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Outdoors: High-powered angling at Kansas' La Cygne Lake

Outdoors: High-powered angling at Kansas' La Cygne Lake

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  LA CYGNE, Kan. -- Maybe the fish were fooled into thinking this was a nice spring day.

It wasn't. Not above the surface of La Cygne Lake, anyway.

The temperature struggled to get out of the low 40s, a cold drizzle fell and a bone-chilling wind swept across the water.

But beneath the surface ... well, that was a different story.

The water temperature was a balmy 60 degrees in spots, thanks to the power plant towering over the 2,600-acre reservoir. And that had the fish thinking spring.

"That's the nice thing about fishing a power-plant lake like La Cygne," Bob Gum said as he cast to a stretch of riprap on the eastern Kansas reservoir.

"Even when it's cold, you can come here and find warm water if they're generating (electricity). I've had some real good days here when there's not much going on at other places."

This was one of those days. Moments after Gum cast his Rain Minnow finesse bait to the rocky shallows, he felt a tap. When he set the hook, that tap turned into a big pull.

The fish dug for deeper water, taking out line. Then it splashed to the surface, shaking its head.

But in a matter of seconds, Gum had the bass in the boat and measured it before letting it go.

"Nineteen and a half inches," he said as he placed the fish on a ruler he had taped to the rail of his boat. "That's a good bass -- but there are bigger ones in here."

Gum knows all about that. Three weeks ago, he took a leisurely trip to La Cygne with his new dog. Things didn't start well. "I found out my dog has motion sickness," Gum said with a laugh.

But the day quickly improved. Moments after he cast a finesse bait into the shallows, he caught an 8¼-pound bass. By the end of the day, he had caught two more lunkers -- both largemouths in the 5-pound class.

He ended up with six bass exceeding 18 inches that day -- a reminder of how good La Cygne's fishing can be.

"I really don't know what was going on that day," said Gum, 56, who lives in Kansas City, Kan. "It was one of those days when the conditions were just right."

Gum has seen a few of those days in the past. He has fished La Cygne since his junior year in high school, when he used to walk the banks and fish with spinnerbaits. And he has caught big fish.

He landed a 9¼-pound bass on a January day 10 years ago. And he has landed other big ones, including a 7 ½ -pounder last November.

He releases all his fish to fight another day. Those big ones, plus an impressive array of bass in other sizes, await him every time he launches his boat.

"Considering all the pressure La Cygne gets, I'm amazed at the bass it produces," Gum said.

Part of that has to do with the fact that La Cygne is a cooling lake for the Kansas City Power & Light Co.'s La Cygne Generating Station. Water from the reservoir is used as a cooling agent, then it is flushed back into the main body in a heated state.

That gives the water temperature an immediate boost. In the long run, it makes for a longer growing season for species such as bass and it provides a comfortable environment for the baitfish they feed on.

But that isn't to say that the fishing is outstanding every day. Even with the warm water, the action can hit lulls, just like at any other reservoir.

When Gum, Ned Kehde and I arrived Thursday morning, we headed out with only guarded optimism. Fishing reports weren't encouraging and Gum said "the bass have been in a funk."

But they weren't Thursday. Casting finesse baits made by Z-Man, we started catching fish from the start. First, there were big channel catfish. Then big drum. And later, bass in an assortment of sizes.

By the time we were done, we had caught and released 69 fish -- 35 bass, 16 channel catfish, 15 drum and 3 white bass.

Gum and Kehde credited much of that to the methods they were using. Kehde, who lives in Lawrence, has long been a proponent of using small finesse baits to elicit strikes from wary bass that might be reluctant to hit bigger baits.

He discovered the advantages of Z-Man lures, which manufactures a series of plastic baits made with an ingredient that makes them practically indestructible.

He often cuts a ZinkerZ, a Senko-type worm, in two, puts a 3-inch piece on a light jig head and works it through the water with a jigging motion.

It doesn't look like much to a fishermen's eye. But it definitely appeals to the fish.

Kehde has caught hundreds of bass on the bait and he has helped many others, including Gum, discover its fish-catching magic.

Kehde, Gum and I used that bait, plus a Rain Minnow (an elongated plastic minnow) to catch most of our fish Thursday.

"Thanks to these baits Ned has turned me onto, my fishing has improved," Gum said. "I think these smaller baits are more subtle; they don't spook the bass. And I think that helps."

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