Every spring, Jerry Benjamin of Lawrence runs a series of crappie tournaments on the big reservoirs in northeast Kansas.
On May 3, he staged one on Clinton Lake, and the fishing was better than most of the 60 participants anticipated.
The crappie fishing had been difficult since April 20. Rain, snow, wind, muddy water, drastically fluctuating lake levels and below-normal temperatures beleaguered fishermen for 13 days.
Crappie proved elusive the day before the tournament. The shallow spawning banks produced meager results. Some contestants worked the mouths of the coves in 15 to 21 feet of water, where a bunch of crappies were found a week earlier, but they, too, found the fishing paltry. Only the marina cove, which was chock-full of fishermen, yielded a significant number of crappies, but most were small.
ON THE morning of the tournament, Benjamin predicted it would take only 11 or 12 pounds to win. Here's how it unfolded:
It was 48 degrees at the crack of dawn on May 3. Clinton was 2.18 feet above normal, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was releasing 500 cubic feet per second through the dam's outlet. The surface temperature in the lower third of the lake was 58 degrees. The water was milky in the lake's lower half and murky in the upper half, but clearing in the upper reaches of the feeder streams. The wind was mild from the north, and it stayed that way all day. It was the first day since April 28 it hadn't blown hard.
At 1 p.m. it was sunny and 77 degrees. Wisps of translucent clouds filtered the sun only slightly. Many contestants received their first sunburns of the year. And the sun's rays heated the lake's surface to 64 degrees for the first time this spring.
TO THE PLEASANT surprise of the anglers, quite a few crappies had moved into three and four feet of water in Dry Creek and Deer Creek. The cheeks and bellies of the male crappies had blackened. A couple of the tournament anglers thought some of the crappies had begun to spawn, for a few females looked as if their eggs had been laid.
Chris Ogburn of Lawrence said he and his partner had their 20-fish limit by 10 a.m., and by the end of the tournament at 3 p.m. they had boated more than 50 crappies. However they had a hard time finding any that weighed more than three-quarters of a pound. Their 20 crappies weighed 13 pounds, eight ounces. The winning catch was 16 pounds, four ounces.
Ogburn said they caught most of their fish along the shoreline of Deer Creek around trees that sat in three to four feet of water. It was a big mistake, he said, to remain in one spot too long, as it was unusual to catch more than three crappies from one tree. So he and his partner attempted to fish every tree in three to four feet of water in Rock Creek.
LYNN BECKWITH of Ozawkie won the tournament using the same tactics as Ogburn. Beckwith, however, fished trees and brush in three to four feet of water on the mud flats of Dry Creek. Like Ogburn, Beckwith said moving quickly from tree to tree was the key.
Both Beckwith and Ogburn used jigs and caught most of their crappies using a method called dabbling. To dabble, an angler quietly approaches a tree and uses a long pole and a short segment of line to drop a jig slowly into a maze of submerged tree limbs.
The largest crappie of the contest weighed one pound, eight ounces, and was taken by Walter Bloch and his partner on a minnow in the Wakarusa River about a mile above the County Road 1023 bridge.
After all the fish were weighed and the prizes distributed, Benjamin said he was pleased with the day's catch. He was disappointed, however, that only 60 fishermen participated. He had hoped for 100.