- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

MADISON, Kan. (AP) - It takes a big lure to catch a big fish.

That’s what many fishermen insist. Not Bill Hartman.

You should have seen him the other day. When he pulled up to a Flint Hills farm pond, he immediately reached for a plastic box filled with tiny flies, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1oBb80i ).

And he knew it wouldn’t be long before those colorful baits would be enticing huge bluegills.

Tiny lure, huge fish.

“This pond is filled with trophy bluegills,” he said as he dragged his belly boat toward the water. “It’s a fly fisherman’s dream.”

Hartman tied on an olive-colored woolly bugger, dangled it below a small strike indicator and he was ready to go.

As he used his flippers to position his inflatable boat, he cast his fly to a patch of calm water along the dam. He twitched the offering once, then twice, and the indicator plunged. Hartman set the hook by pulling straight back, and the fight was on.

When Hartman had the hand-sized bluegill in, he admired his catch.

“That fish goes clear to my wrist,” he said as he held it in the palm of his hand. “And there are a lot of them like that in here.”

Hartman paused and took in the beauty of his surroundings.

“You don’t have to be on a trout stream to be fly fishing,” said Hartman, 64, of Emporia, Kansas. “This is why I love fly fishing.

“We’re in a beautiful setting in the Flint Hills, we have the water to ourselves and we’re fishing in a way that not many other Kansans try.

“It’s about the only way I fish anymore.”

Hartman has been fishing this for almost 30 years. He remembers when he went to Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota-Canada line and watched fishermen catch big smallmouth bass on fly rods. He returned home and dug up his dad’s old bamboo fly rod and experimented with it.

Later in life, he got serious about fly fishing and started visiting farm ponds.

“When I first started out, I was a novelty,” Hartman said with a laugh. “The landowners and their neighbors would come down just to watch me. I considered charging admission.”

Now landowners in east-central Kansas are accustomed to see Hartman fly fishing. And he has converted many others in the area to the sport.

Hartman, who ran a guide service before taking a summer off, has helped customers catch 20 fish that would qualify for Kansas Master Angler awards. Included was a bass that weighed more than 7 pounds, several channel cats that were over 10 pounds, and huge bluegills.

Big bass, crappies, bluegills even channel catfish - Hartman and the fishermen he guides have caught them all on flies, some of them so small that you have to squint to examine them.

“We even catch Kansas redfish - carp,” Hartman said with a laugh.

He uses an assortment of nymphs to catch fish on the Kansas ponds and farm ponds. His favorite? A 1/32nd-ounce black or brown marabou jig.

“The purists stick up their nose at jigs,” he said. “They don’t consider jigs to be flies, but I do. I’ve caught everything that swims in these ponds on a small doll fly under a strike indicator.”

After Hartman and I caught and released about 30 bluegills, we were off to another pond for a less traditional type of fishing, pursuing giant channel catfish with small flies.

“We feed the fish here and these channel cats have gotten huge,” Hartman said. “We have some fish in the 15-pound class in here.”

How does Hartman know? He caught one of them on a recent weeknight and weighed it before releasing it.

“I went to Ireland to fly fish and we were using Atlantic salmon flies,” Hartman said. “When I got back home, I started experimenting with those flies, and the big channel cats were all over them.

“The biggest challenge isn’t getting them to hit. It’s getting them in on a fly rod.”

Hartman proved his point minutes later. Fishing off a dock where he feeds the catfish, he watched his strike indicator suddenly disappear. The fish then started bulling around, making no secret that it was one of the giants Hartman was referring to.

After a lengthy fight, Hartman glanced at his watched and said, “I’ve been fighting this fish for 15 minutes.”

Finally, the catfish won. With one kick of its tail, it swirled the surface and headed under the dock, wrapped the line around a post and said goodbye.

Yes, even fly fishermen have fish stories about the big one that got away.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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