Fishing trip winner learns joys of Kansas

GREENWOOD COUNTY — Laughter rang out last winter when they drew the name for the spring guided fishing trip I'd donated at The Eagle's open house.

Eagle coworker Bonnie Bing raced to find me and chattered her surprise as she led me toward an introduction to winner Carol Skaff. Others echoed Bonnie's thoughts.

Carol Skaff, a fashion-concsious self-professed city-girl who is Cohlmia Marketing's president, wanted to spend a day walking amid mud, ticks and mosquitoes?

Some wondered if she'd accidently placed her name in the wrong box of tickets, or if someone had pulled a practical joke.

Nope. Carol Skaff wanted to fish, and she ended up being darned good at it. Ditto for her sister, Missy Cohlmia.

They caught more fish in a half day than many avid anglers do in a full week. They're pretty proficient with firearms, too.

When I met Carol at the open house, she seemed like a a perfect choice for the trip. She was enthusiastic, admitted she knew nothing about fishing and was simply anxious to spend a day in the Flint Hills.

The news that her sister would join in was even better. I'd previously met Missy, knew she had an interest in hunting and shooting and had spent her childhood as a creek-roaming tom-boy.

A good-natured sibling rivalry, evident in our three-way e-mails, assured the adventure wouldn't be dull.

I knew they'd catch fish.

We went to Thurman Creek, a tributary of a tributary of the Cottonwood River. Deep inside a friend's private ranch, the little stream sits amid a tree-studded valley that splits miles of pristine prairie.

Thurman's water is as clear as thin air and alternates nicely between bluish pools and gravel-bottomed riffles.

The assorted species of bass and sunfish aren't large but they're numerous... and flat dumb to the ways of baited worms and small, shiny lures.

And they seemed especially friendly the day I took Carol and Missy along the quiet shorelines.

Green sunfish to 10 inches were as ravenous as always. Though they had to be coaxed a bit, bass to three pounds came in nice numbers.

And in numbers I've never before seen, tropically-colored longear sunfish swarmed hooks in water often only a few inches deep.

It was a wonderful enviroment for beginners eager to learn.

Within a few hours the sisters were baiting hooks, unhooking and releasing fish they could identify with a quick glance.

Both had obvious piscine skills.

If Carol could place a golf ball as accurately as she casts a lure, she'd be on the LPGA Tour.

Missy's specialty was getting the perfect drift with cane pole, bobber and worm, patiently working fish until they either got hungry or tired of seeing her peering down upon them.

I'm sure they caught and released at least 70 assorted fish.

Back at my truck, Carol, who had never touched a firearm, repeatedly shot dead-on with a .22 semi-automatic handgun and a .38 revolver.

Gallon jugs filled with water didn't stand a chance at 70 yards when the sisters handled the same high-powered .30-06 rifle my family has used on deer, elk and bears.

But the most memorable moment of the trip happened at mid-morning.

Missy was standing at the lip of a high bank over a deep hole, totally focused on a bobber and the fish swimming beneath it, when Carol passed on a trail inches behind.

And for a second or two, Carol stopped directly behind her sister.

The look on her face was as easily read as these words as she debated the gentle nudge that would send her sister into the creek.

Months before, Carol Skaff wanted to go fishing and catch a fish, and she did.

And on that creek bank she desperately wanted the simple sibling joy of seeing the surprised look on her sister's face as she bobbed back to the surface of Thurman Creek.

But she didn't give her the shove. That time.

The sisters will no doubt fish, and probably shoot, many more times together in the future.

Watch your back, Missy.

* * *

Lessons learned

* After asking me, Carol learned the "brown, round things on the ground" in cattle country aren't gooey frisbees.

* Missy learned to watch on which side of a ranch gate she's standing as she's closing it. Otherwise she may have to open it again.

* Carol learned that a largemouth bass won't bite her thumb off when it's grabbed by the bottom jaw.

* Missy and I learned how far Carol can heave such a bass when it starts to flop.

* Carol learned the best way to increase her casting distance by 20 feet is to step 20 feet closer to the edge of the water before she casts.

* Thanks to a foot-long western worm snake I coaxed her into handling, Carol learned snakes aren't slimy and can be pretty.

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