Steve Green rounded a bend on the Wakarusa River and slowed his boat as he approached a clearing on the bank that had been turned into a makeshift fishing camp.
"Welcome to `Survivor, Kansas,'" he said with a laugh, referring to the popular television series. "This is going to be our base camp tonight."
With a campfire already blazing, Green's friends, Mark Wotipka and Mark Anfinson, were busy readying fishing rods.
A food table had been set up, comfortable recliner lawn chairs were arranged behind the rod holders, and steaks sizzled on the grill.
No, this wasn't going to be a night of roughing it.
But it was going to be a night of serious catfishing.
About every stump or flooded tree within sight was already rigged with one of the limb-line devices that Green makes _ a product called the Topcat.
The weathered trees jutting out of the water didn't have many limbs. No problem. This is what Green's Topcat device was designed for.
His invention includes an epoxy fiberglass rod from which he can hang a bungee cord, a clip, heavy-duty fishing line, a steel plate rod-holder and a strap to attach it to the tree or stump. Instant limb line.
"I came up with this after I started fishing Hillsdale and found that the best trees didn't have limbs to hang a line on," said Green, 50, who lives in Spring Hill. "I knew some of those big trees had to have shed a lot of their limbs and they were under water, providing the kind of brush those big flatheads like. But I couldn't fish them.
"So I started looking for a way to make a limb line that I could take with me, and this is what I came up with."
Most fishermen make sure their baits are far under water or even near the bottom. Not Green. He arranges his rigs so the bait is splashing on the surface.
Call it topwater catfishing.
"When that bait is splashing around on the surface, it's like ringing the dinner bell for a big ol' catfish," Green said. "They'll home right in on that perch."
Green had plenty of those Topcats hanging from stumps in the Wakarusa River. He went from spot to spot, baiting hooks with green sunfish so large that some people would be proud to catch them. Then he pulled his boat back to base camp, his home for the next eight hours.
"We're not camping here," he said. "Just fishing."
After the steaks and potatoes were eaten, the sun slowly disappeared below the horizon. And it was show time.
When it was totally dark, Green hopped in his boat to do the first check of some of the Topcats he had scattered down the channel. Using a spotlight to cut through the fog that was billowing off the water, he spotted one of the rods that was bouncing.
When he pulled the boat up to the line, the tugging became even more pronounced. Green reached over, grabbed the line and pulled a big channel catfish into the air.
"That's a big channel," Green said of the fish, which was later weighed at 8 pounds. "But we're looking for one of those 30- or 40-pound flatheads."
That big one never came. But there were plenty of other catfish.
By the time the three fishermen had finished running their lines in the early morning hours, they had 17 fish _ 16 channels and one 5-pound flathead.
Green has fished for catfish long enough to know the variables of the game. He remembers running trotlines with his grandpa at Pomona Lake and catching big cats.
He got out of fishing for a while but got back into it when he moved near Hillsdale Lake. His success improved dramatically once he came up with his Topcat device.
He remembers the day he caught a 67-pound flathead, his biggest ever, on his homemade limb line.
"That same day, we had flatheads weighing 53, 29 and 22 pounds," he said. "It was just a wild night."
Green releases the big fish he catches. His goal? To catch them again when they have grown even bigger.
Today, he leads a busy life. He is a heavy-machinery operator, but he also is busy making his Topcat devices and running a guide service.
"My passion is catching big catfish," he said. "You never know what's in these rivers and reservoirs.
"We might have gone over a 100-pound catfish lying on the bottom and not even known it. The thought of catching a fish like that is what keeps me going."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com
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