The most magnificent day in the history of white bass fishing at a Kansas reservoir occurred about three weeks ago at Melvern Lake.
It was one of those balmy late summer days. The sun already had the slant of autumn. The wind angled from the west by southwest at five to 13 mph. And at dawn's first light the thermometer hovered in the 60s and escalated into the 80s by midafternoon.
On the lake, a throng of pelican swam majestically in the early morning light. Gulls cawed and kited overhead as they searched for small gizzard shad. Several flocks of resident geese winged from one end of the lake to the other. A bevy of turkey vultures leered menacingly from their roost in the scaffolding of a dead cottonwood. Blue herons stood furtively on the wind-blown shore, keeping an eye out for shad in difficult straits.
But these brilliant hues of early dawn failed to exhibit the slightest hint of what was in store for Terry Bivins, a Wellsville native who is regarded as Kansas' most savvy white bass angler.
A week earlier, Bivins had enjoyed two days of spectacular white bass fishing at Melvern. He caught and released more than a hundred whites by slowly hopping and swimming a jig down several dropoffs in 12 to 20 feet of water.
On this return visit, however, Bivins' first hours afloat weren't auspicious. During those first hours, Bivins probed four white bass lairs in water as deep as 19 feet and as shallow as four. At two of these spots, he failed to garner a bite. At the other two, he had managed to hook and release only eight white bass, three crappie, two channel cats and a drum. What's more, these fish took Bivins' jig with trepidation.
Bivins interpreted the fish's wariness as a hangover from the cold front that cruised across Kansas four days earlier, and he worried the fishing would worsen as the day wore on.
But when the fish become ornery, as they were that morning, Bivins' genius usually begins to stir. More often than not, Bivins discovers before day's end, a covert or two with catchable fish.
By late morning, Bivins found such a covert. It was a long point that was 12 to 15 feet deep and quickly dropped into 22 feet of water. At its tip sat three man-made brush piles.
Bivins plied this spot with his trusty white bass outfit -- a vintage six-foot, medium-action Berkley Lightning spinning rod and a Daiwa 1600 spinning reel spooled with eight-pound Trilene XL monofilament. The lure was an eighth-ounce chartreuse jig with a chenille body and marabou tail.
Bivins cast and then hopped the jig at a variety of angles on the point, working the bottom from shallow to deep. By doing this for more an hour, he caught and released scads of white bass, several drum, many crappie and three big channel cats.
Around noon, the fish either stopped feeding or moved to another lair. Therefore, Bivins moved up the lake to a hump that is as shallow as 12 feet and falls into 15 of water and is surrounded by a massive mud flat.
For nearly four hours, Bivins pummeled a 100-foot section of this hump. His tactic was to make a 50-foot cast and allow the jig to fall until it was a foot from the bottom; then he slowly swam it -- with an occasional quick pause -- across the hump and over the drop-off. An uncountable number of whites fell for the tactic.
At 4 p.m., Bivins' hands were so butchered and stiff he couldn't bear catching another. So he called it a day. As he headed for home, Bivins couldn't remember catching that many fish in all of his years of chasing these white demons.