Bill Bennett, wearing his signature hat and the white beard, that longtime readers of the St. Joseph News Press would recognize at a glance, sat in the rear of a rather shaky round-bottom canoe and laughed at my efforts not to tip the boat. Leaning past a certain point to the right or left would likely have meant getting dunked in the cold water of Pony Express Lake.
I think he would have enjoyed seeing me get wet—even if it meant he would have taken a chilly bath, too.
I was a fledging writer when Bennett, now deceased, invited me to pursue his favorite fish on a chilly May morning. We both enjoyed popping up big bluegill with artificial bugs on light-action fly rods. My outdoor writing mentor decided I was ready to take on redear sunfish, his favorite panfish heavyweight.
Redear sunfish are common in Missouri. Bennett assured me that a redear fights like a bluegill with added weight. Considering how hard bluegill fight, I was itching to battle a redear.
Bennett had positioned us parallel to a submerged tree. We had quietly dropped small anchors on each end of the unsteady craft and were casting tiny black artificial ants attached to two-pound leaders.
We carefully laid each cast across the rotting wood so our bugs would sink between branches. Bennett was the first to raise his rod and drive a hook into a hungry redear. The wide fish turned sideways and made his eight-foot rod bend. I was amazed at its strength and energy. It fought with the muscle and stamina of a much larger fish.
After several deep and dogged runs, the pound and a half fish slid into Bennett’s hand for a quick release. A few seconds later, I noticed my line move slightly sideways. I set the hook and was immediately welcomed with a remarkable pull.
My fish, the same size as Bennett’s, dove deep then turned sideways, using its flat body to increase resistance, an old bluegill trick. I doubted that my light leader would hold.
I hung on, giving and getting back line until the redear succumbed. Before releasing the saucer-shaped fish, I marveled at its bold yellow, green and black coloring. My first redear left quite an impression.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, redear fishing in northwestern Missouri’s Pony Express Lake was spectacular. Fishing success has slowed somewhat due to low water levels that reduced the lake’s vegetation, but numerous other