Throughout autumn, anglers hereabouts constantly paid homage to nature's gentle hand.
Never in recent memory has northeast Kansas been graced with such a long string of Indian summer days. And never in autumns past were there so many anglers at Melvern Lake in pursuit of such a variety of species.
Traditionally, the only anglers afloat after the opening of quail season were a handful of local die-hard crappie fishermen. But this fall, anglers came from as far as Manhattan, Pittsburg and western Missouri to pursue Melvern's crappie, sauger, walleye, smallmouth bass and white bass.
Some of the increase of angling traffic at Melvern can be attributed to the closing of Coffey County Lake after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
But the sorry fishing at the other big reservoirs across northeast Kansas during October and November also made Melvern the venue of choice.
Another part of this equation revolved around the fact duck and upland game hunting was horrid. Thus, with some daytime temperatures reaching into the 70s and nighttime lows hovering in the mid-40s, scads of outdoorsmen wisely opted to wield fishing rods instead of shotguns.
For instance, it was so balmy on Nov. 17 that some anglers donned shorts and shirtsleeves rather than long underwear and other cold-weather garb of mid-Novembers past.
On this day the water temperature measured 60 degrees and a slight breeze angled from the south, making it a delightful day to be afloat in chase of smallmouth bass, crappie, white bass and sauger. Besides the heavenly weather, the fishing was first-rate.
Bob Laskey of Lawrence and I caught and released 30 smallmouth bass. One of them measured 20 inches and another exceeded 18 inches.
Dick and Gail Bessey of Shawnee also tangled with 30 smallmouths, including an 18-incher. Another fisherman landed a 5.3-pound smallmouth. Other anglers caught some sauger, scads of crappie and a scattering of white bass.
Then on days when the autumn wind howled, making the crappie and smallmouth fishing problematic, Alan Geiss of Lawrence, Mike Smith of Lawrence, Vic Oertle of Manhattan, Ryan Anderson of Lawrence, Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Terry Bivins of Lebo, Tom Mosher of Emporia, Bob Laskey and I pursued white bass, catching and releasing an average of 60 of these pinstriped creatures an outing.
As the water temperature cooled into the upper 40s and low 50s, many two-pound white bass were caught. None weighed less than a pound.
The first severe cold front arrived on Nov. 27 and drove water temperatures from 57 degrees to 47 degrees. Even though another spell of Indian summer returned in early December and pushed the water temperatures to as high as 51 degrees, the smallmouth bass became elusive.
Dick Bessey, however, caught a 20-inch smallmouth on Dec. 2 and an 18-incher on Dec. 6.
After the smallmouth disappeared, most of the bass fishermen concentrated on the white bass by probing shallow wind-blown points and shorelines.
For example, six days before the winter solstice, when the water temperature registered 45 degrees and the wind roared out of the south at 25 mph, Terry Bivins and I enjoyed our most fruitful excursion of the fall by hooking and releasing 102 burly white bass in two feet of water.
Never before have we caught white bass in such shallow water so late in the fall.
Now with winter's arrival, recollections of these extraordinary days and catches will dance in our heads during the gray days to come.