Our fishing team totaled nine, ranging in age from a boy of 4 to a reporter in his mid-50s.
No matter, there’s something for everyone when fishing’s main tactic is simply tying lines to limbs, and potentially taking big fish off the hooks the next morning.
Former Kansas basketball star Wayne Simien Jr. was the ringleader, along with his fishaholic father, Wayne Sr. In the run-up to this recent outing, Wayne Jr. had taken daughters Sehla, 6; Rael, 5; and son Simon, 4, to a pond and loaded a bait tank with hand-sized bluegill that the kids caught with bobbers and worms. Some green sunfish and goldfish had been purchased.
While most people associate running limblines for big catfish with rivers, the Simiens have done well at Clinton Lake, minutes from where Wayne, his wife, Katie, and five children live in Lawrence. This spring they hauled a flathead of about 64 pounds from the lake, so hopes were high.
At the lake, we met up with Josh Hackathorn, a friend of Wayne Jr.’s and an experienced catfisherman. I was with Josh in his rugged, plodding aluminum boat as we watched the Simiens jet off in Wayne Sr.’s sparkly bass boat that goes from zero to 50 mph faster than many cars.
Josh and I mostly watched, and frequently laughed, as the Simiens set lines. Wayne Jr. was in the bow while Wayne Sr. piloted the boat. In between the two men was a blur of pigtails, pinks, squeals, screams and rapid-fire chatter as the three children “helped.”
The bait bucket seemed to be the center of the youngsters’ universe, with six little hands rummaging through the water nearly nonstop. At one point, the girls arranged an entire bridal party in their wedding of two goldfish. Meanwhile, the pair in Simon’s hands were engaged in a complex wrestling match that only a 4-year-old could dream up.
At some sets, a line was tied directly to a limb with a barrel swivel holding a heavy weight about 18 inches above a hook the size of three fingers. On some limbs, Wayne Jr. tied on a yo-yo rig, which features a spring-loaded spool that lets the hook and line be set to a specific depth. When a fish hits the bait, the spring snaps and sets the hook.
Hackathorn chuckled a bit at the rig’s lightweight design, with only 60-pound test line on a flimsy spool about the size of a poker chip.
By the time a limbline was tied off and set, one of the kids was ready with a fish for their father to use for bait. Several times, the girls carefully placed the baited lines in the water.
The sets were about evenly split between limbs near rocky shorelines, where channel cats and flatheads like to spawn and feed. The rest were out where the old river and creek channels cut through the lake, prime travel routes for all kinds of fish.
Josh and I set our lines up in another arm of the lake.
Fishing is a family tradition with the Simiens. Generations before Wayne Jr. was leading Leavenworth High School to a state basketball championship or landing on All-America lists in his four years at Kansas, the Simiens were perfecting their fishing techniques.
Wayne Jr. was in a pint-sized life jacket and an infant carrier his first time aboard the family boat. Before his first dribble in competitive basketball, Wayne Jr. had entered — and sometimes won — bass tournaments with his dad.
At one tournament, his dad won a new bass boat, which he sold to buy a van that the family used to follow Wayne Jr.s school and AAU career. It was back then that Wayne Jr. promised his dad he would buy him a new, better boat if he ever went to the NBA. The big Ranger they’ve used since was his first major purchase after his senior year at KU. He’s now a campus missionary.
It was thunder, not an alarm clock, that awakened us the next morning. After delaying our departure for 90 minutes, Mother Nature teased us into leaving Lawrence for the lake with a let-up in the rain, then had some fun with downpours of car-wash proportions after we got on the water.
Mark Christianson and Kyle Markham, two of Wayne Jr’s friends, were along to help run the lines. The kids were wisely left safe and dry at home.
Even in good rain gear, the torrential rain leaked in around the seams. Several times visibility was down to 200 yards. But no one cared, because we were catching fish.
Several channel cats from 3 to 4 pounds came first, then the Simiens got in a good told-you-they-work laugh as a 12 1/2-pound flathead was at the end of one of their yo-yos.
The day’s best catch came when it was raining the hardest, when Wayne Jr. lifted a line that appeared to be hanging lifeless and then instantly came to life. Water splashed and a tail the size of a ping-pong paddle slammed the boat as Wayne played give-and-take trying to get the fish’s shovel-sized head to the surface and into Markham’s net.
Eventually it happened and Markham, KU’s director of tennis, made a scoop and lifted hard. Rather than coming aboard, the fish stayed in the lake as the net’s hoop just kept bending.
Wayne grabbed both sides of the net’s hoop and lifted the 35-pound flathead aboard, whooping, hollering and fist-pumping.
Another flathead of about 14 pounds was netted later. Ten channel cats, plus the three flatheads, were deemed keepers. The sun was out by the time we left the lake and headed to Wayne Jr.’s.
The truck barely rolled to a stop, when the door to his house opened and four children — Selah, Rael, Simon and 2-year-old Shepherd — came bounding onto the driveway with nearly nonstop questions and commentary as they crawled all over the boat, then played in the tub of fish on the driveway.
Thanks to all the “help” provided by those kids, it probably took the adults twice as long to get the fish filleted and bagged. They also made the process a lot more fun.
So it goes when fishing becomes a team sport.