Michael Gillespie, 12, came away from the trout opener on Saturday at Shawnee Mission Lake with a whopper of a fish story.
His tale is about the big one that almost got away.
“I had my rod sitting there, and I turned away for a second. Then I heard this loud splash,” said Gillespie, who was fishing with his dad, Robert. “I thought someone had caught a fish.
“But a trout had hit my bait and was taking my fishing rod into the lake. I knew it was still on — I could see it jumping out there.
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“But I thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of that rod and reel.’”
That’s when dad came to the rescue. He rushed into the frigid water, grabbed the rod just before it was pulled into the depths and handed it to his son.
Michael did the rest, fighting the good-sized rainbow to the bank and into a waiting landing net.
“That water was cold, but it was worth it,” Robert said. “I didn’t want to lose that rod and reel, and I didn’t want to lose that fish, either.”
For the Gillsepies, who live in Overland Park, that amounted to one more memory they could add to their mental scrapbook of opening days at Shawnee Mission Lake.
This is a budding tradition for them. They have been traveling to Shawnee Mission Lake, which is stocked heavily by the Johnson County Park and Recreation District each February, for the opener since Michael was 4. His dad has been fishing the lake even before that.
They arrived at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday — 2 1/2 hours before starting time — to reserve their favorite spot on the bank, then waited until the siren sounded. They weren’t alone.
By the time the Johnson County trout season opened, fishermen stood elbow to elbow in places and boats dotted the water. Many fishermen didn’t have to wait long to get their first bite of the season. Rick Montgomery of Overland Park caught a trout on his first cast.
He cast out his line baited with yellow Power Bait and watched his line jump. He set the hook and immediately felt the frantic tugs of a hooked rainbow.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever caught a trout on opening day,” he said with a laugh. “Thirty seconds, that’s all it took.”
Montgomery caught two more trout, then had to wait for the final fish in his limit. Meanwhile, his 16-year-old son, Zack, and his friend, Austin Byrd, also were catching trout.
For Byrd, the first few minutes of the season were torture. He didn’t have his Johnson County fishing permits, so he was a spectator as the Montgomerys caught trout. When he saw a ranger, he ran up the hill, purchased his permits and ran back to the bank where the group was fishing.
He caught a fish on his first cast of the season. When he landed two more, he said, “Fish fry.”
For the avid fishermen who have put up with weather far worse, Saturday was a bonus. Though it was chilly in the morning, it quickly warmed up, and a crowd of fishermen came out of hibernation.
“We love being out here for the opener,” Rick Montgomery said. “I run into a lot of people that I’ve met over the years, and everyone’s in a good mood.
“This is a day we look forward to.”