Within the spiral-bound pages of a blue book rest the ink-scrawled details of nearly every fishing trip Ned Kehde has taken in the past decade.
Number of fish caught, on what bait they were lured, the day’s weather — it’s all there, down to the minutes spent on one of the dozens of lakes into which Kehde, a 73-year-old retired Lawrence resident, dips his 2003 Yukon 165 Alumacraft.
This notebook entry sums up 2010: 127 fishing trips, 509 total hours fishing, 557 bass caught.
On the day Kehde rifled through the book's pages in front of a visitor at his kitchen table, out-of-town commitments had precluded him from fishing for almost a week. Kehde was getting ready for another trip to an area lake while continuing to file blog entries for the national website In-Fisherman.
“It’s like falling in love,” he said about the fishing bug. “There’s no way to describe it.”
But Kehde worries that the story of angling in Kansas is going untold. From just how good fishermen have it at some of the state's lakes to worrisome ecological changes, Kehde has sought to document this story for audiences both inside and outside the state.
Kehde grew up not far from the Lake of the Ozarks in Sedalia, Mo., before coming to Kansas University to study history and, later, getting his master’s degree at the University of Missouri. He returned to Lawrence in 1970 and worked as KU’s archivist until his retirement in 2003. There, he met and later married Patty Kehde, who worked for KU’s library and eventually co-founded The Raven Bookstore.
By 15, Kehde was serving as a fishing guide for anglers in the Ozarks as well as up in Nisswa, Minn., where his family had long vacationed. Upon retirement, Kehde’s hobby became a full-time craft. That craft became a new subject that needed archiving. Kehde began taking more prolific notes after his 2003 retirement, his observations and experiences becoming fodder for Journal-World columns years before becoming the same for In-Fisherman.
Building a history
Years ago, Patty Kehde browsed a newstand in New York City’s Grand Central Station when someone familiar caught her eye.
“I looked over and saw Ned,” she said. Her husband, reduced in scale, smiled back while hoisting a large catfish on the cover of a novelty fishing publication. Writing about fishing has helped connect Kehde with like-minded anglers from across the country. It may also help document a local story not yet fully told.
Not long ago, Ned Kehde said, he donated to the Kansas State Historical Society volumes of writing and photos collected in years past from his work for area publications on the subject of Kansas fishing.
“I hope to help build a history of angling in Kansas,” Kehde said. “It’s an unknown thing.”
Kehde traces a map along the I-70 corridor between Topeka and Kansas City where he says some of the best fishing can be found.
“We have some of the most fruitful fisheries in the United States for catching bass,” said Kehde, who on a good day may be able to bring in up to 25 bass per hour.
Still, time hasn’t always been kind to the lakes. Pesticides have left their mark, Kedhe said, to the point where he gave up eating fish caught in state lakes years ago. A biologist at Lake Pomona in Vassar once told Kehde that if the lake were drained, nothing would be able to grow in its place, Kehde said. Kehde added that he and some of his fellow anglers have also fretted about mercury pollution at places such as La Cygne Lake, a coal power-plant reservoir. Meanwhile, fishing pressure — the amount of anglers present throughout the year — is up and viruses have wreaked havoc on largemouth bass at Lone Star Lake, Lake Shawnee and Lake Gardner.
That hasn’t altogether kept Kehde from bringing in hauls worthy of sharing with an audience.
A more frugal, healthier approach
The front of the Kehdes’ refrigerator is blanketed with family photos. Ned and Patty had four children who produced 10 grandchildren, many of whom also turn up on In-Fisherman.com holding a smallmouth bass.
The Kehde family received a scare in 2005 when Ned was diagnosed with cancer. A fist-sized wad of tissue was removed along with his prostate, but aside from about four months of steady fishing, little else was lost. Today, Kehde’s frame and demeanor fail to reveal his age. In fact, Kehde said he feels healthier now than he did at 63, or even 53.
Gone from his diet is much of the meat he once ate. He doesn’t drink alcohol or pop, nor does he smoke. And Kehde has long sung the praises of KU alum Travis Perret, an Overland Park exercise therapist who often works with fishermen. Ned and Patty now maintain a daily 45-minute exercise regimen. Pain-free angling, as Kehde calls it, is one cause for which he advocates. Another is a more frugal approach to fishing.
In developing the Midwest Finesse Network, a blog and email forum on which about 175 fishermen talk shop about landing fish on a budget, Kehde has sought to chip away at the idea that success is a result of pricey, well-advertised lures. Instead, he prefers a brand of plastic worms that hold up over time, dodging convention by snapping some in two and rigging them with smaller-than-usual hooks.
Kehde said he thinks he has sometimes miffed fellow anglers by telling too much. But Kehde doesn’t mind; he fishes on the record.
“A lot of guys think I’m a little wacky,” Kehde said.