Michael Pearce

Saving the best fishing trip for last

Sherry Chisenhall hangs on while a nice bass jumps Monday morning, her last fishing trip before moving from Kansas. It was one of probably more than 75 bass she caught and released that day, plus a lot of crappie.
Sherry Chisenhall hangs on while a nice bass jumps Monday morning, her last fishing trip before moving from Kansas. It was one of probably more than 75 bass she caught and released that day, plus a lot of crappie. The Wichita Eagle

ANDERSON COUNTY Monday there were long times when it seemed Sherry Chisenhall caught fish on every cast.

Seriously, not getting a strike was more note-worthy than when she had a hit for up to a half hour at a time. It was easily, she said, her best day of fishing in an angling career that began with her grandfather many years ago in Illinois.

It’ good it went so well on probably our last day fishing together in Kansas. Sherry, who was The Eagle’s executive editor, leaves for North Carolina in a few days. All 16 of those years in Wichita she was a wide-eyed participant of the Kansas outdoors.

An avid birder, Sherry pursued things with feathers from the Chautauqua Hills of southeast Kansas to the breaks of the Smoky Hill River country and chalk pyramids of the far west. As angler, she’d dabbed tiny lures into near step-across streams in the Flint Hills and trolled giant baits for wipers and walleye at several reservoirs.

Not long after Sherry announced her departure for the Charlotte Observer, I sent a text asking for one more day of fishing. Even with the long days of packing and preparing for the move, Sherry pledged to find a day. That was Monday.

The place was a more than two hours to the east at a friend’s private lake. I’d fished the water several times this year and had done well on quality and quantity. My best of hundreds of bass was around six pounds. I’d caught scores of nice crappie and bluegill as well.

Action was slow, by my standards, the first 30 minutes or so Monday morning, when the lake was calm and temperatures rising. Things changed when a nice breeze began and clouds rolled over the area. The lures of the day were white, 3” Power Bait swim baits. The 2 1/2 hour before noon we caught, and released, a conservative 75-80 bass and crappie.

Things got a lot better after lunch.

Within the first 20 minutes in the afternoon we caught about as many fish. The best of the day, the 22-inch largemouth, came on my line at a time when Sherry was catching crappie on about every cast at a corner of the lake’s dam. By then I figured out I could catch no shortage of fish dropping a lure straight down over the side of the canoe, fishing it about a foot off the bottom.

Fishing really got frantic when a couple of rain showers covered the lake. The breeze was enough to keep us cool and the fish biting.

The fishing was good all over the lake, but we really did well along the lake’s western shore where the water was delightfully littered with fallen tree tops, limbs and other fishy spots. Many times Sherry commented that the skin was getting worn from her thumb from unhooking so many bass. Crappie fishing was also steady.

Dozens of times Sherry was watching her lure in the clear water when a bass or crappie would dash up and grab it. A few times she was watching when a fish she was fighting shook the lure free and another grabbed it before it could sink to the bottom.

At the lake’s upper end the water was shallow and vegetation grew within a few inches of the surface. Time after time after time we’d reel the lures just below the surface and a bass or crappie would dart up and grab the bait. Sherry joked that it was almost impossible to keep a fish off a lure during a cast, even if we tried.

We were just off the weed beds, in water just deep enough we couldn’t see the vegetation growing up from the bottom, when I had to use long hemostats to unhook a lure in a nice bass Sherry couldn’t get with just her fingers. When I looked up, the tip of my fishing rod was bouncing. I lifted straight up and swung a nice bass aboard.

I didn’t touch the reel’s handle and simply lowered the lure over the side of the boat again. In less time than it takes to read about it another bass was on the line.

Over about the next 10 or so minutes I caught nine bass and a big crappie, (yes, I counted accurately) with about 44 inches of line out (yes, I measured it) without making a legitimate cast. Three of the fish came while I was having a short phone conversation with Robin Jennison, Wildlife and Parks secretary.

As well as the fishing, we had some pretty good birding with good looks at a crow-sized pileated woodpecker and cardinal-red summer tanager. I took different routes coming and going through the Flint Hills so Sherry could get another look at places where she’d fished, birded, hiked and driven during her 16 years in Kansas.

The fishing trip ended with Sherry catching three or four more bass as I got the canoe ready to head for shore. When Sherry dropped the last bass back into the lake it immediately jumped back out of the water for a memorable end.

Several years ago Sherry told me she’d be leaving some of her heart in Kansas if she ever left. After Monday, I’m guessing that part of her soul left here got just a bit bigger.