Outdoors

Fishermen brave snow and cold at Shawnee Mission Lake for trout opener

Fishermen huddled against the cold Saturday as they fished off a point on Shawnee Mission Lake during the Johnson County trout opener.
Fishermen huddled against the cold Saturday as they fished off a point on Shawnee Mission Lake during the Johnson County trout opener. The Kansas City Star

For Rick Montgomery and his 15-year-old son, Zack, this was good fishing weather.

Seriously?

In the cold? With snow sweeping across Shawnee Mission Lake? With the suburban lake mostly covered with ice?

Yup. When the Johnson County trout season opens, you take whatever Mother Nature dishes out, the Montgomerys said.

Even if it’s a day like Saturday.

“We never thought twice about coming out here (Saturday),” Rick said as he huddled against a cold wind blowing in his face. “This is a tradition for us.

“We’ve been coming out here for the opener since he (Zack) was in diapers. You can’t miss the opener.”

Zack agreed, chiming in, “We’ve been out here on worse days. We’ve been ice fishing on the opener. And one year we were out in a blizzard.”

Long pause.

“But this ranks right up there as one of the coldest,” said Rick, who lives in Overland Park. “Pretty nasty.”

The first challenge was simply finding open water. Most of Shawnee Mission Lake was frozen. Only a few spots had open water, and the few fishermen showed up Saturday crowded into those areas.

The Montgomerys even tied to a rope first a board, then a heavy hammer, and threw them to the edge of the ice, hoping to break some of the ice and enlarge their fishing spot.

It must have worked. About a half hour after the season opened, Rick got a bite on the yellow PowerBait he had cast out. He set the hook and felt the heavy tug of a big rainbow.

He worked the fish into the shallows, then got it on the bank. And suddenly, it didn’t feel so cold anymore.

“That trout will go 3 pounds, maybe bigger,” Rick said as he admired his catch. “You don’t feel so crazy being out here when you catch a fish like that.”

That wasn’t the first time father and son have found success on the opener at Shawnee Mission. Rick thumbs through photos on his cell phone and can show you the results of the 2014 opener — a picture with each fisherman displaying a limit of trout. He also can show you the 61/2-pound rainbow he landed the year before last.

“We’ve caught a lot of trout out here,” Rick said. “And the great thing for us is that it’s only 10 minutes from our house.”

The Johnson County Park and Recreation District stocked 3,800 pounds of trout at Shawnee Mission and 1,600 at Kill Creek Lake in Olathe on Wednesday, then closed the lakes to fishing until 8 a.m. Saturday.

Not long after the season opened, it started snowing. A cold wind blew. And even the hardiest of fishermen shivered.

“I’m not staying,” grumbled one fisherman who tried for about 15 minutes, then reeled up his lines and headed for his vehicle. “This is brutal.”

But others held out and stayed, frozen to their favorite spots.

“I have five layers of clothes on, and I need every one of them,” said Craig Bernstein, 71, of Shawnee. “But I’m not going home.

“I’ve been coming here for the trout opener since they first started stocking this lake. I’ve put up with some miserable weather, and I can do it again.”

Bernstein was buoyed by a close encounter with “the big one that got away.”

As he stood on a dock, he watched as a golden rainbow flashed on the Rooster Tail spinner he had just cast out. Bernstein set the hook and got a look at the fish, but it escaped.

“That was a good-sized trout,”he said. “Oh, well, maybe he will come back.”

Tanh Bounsoum of Olathe was one of the fortunate fishermen. Fishing near a propane heater he brought to warm his hands, he caught a nice-sized rainbow trout, the envy of other fishermen who hadn’t had a bite.

“I don’t care what the weather was like, we were going to be out here,” he said. “This isn’t the best day to fish, but trout will bite in the cold.

“You have to dress for it, and just not let the conditions bother you.”

To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to bfrazee@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @fishboybrent.

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