Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Good...The Bad...and...The Ugly

I found myself in a dry creek bed surrounded by steep dirt banks reaching at least 15ft. high on both sides of me.  On top of the dirt banks were tall trees with their limbs reaching out across the creek bed creating a dark canopy beneath them.  As I stood frozen in the shadows the scream I heard coming from around the next bend made my hair stand up…and suddenly I realized…
...There was no way out…!

My story begins with an email I received shortly after posting the Blog “Catching Spots in Kansas”. A member wrote that he had a place where he caught Kentucky bass while stream fishing and that I should try it.   A little research showed that Michael Pearce (outdoor editor for the Wichita Eagle and long time acquaintance of mine) had written an article back in April 2010 about his positive experiences fishing the same stream. 

The stream is Fox Creek located just outside Strong City, Kansas at the junction of 177 and Hwy 50 and is on the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve.   Easy to find since it’s located just off 177 a couple of hundred yards north of Hwy 50.  Turn in at the Anthony Cemetery and follow the road east 1/3 of a mile and you can’t miss it.  It’s County Road 227 although it isn’t actually marked.   Clearly the State of Kansas has done an incredible job with this land.  The restrooms were extremely clean…maybe better than any I have ever seen at a public State fishing lake.  There is a crushed gravel trail starting at the parking area that is ¾ miles long with an occasional signage telling of various interesting things about the area.  All in all…it was very impressive.

At the halfway point of the trail another trail cut through the tall grass continuing north taking you on private property that is part of the F.I.S.H. Program (Fishing Impoundment and Stream Habitats)… property leased by the State for fishing only….essentially an extension of their “Walk-in Program” for hunting.

I took the “road less traveled” and found myself about 1 mile from my truck and decided it was time to go fishing.  Okay…yes I know we are in a drought situation…but truly…I didn’t realize that the stream would be THAT dry…!  How dry?  At times I would walk 200-300 yards between “pools”.   “Pools”?  Most of them were simply to shallow to hold fish…they were more like puddles.   The stream was REALLY low which not only made fishing extremely difficult it made just getting from place to place very difficult.  Having to constantly fight my way up embankments, climb over large fallen trees and walking through tall grass with the snakes made it an “interesting” experience. 

To be brutally frank it really was an extremely physical experience and one that, without being the athlete that I am, would have surely been met with an ill fated end.   Fortunately my athletic prowess, though often tested, never wavered.  In the end I made it back to civilization…alive but not unscathed.

As for fishing here is the truth (that’s why you belong to this Blog right…you want the truth).    While most “pools” were shallow and stagnate I did find a couple that held fish.  (They had to be somewhere right?)  I had a LOT of strikes but for reasons I can’t explain had an extremely difficult time hooking and landing them.  Did I keep my streak alive under these most trying of conditions?  

If you have followed this blog for any length of time you know that I have caught fish on every trip I have made…that’s 12 different bodies of water in a row…and many done under extreme weather conditions from 40-mph winds to 102-degree temperatures.  Most from land, a couple from a boat…one from my belly boat.   That said (given these almost impossible conditions) would the streak end at “unlucky 13”  or would I keep it alive?

I will tell you this…there was nothing easy about traipsing through this creek bed…including the fishing.

My recommendation?  Wait until next spring to go.  Plan your trip starting about 2-weeks after the major spring rains (hopefully!) have stopped…probably from the first of May through the middle of June.  Will you catch fish?  No question about it…!!!  Most of the creek bed is rock (It’s in the Flint Hills) and I would expect it to be semi-clear.  (It would have to be to contain Kentucky bass.)  I can guarantee that if you time it right you will have the time of your life.  I just picked the wrong time to go.

And now for “The rest of the story”. 

Once the screaming sound stopped I stood still…not moving even a small muscle…for more than 10-minutes.  Carefully scanning both down the creek bed as well as up on top of the creek banks…watching for any movement.  As a hunter I can tell you that rarely have all my senses been so “in tune” with nature.  If there is such a thing as being “in the zone”…I was in it.  With no way out the only thing I could do was continue forward.  With all senses on full alert I carefully took the first steps.

Hearing no further sound I rounded the next bend…stopping every few feet to survey what was in front of me.  I came to a place that I could not continue forward without crossing the creek bed.  As I carefully walked across a log left long ago by a fallen tree something caught my eye.  Not because it moved but because it looked out of place.  There laying in the stream bed…neck and head laying in the shallow water….was a dead doe.  Fresh blood covered the hind end of the doe as well as the surrounding creek bed.  The water was stained red from its blood.   Suddenly a turkey buzzard perched high on a limb on the opposite side of the creek flew from its perch literally scaring me beyond belief. 

Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I had already decided that if it was a mountain lion/cougar (don’t laugh…they are in Kansas…my kids and I saw one years ago when we owned a meat locker plant in Stilwell, Ks…check it out for yourself…!) I was going to turn on my camera so when they found my stuff the camera would tell the whole story of my gruesome end.  It was also going to show how I had fought to the bitter end.  I was carrying a walking stick I had broken off from a larger limb.  I had been using it to help make noise as I walked through tall grass that could contain snakes. 

Now it had become a weapon! 

As I took another step a movement occurred immediately to my left in some tall grass.   It was a “rustling” sound and it was obviously made by something with size.   Instantly I made a decision to move immediately to my right and angle up the hill away from this freshly killed deer.   Once on top of the creek bed I faced one other problem…I was now on the wrong side of the creek to access the trails and my truck.  I needed to cross back over.   I came to another pool…a small one that connected to the largest one I saw all day.   Where they came together the water was only about 10” deep and 6ft. across.  Laying a stick across the pool and using my “weapon” for balance I managed to cross the stream. 

Now how was I to get up the other side?  Not knowing for sure what was just behind me in the bend with the dead deer…I had made up my mind it was time to get to the truck.  However, I was faced with a steep dirt bank with no apparent way to get to the top.  There was a deer trail that, if you deer hunt you will understand, only a deer could climb.  Not being a deer…but fortunately being a great athlete…I made the decision to climb this deer trail anyway.   

I had two fishing rods with me and given the difficulty (and danger!) of climbing such an embankment I knew I might change my mind…so…I took each rod and threw them like a javelin to the top of the embankment.

Now I was committed!

I had to climb this steep embankment or lose my rods.  With my “weapon” in hand I started to climb.  The steepness combined with the loose dry dirt made it all but impossible.  Time after time I would get half way only to slide back down to the bottom.   I didn’t like how much noise I was making and the attention it might be drawing from whatever was just down the creek from me. 
The reality began to sink in…at my age…regardless of my great athletic abilities…I may have bit off more than I could chew.  Then I noticed something…a small root the size of a pencil…growing out of the bank from the top of the deer trail and hanging down about 1/3 of the way from the top.    I climbed to where I could grab the root…climbed 2/3 up of the hill…and the end of the root broke sending me tumbling  back to the bottom of the rocky creek bed with a loud crash. 
It didn’t so much hurt as it made me mad.  (Actually it did hurt...just don't want my wife to get upset in the unlikely event she should ever read this...or more likely some of my so-called "friends" (or my daughters) might just happen to tell her just to get me in trouble.  She thinks I'm to old to be climbing steep creek banks and fighting off mountain lions.  No...seriously...she really does...!)  

It was now or never…once again I climbed to where I could reach the root and using it for both strength and balance climbed to where I could just barely see over the top ledge.   In a last ditch effort…using my elbows for leverage…I managed to pull myself up to the top.  Uncertain exactly where I was I now began the long walk back to the truck but not without first having to walk 300-yards through head high grass, weeds and thickets to get back to the trail. 

NOTE: When you watch the fishing video please take note of some of the creek banks in the video to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation, my dilemma and the highly trained athletic ability honed over many, many years that was required to scale such an obstacle.  Thank you.  Did I mention "highly trained"? 

On a serious note (hey..."highly trained" was serious!) what was it in the creek bed?  Fortunately I didn’t find out.  Would I do it all over again?  Yes, if it meant continuing to bring you the most exciting, entertaining and educational fishing Blog in Kansas…heck…probably any where in the world…!  Maybe even the universe!  
If you enjoy this Blog please let me's the only "pay" I get for doing it you 

Until next time…go fishing…just don’t do it on Fox Creek right now…!

PS: I left my “weapon” lying along side the trail…just in case you decide to ignore my advice....!