the same pieces of structure day after day for weeks at a time.

He recalled a time decades ago when he'd counted 70 boats on one Council Grove point on a late winter day and all were catching big crappie.

"I probably like fishing in the fall the best, though," he said. "You can catch a lot of fish and once hunting seasons start the people really thin out."

Tuesday they shared the lake with two other boats. Both eventually caught limits of 20 crappie per person.

The two Brooks totaled about as many together, plus two saugeye and two white bass.

Typical of a father, Brooks gave Gary Brooks plenty of backseat suggestions as they fished. Typical of a grandfather, Brooks mentioned several times they'd be doing better if his grandson was along.

"He's the best fisherman of all of us," he said of Jared Brooks, 23 and past member of the Kansas State University bass fishing team. "He always seems to know where to find them. I really like the way he handles the boat, too."

Gary Brooks was still searching for fish when his father reached over and started the boat's outboard, a signal that it was time to leave at about 4 p.m.

Within a few days, he planned to be trying for blue catfish at Milford Lake.

"I really just like to fish for about anything that swims as much as I can," he said. "I like to say I never retired, I'm just too busy (fishing) to work."