Archive for Sunday, April 11, 1999

NED KEHDE COLUMN

April 11, 1999

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Seven months ago Howard Happ said farewell to the clamorous high school hallways of Shawnee Mission West in Overland Park.

For 38 years, Happ was a high school math teacher who was consumed by a passion for fishing.

Happ has fond memories of students, colleagues and good times during his days in the classroom. Yet when compared to his idyllic days afloat, they seemed at times like a blackboard jungle.

Now Happ can fish every day of the week. And sometimes he does.

Happ's wife, Linda, a nurse at the Kansas University Medical Center, also loves to fish. As an angler, she has a keen ability to catch bass on a plastic worm and walleye on a leech. What's more, her deft hand at wielding a crappie jig is amazing. But her finest angling trait, according to her husband, is her patience.

Their zest for fishing was passed on to their son, a fishing guide in Wyoming who works on the Snake River and waterways around Yellowstone National Park in the summer and on the saltwater estuaries of Florida during the winter.

During Happ's teaching days, they would depart on the very day school ended for the Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota-Canada border. There they fished for muskellunge, walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass.

Also, there were trips to boundary waters near Ely, Minn., where Howard taught a troop of Boy Scouts the rudiments of the art of angling. After those long jaunts to the north woods, the Happs fished all summer at the waterways of eastern Kansas and the Missouri Ozarks

Then during the school year, the Happs visited Lake Fork in northern Texas on the week-long spring vacation in March, and caught crappie and largemouth bass.

Throughout the rest of the school year, the Happs fished during Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. Of course, there were many fishing forays on the weekends to nearby waters.

Since his retirement, Happ and Harold Ensley of Overland Park have spent many days together on the water. For instance, they traveled to Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas and caught monster crappie from freshly constructed brush piles along steep bluffs. Then they went to Grand Lake in Oklahoma for some more superb crappie fishing.

Over the last two decades, the Happs could often be spotted at Clinton Lake, catching crappie at an amazing clip. Their favorite time and place to fish is during the crappie spawn in late April and May along Clinton's many miles of riprap shorelines.

But during the past six years, Happ says he has worried about the stress fishermen have put on the spawning crappie at Clinton during the '90s. By his calculations, the increased fishing pressure has had a detrimental effect on the reservoir's crappie.

Happ isn't saying the crappie population at Clinton has been annihilated. Rather, he contends it just isn't as good as it used to be, or as good as it could be.

According to Happ, history has shown Clinton can produce a lot of crappie if fishermen and Mother Nature will render a tender hand. He says he favors a more stringent creel limit.

For Happ and many of his fellow crappie fishermen, crappie angling is a game of numbers. Crappie aren't grand fighters, and they aren't extremely wily.

Thus it is how many crappie an angler can catch that makes them an intriguing species to pursue.

Since the Happs aren't catching as many as they used to, he says he wishes Kansas would follow the lead of Missouri and Oklahoma and put a creel limit of 15 on crappie.

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