Thursday was the kind of day that sends a chill down the spine of a fair-weather fisherman.
The temperature was in the high 30s and a strong northerly wind kicked up whitecaps on Hillsdale Lake. Brrr.
But for Joe Bragg, this was perfect fishing weather. He’s a die-hard crappie fisherman, one of those guys who is out in the hottest conditions of summer and the coldest weather winter can dish out.
If the crappies are biting, he’ll be out there. That’s why he was on the water Thursday at Hillsdale, a 4,580-acre reservoir near Paola, Kan.
However miserable winter can be, it’s one of the best time of the year to catch crappies in Kansas, Bragg will tell you.
“The crappies get bunched up in the brush along the creek and river channels at this time of the year,” said Bragg, who lives in Topeka. “I like to fish the bends of the old channels.
“A lot of times, they’ll just be stacked in a good brush pile in a place like that.”
They were Thursday. Fishing a spot he had pinpointed the night before by studying a contour map of Hillsdale, he dropped a feather jig he makes into the thickest part of the brush.
He watched on his Humminbird sonar unit as his lure dropped. No sooner had it reached its desired depth than a mark on the screen made a beeline for his jig and Bragg felt a thump.
Seconds later, he had a 12-inch crappie in the boat.
“That’s so cool when you can watch them come out of the brush and streak toward your jig,” Bragg said. “It’s like playing a video game.”
That was the start of a great day of fishing for Bragg and me. Fishing vertically in the 16- to 18-foot range, we regularly caught crappies in the next four hours.
By the time we were done, we each had a limit of 20 fish, including several in the 13-inch range.
Not bad for a reservoir not normally known for its big fish.
“Hillsdale has just come out of nowhere for its crappie fishing this fall and winter,” said Bragg, who runs the Kansas Crappie Club. “It’s been one of the hottest lakes in this part of Kansas.”
But good reports also have come from Clinton, Perry, Tuttle Creek and Pomona.
“If you dress for it, the weather’s not so bad,” Bragg said. “This is the time you want to be out there.”