Fall is my favorite time of the year.
The crappie bite is as good as any time of the year, waterfowl are flooding in and youth upland bird hunters are out in the fields getting a preview of one of Kansas’ best natural resources ahead of the Nov. 14 pheasant and quail opener.
I had the opportunity to go on a fishing trip this week in the Flint Hills region with crappie guide/tournament angler Joe Bragg, of Lawrence, and KVOE radio host Phil Taunton, of Council Grove, and it was a terrific learning experience. I learned a lot about using Garmin LiveScope electronics to fish brushpiles and sunken trees, and just how important brushpiles are in the process of building up a solid crappie population in a lake.
If you’ve never used a Garmin LiveScope to catch fish before, it’s one of the most exciting ways to target crappie that I’ve ever experienced. A lot of people call it "video-game fishing," because you can see in real-time how the fish are reacting to your lures and figure out what you need to do to elicit a bite, even in tough conditions. You can literally pick your fish, too, which I’m sure is a huge benefit for tournament anglers looking to upsize their bag to maximize their chances at winning.
I knew I was getting spoiled by the electronics when I actually ignored a good bite from a decent crappie because there was another, bigger fish behind it.
Never done that before.
You can learn a lot about crappie behavior from watching the screen, and you find out that some of the traditional knowledge of crappie fishing is wrong, while other old axioms are 100% accurate.
You could see big fish scatter as they heard our trolling motor approach, for instance, lending credence to the age-old idea that anglers need to be as quiet as possible when pursuing fish. Boat shadows also play a role in how fish react, Bragg said, meaning you need to come up to a brushpile with the sun in front of you or at an angle that it isn’t falling on the brushpile to help prevent fish from getting spooked.
Having a Minn Kota Spot-Lock trolling motor is also a big plus for Bragg, as it helps keep you on top of the brushpile even during the windiest conditions without having to constantly reposition your boat.
Bragg put us on a literal ton of fish, and I was shocked at how well the crappie bit on his Z-Man lures. I know the company offers great multispecies options, but I’m used to fishing them on a Ned Rig. He used TicklerZ and cut-in-half Slim SwimZ on a Ned LockZ HD jighead to entice a bit, and you would think they were made with vertical brushpile fishing in mind. He also used a 40-pound Power Pro braided line with no leader to help get the jigs down into the brushpiles without having to worry about losing them. He used a loop knot to tie the jig on, preventing it from coming off the slippery braid. They pulled out easily if they got caught on a branch and we only had to re-rig a pole three or four times in the roughly four and a half hours we were fishing. We’d simply drop the jig in the middle of a big mass of fish and then slowly lift it out and wait for a fish to chase it, and more often than not they would.
Bragg said shad colors are his favorite for fall fishing, as that is mainly what crappie are filling up on during this time of year, though he also is a fan of coppertreuse.
He said putting in brushpiles in your local lake is the best way to help grow quality, sustainable crappie populations and recommended anglers do so in their favorite spots.
"The more brush we can get in, the better," Bragg said.
In all, we caught roughly 50 fish in just 4 1/2 hours, mostly crappie with a drum and white bass thrown in there. We left each brushpile with plenty of active fish remaining, as he said not hitting an individual pile too hard was another key to sustaining an excellent crappie fishery. On the LiveScope screen, however, you could easily make out the silhouettes of big bass and catfish utilizing the brushpile, as well. Each brushpile is a huge benefit for the ecosystem of the lake and helps anglers by giving fish an area to congregate and feed.
We saw a nice flock of snow geese on the lake during the morning, a welcome sight as waterfowl hunting gets underway this November. There were plenty of ducks around the lake, as well, including mergansers, redheads and canvasbacks.
The second segment of light goose and Canada goose season kicked off Wednesday and will continue through February.
Overall waterfowl conditions in south-central Kansas right now are fair, with bigger numbers in the north. Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area had an estimated 15,000 to 16,000 ducks as of Thursday, according to KDWPT reports, with approximately 800 Canada geese. Glen Elder had 20,000 to 25,000 ducks and 30,000 to 50,000 snow geese as of Oct. 29, with between 3,000 and 5,000 Canada geese.
There’s some excellent bird hunting to be had.
Bird dog state championships ahead
The National Upland Classic Series Kansas State Bird Dog Championships are set to take place Jan. 29-31, 2021, at Remington Ranch just northeast of Independence, with an added $3,100 in cash from the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
Parking will be at 914 E. 5050 Road, with handlers meetings at 7:30 a.m. and dogs in the field by 8.
Open runs will be $200, with amateur runs $140 and doubles $160. Youth runs are free up to one run per handler, and $50 for additional runs.
Youth pointing and youth flushing winners also will receive guns from Ruger Firearms.
Tournament birds will be chukar.
Entry deadline is Jan. 25, 2021. To enter, contact Russell Baker by phone at 620-330-4192 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angler instructor workshop slated
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is hosting a Certified Angler Instructor Workshop online from Dec. 16-17 for Kansas residents ages 18 and older.
Classes will be from 7 to 9 p.m. both days.
Those who wish to register can text 832-202-5221 for a password to register. Contact David Breth at 620-672-5911 for more information.
Birthday Bash for Conservation coming up
A birthday party for a Wichita-area car salesman in January is shaping up to be one heck of an event for outdoors enthusiasts.
Big Al's Birthday Bash for Conservation, slated for Jan. 16, 2021, will take place at the Wichita Union Stockyards at 6251 W. MacArthur Road. The event is celebrating the birthday of "Big" Al Cynar, of Davis-Moore Auto Group, 7675 E. Kellogg Drive in Wichita.
Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased for $20 at https://www.kwlsradio.com or by calling 316-945-1079.
Half of the profits from tickets sales will go to the Pass It On! Outdoor Mentors nonprofit.
Events will include raffles, a performance by national recording artist Matt Engels and booths from several conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Whitetails Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Delta Waterfowl and Safari Club International.