In September 2004 I went on a weekend trout fishing trip to Lake Taneycomo with my friend Brett and his younger brother, Wes.
Until then, my angling for trout took place at two Southwest Missouri state parks: Roaring River and Bennett Spring. I also had fished several times at Jolly Mill Park on Capps Creek.
For several decades, I’ve been successful catching trout on an short ultralight rod and a small spinning reel spooled with 4-pound clear monofilament line.
Small jigs, known as midget or micro jigs — and my lure of choice — are made from a variety of materials. They are the most versatile of trout lures. These jigs, which can be fished slow or fast, shallow or deep, are effective in a variety of water that holds trout: brooks, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.
To run a small jig at the desired depth, I attach round lead split-shot sinkers a foot or two above the jig. And I never dare to use a shiny gold or silver-colored snap swivel; they spook fish.
After a trout bites, I set the hook immediately with a quick flip of the wrist. Getting an adequate hook set in rolling current is easier said than done. This type of fishing requires clear water, deep concentration, 20-20 eyesight and quick reflexes.
Brett is an accomplished trout fisherman of a different sort. An ultralight rod and spinning reel isn’t in his arsenal; he’s a die-hard fly fisherman who’d be better served living in a western state where fly fishing for trout is the norm.
Until the Lake Taneycomo weekend, I’d never fished with a fly rod. I’d always been fascinated with anglers who did (and still am), but never had the desire to give it a try. I didn’t need to; no need to fix what wasn’t broken.
“Have you ever fished with a fly rod?” Brett asked a few minutes into the outing.
“No,” I replied. “I’ve always caught plenty of trout doing it my way.”
“Well, today’s your lucky day! I’m going to teach you how to become a fly fisherman!”
“Oh, no need to do that,” I said.
My response fell on deaf ears.
After stepping into his high-dollar insulated waders and wedging the net handle in the waders next to my back, Brett spent a few minutes teaching me the basics of casting. I caught on quickly.
Twenty minutes later — a half hour at most — Brett returned and asked me how I was doing.
“I haven’t caught any fish, but I’ve had a lot of fun casting with your fly rod,” I answered. “I’m sure I could become a half-decent fly fisherman some day if I put my mind to it. “
Fast forward to the spring of 2005.
One afternoon while sorting through the mail, I grabbed my March subscription of Missouri Conservationist. After flipping through the magazine and reading a story or two, I turn to the back cover and glanced at a photo of a fisherman holding a slightly-bent fly rod silhouetted in a heavy fog. He was wearing a light blue short-sleeved shirt with an open collar. He was also wearing sunglasses, a ball cap, waders and had a net.
“That’s a beautiful picture!” I thought. “Calm, peaceful, serene. A splendid work of art!”
“Spring tonic,” read the headline, followed by the caption: “Warm spring weather wakes hibernating anglers and sends them to rivers and lakes to feed their spirit. Will the fish bite today? It doesn’t matter.”
“So true,” I thought.
After a few seconds, I had a deja vu moment.
“OH, MY GOSH!” I yelled to my wife, Cheryl, from the living room recliner when she was making dinner. “You’re not going to believe this! A picture of me is on the back cover of the Missouri Conservationist!”
“No, you’re not!” Cheryl replied forcefully. “No way!”
“I’ll prove it!” I said while springing to my feet and walking to the kitchen.
Cheryl examined it, and while she admitted the person looked like me, she wasn’t sure.
“Oh, that’s me all right!” I replied.
After dinner, we showed the picture to my daughter and her husband. After closely examining the image, Amanda and Kevin had doubts, too, but agreed with Cheryl that the man was of my likeness.
“Do you know when and where this picture was taken?” Kevin asked.
“Absolutely!” I replied. “It was taken last September at Lake Taneycomo when I was fishing with Brett and Wes."
A day or two later, Kevin called and talked to the photographer, Cliff White, who verified my story. After that, the trio became believers, and I got the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so!”
I called Brett and asked him to look at his copy.
“That’s you!” Brett shouted without delay. “I can’t believe it!”
“You better believe it, because it’s me!” I retorted. “And just think, I have you to thank for teaching me how to fly fish!”
“The only time in your life you fished with a fly rod, and you’re on the back cover of the Missouri Conservationist!” Brett grumbled humorously.
Ironically, the same image appeared on the front of the 2005 Missouri trout fishing guide, an MDC publication that resembled a fold-out state roadmap.
Brett was the genuine fly fisherman. The picture should’ve been of him. You can’t blame Cliff, though. Like any candid professional photographer, he saw a great shot opportunity and seized the moment.
Such is life.
Keith Costley lives in Baxter Springs, Kan., and is an avid fisherman and hunter.