Monday, June 18, 2012

Lake Keomah - Father's Day 2012

I fished Lake Keomah a couple years ago for the first time.  My friend (State Fisheries Biologist) Ben and I had gone there to target Redear Sunfish.  We had hoped to hit the beginning of the spawning season and find loads of nice fish in the shallows on nests.  Turns out we were probably a week or two early.  We saw a few fish on nests, but they were bluegills.  Ben did catch a Redear that day, but I couldn't manage one.  Instead I settled for bluegills up to 9.75" and some small (12" or less) largemouth bass.

Fast forward 2+ years.  I've since caught a couple Redear Sunfish on flyfishing gear.  They may have been females or bluegill/redear hybrids.  In any case, they didn't have the awesome bright red edge to their gill opercle that the spawning males have.  So, my goal in heading back to Lake Keomah was to pursue those Redear Sunfish once again.  Reports from lakes reasonably close to Keomah was that the Redears were in the shallows...but those reports were 1-2 weeks their was some doubt that they would still  be in the shallows on this day.

This day....Father's Day 2012.  A time when families get together and kids gush and smother their patriarch with well-deserved affection.  I'm sure that would have happened at my house...but my (almost) 15 year-old daughter is performing/touring Italy with the Iowa Youth Chorus.  And my wife decided that would be a good time to take my son on a week-long vacation to Seattle...and she invited her parents along on that trip. Actually I think my wife had some work-related conference or something to attend while there.  I could have gone along, but in their absence it was an excellent opportunity for me to actually have a full day on a weekend to fish a lake I normally don't have the time to visit.  And take the kayak!

So this is what I did.  I took my time getting there.  I fished from 10:30am-5pm.  Weather was mostly sunny, high of 86 F, wind from the south at 7-10 mph.  Water clarity was about 1.5' - 2'.

Here's some shots of the lake from one location.  From here you can't see up either of the two arms of the lake.  You can't see it from these pictures, but one side of the east arm has houses with yards that back up to the water.  How that happened at a State Park, I'll never know.  The lack of shoreline cover there allowed me to quickly dismiss that area as a good fishing area.

In that last picture, you can see the concrete walls of the outlet structure on the end of the dam, and about in the middle of the picture you can sort of see a boat ramp and floating dock.  Although I spent most of my time at this end of the lake, I had launched my kayak at a boat ramp on the far end of the lake, up in the end of the east arm.

There was shoreline fishing access along almost another entire shoreline, and since there were a lot of people out enjoying the Holiday with their families, I also avoided those areas.  And then my choices were further pared back when I discovered a nice shoreline north of the beach had a lot of suspended sand in the water and the weedbeds had been pretty well smothered by these drifting particles.

Redear Sunfish are also called Shellcrackers.  This is because they have a definite fondness for eating snails.  So... fish where there will be snails, and the Redears should be there.  Right?  Now, where would you find snails?  Snails like scouring algae off aquatic weeds and submerged rocks and logs.  I tried a couple weedy areas at first, but only managed a couple of Largemouth Bass.  I had also heard that maybe Redears might prefer shady areas over sunny areas.

So, I found an area with overhanging trees and caught a few bluegills, then some crappies.  I decided to anchor up and work the area more thoroughly.  I was using a dark-colored microjig under an indicator to help keep it up out of the weeds.  I finally had a good strike followed by a blistering strong run that went in several directions before I could start to gain a little line.  Then I saw the fish flash near the surface and saw the bright red spot that gives the Redear its name.  I was so excited I started talking out loud to myself.  Doesn't matter what I was saying.  I even grabbed the landing net because I was afraid of losing the fish before I could get some pictures!  All went well and the fish was landed.  At 9.5", this was a nice Redear, but they can definitely get into the 11"-13" range in Iowa, which as it happens is pretty much at the north edge of their range.  They have been introduced into the southern 1/3 of Iowa.
Check it out!

Maybe 10-15 minutes later, I caught another Redear of about the same size.  Again, a VERY strong fight on the 5wt fly rod.  I'm guessing the fish above is a male, and that the 2nd fish was a female.  It also had the bright red edge on its gill, but the red edge was a lot shorter...about 1/2 the length the fish above had.  So I didn't photograph it.  Now I wish I would have!

Anyway, I didn't get any more redears from that spot, but did catch one later in the day from a different spot.  In fact this last one had all the other markings of a redear, but the red marking on the gill was a light orange and not very prominent at all.  This 8.5-incher may also have been a female, or it may have been a bluegill/redear hybrid:

I ended up landed a total of 10 crappies that ranged from about 9" to slightly over 10".  Some of them put up a surprisingly good fight!  They weren't scared of the kayak at all.  I drifted over the top of one that was positioned over a large lone boulder.  It didn't spook, and then I cast to that boulder and caught 2-3 crappies from it.

I caught 17 Bluegills which came in all sizes, with the biggest ones measuring 8.5".
This is an 8.5" male bluegill:
And this is an 8.5" female bluegill:

Although I wasn't fishing for them, I caught 10 Largemouth Bass that ranged in sizes up to 15".  The battle of the 14" and 15" bass on the fly rod was unreal!  This one was 14" and had a really fat belly, which isn't as obvious in the pictures:

And one of the last fish of the day was this 13-inch bass:

One observation I made is that an 8.5" to 9.5" Redear Sunfish fights harder than a similarly sized Bluegill...and the fight is equal to that of a 13" Largemouth Bass...but not as hard as a 14-15" bass.  FYI.

It was a good trip to this lake.  I caught what I had hoped I would (Redear Sunfish), and caught plenty of bass and bluegills and even the surprise crappies to keep things interesting.
The Hobie Outback kayak worked perfectly.  I heard a number of people commenting on it throughout the day.  Lake Keomah is an "electric motor only" lake, and from what I could see, my kayak travelled a lot faster than the electric motor-powered boats, and faster that the other kayaks and canoes that were there.  You know they gotta hate that!  :) last observation.  As I was anchored up in one spot casting into the shaded area beneath overhanging trees, I started hearing some strange chirping/chattering noises.  I couldn't tell at first exactly where it was coming from.  Could have been some weird bird that I was unfamiliar with?  I started looking up into the trees, and then finally spotted the sound-generators back in beneath the branches along the shoreline.  There were at least 3 raccoons, two of which you can see here:


  1. That was all just too deserved! Good for you and thanks for sharing!


  2. Thanks Gregg! I hope you had an excellent Father's Day as well.

  3. The fattest bass I ever caught was from Keomah. It was probably no more than 15", but looked like it had just eaten a rock.