'Fish of fate': Dodge City native recalls catching monster bass 30 years ago — his first

Josh Rouse
Topeka Capital-Journal
Rod Kinkelaar, of Wichita, holds up his mounted largemouth bass that he caught 30 years ago at Santa Fe Lake, pictured behind him. The bass was just one ounce shy of 10 pounds.

Rod Kinkelaar marked an interesting anniversary this week — the now retired fireman caught his first ever bass on April 15, 1991.

Now, I know you're thinking to yourself, who remembers the exact date that they caught their first bass? 

Well, this guy has a reason to remember.

Kinkelaar, 65, is a Dodge City native who moved to Wichita 35 years ago and served for 15 years with the fire department there. He was fishing on the shore of Santa Fe Lake while off duty on that auspicious spring afternoon in Augusta. He was casting a Zebco 404 combo — as well as the first spinner bait he'd ever purchased, a quarter-ounce lure in chartreuse with gold blades — after a trip to Walmart.

Seems like some of the best fishing stories always seem to involve a Zebco 404 and a trip to Walmart.

But I'd bet you a million bucks that if he knew then that the lure would catch him a trophy fish — his bass earned Sports Afield Best in Species, Distinguished Angler and Kansas Master Angler awards — that he probably would've bought a few more.

"I’m out on this real deep, rocky shoreline, runs more to the south,” Kinkelaar said. “Right off those rocks, it gets really deep, really quick.

“I’m just throwing it a ways and kinda working it over those rocks. You could get snagged down there pretty easy, it’s just open rocks. So I get caught on something and I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, another rock pile,’ and then this thing moves. And I’m going, ‘Oh wow...’ “

Kinkelaar said he had no idea what he had just hooked into, but thought it might be some sort of rough fish.

“Honest to God, I thought maybe it was a big drum or something,” Kinkelaar said. “I really did. I pulled it onto shore. I didn’t even grab it.”

He said a couple of kids on down the shore saw him pull it in and grabbed him a 5-pound bucket to put it in.

He wasn't quite sure what to do next, but he eventually took the fish in to be weighed on official scales at a local Dillons store, and what the scale read back floored him. The hefty bass weighed 9 pounds, 15 ounces — just a hair under 10 pounds.

For comparison, the current state-record largemouth bass — caught by Tyson Hallam, of Scammon — weighed in at 11.80 pounds. And that was caught at a private pit lake.

Reunion

The piece of driftwood that Rod Kinkelaar mounted the bass on was also found at Santa Fe Lake, and the lure he used with the mount is the original spinner he caught the monster bass on.

It's a beautiful mount, and one that Rod loves to show off.

These days, Santa Fe Lake is a catch-and-release lake, which is why Rod and his son Aaron's anniversary trip to the lake last Sunday drew some stern attention from the lake's managers. Understandable, as the elder Kinkelaar was toting around his mounted lunker bass with him last Sunday at the lake.

But in the end, they just wanted to see the big fish for themselves, as is human nature.

"Once he realized this was a reunion of sorts with an old whopper, he was very friendly and wanted to get pics with it, as well," said Aaron Kinkelaar, of Olathe.

Aaron Kinkelaar said he wouldn't have found out many of the details of that fateful day had it not been for the slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. When Aaron and his son decided to start working on a goal of catching 1,000 fish in 2020, that led them to talking with Rod about his fishing accomplishment.

"That got us talking more about fishing than we have in recent years, and I started asking more about that chunk of a fish mounted on a piece of driftwood," Aaron Kinkelaar said.

The pandemic has helped Rod revitalize his enthusiasm for fishing, as well.

“Starting last April, I’ve probably fished this last fishing season more than I have in the past 25 years combined,” Kinkelaar said. “In fact, I’m certain of it. Kinda renewed that. Felt good to get back out there.”

By the by, between the three of them, Aaron said they caught just 681 fish in 2020, but were still planning to celebrate when they finally do hit the 1K mark. And then do it all over again.

After the fish was mounted, it became somewhat of a legend back at the fire station, though perhaps infamous might be a more appropriate word for it. Rod Kinkelaar said the guys back at the station would get annoyed with him when he told the story of catching a near 10-pound bass on a Zebco, using a spinner bait for the first time. 

“When I brought the mount to the station, there were guys that had to come out and take a look at it,” Rod Kinkelaar said. “I had a couple chiefs even go out to the station and say, ‘Uh, I gotta see this thing.’ ”

To this day, Rod says he still hasn't come close to matching the fish he caught that day, which makes the fish a legend for his family, as well.

“I haven’t even caught a carp that big in 30 years, or a catfish,” Rod Kinkelaar said.

As he reminisced about that day, he thought about how lucky he was to be able to catch something like that in Kansas waters. After all, a bank fisherman with little experience and the most basic equipment just happened to find a fish of a lifetime. That's not the way these things usually happen.

But, he said, it just goes to show that anything's possible when you're fishing.

"It's a fish of fate," he said.

From left, Wichita resident Rod Kinkelaar and his son, Aaron, of Olathe, stand by the Santa Fe Lake sign in Augusta while Rod holds his mounted largemouth bass he caught 30 years ago this week. The bass weighed nearly 10 pounds and was his first bass ever.

History of Santa Fe Lake

The lake itself has some interesting history, dating back to its construction in the 1920s. 

As its name suggest, the lake belonged to the Santa Fe Railroad and was used to provide water to steam locomotives. The lake was given to the City of Augusta in 1957 and serves as both a recreation area and a water source for the city when needed.

Aaron Kinkelaar said the lake managers gave him and his father a bit of history on the lake.

"Back many years ago, Santa Fe Railroad sold all of their water to the municipalities for $1, with the stipulation that the cities would keep it up for public use," Aaron Kinkelaar said.

That's quite a solid investment. And the city has made good on it.

In recent years, new additions have been added to the lake, including new showers and restrooms. 

Here's hoping there will be many more years of great fishing tales from Santa Fe Lake.

Rod Kinkelaar, of Wichita, stands with his first bass ever caught. The bass weighed nearly 10 pounds and was caught at Santa Fe Lake, pictured behind him, 30 years ago this week.