KANOPOLIS RESERVOIR – Bob Roberts spent a few hours with a pair of old friends Thursday afternoon.
One was a 1979 fiberglass bass boat from which he’s literally hauled in tons of fish. The other was Kanopolis Reservoir, a lake he’s fished often for 40 years. Thursday’s trip carried as much anticipation as his first trip to the lake in 1974.
“It’s just always been a pretty good white bass and walleye lake,” said Roberts, of Salina, as he fished for the latter. “Right now Kanopolis is pretty good. The parking lot was nearly full, I’d say over 40 boats, by 8 (a.m.) on Saturday.”
On Wednesday, Roberts and a friend easily caught limits of five walleyes each.
Seeing about 15 boats on a preferred favored flat, Roberts headed to a place that has produced well for him during the decades. It’s a break off the old river channel. Sometimes the fish gather just below the lip, other times just atop.
Fifteen minutes after dropping a line overboard, a 19-inch walleye was in Robert’s hands. He smiles a lot when he thinks back on those 40 years that have seen a lot of changes.
Roberts remembers more consistent flow coming down the Smoky Hill River, which feeds the reservoir. Kanopolis can still have a good spring white bass runs, but conditions aren’t as good as they were not that many years ago.
“Twice in the last 10 years or so, it’s gotten so low you couldn’t really get a decent boat on the lake,” Roberts said. “One year we had to have (the marina owner) back us down the shoreline with a tractor. Last year they had to bring in a big excavator and clear out a lot of sand and stuff to have enough water to launch.”
He remembers the other extreme, back in 1993 when flood waters had the lake more than 20 feet above normal. Roberts and others were launched boats from parking lots above submerged ramps. The fishing was good, but got a whole lot better.
The high water produced the ideal spawning habitat that eventually gave Roberts his most memorable day at Kanopolis.
“It was between Christmas and New Year’s, we fished from about noon until maybe 5 (p.m.) and two of us caught our 100 crappie. A lot of those fish were 13 to 15 inches,” said Roberts, 72. “We had some fantastic crappie fishing in about ’96, ’97 and ’98 because of that high water in ’93. It was just amazing.”
Thanks to last summer’s rains, the lake is close to normal level. Still, the spring crappie fishing wasn’t what it’s been in past years. He said the white bass population seems down a bit, too.
The next fish to hit was an 18-inch wiper, the hybrid between white bass and striped bass, which weren’t around when Roberts first started fishing Kanopolis.
The fish were added because they grow larger than white bass, survive better than stripers and can be easy to catch. Biologists also added saugeye, the sauger/walleye hybrid that are aggressive feeders not as prone to washing out during high water events as walleye.
Roberts now runs a finger over the cheek patch of about every toothy-mouthed, bug-eyed fish he brings into his boat.
“Walleye have a smooth cheek patch,” he said. “On saugeye it’s rough.” To most anglers at Kanopolis Thursday afternoon the fishing was rough.
One boat drifting by said they’d fished most of the morning, had caught a few wipers but were struggling with walleye. Looking out over the flotilla drifting, anchored and trolling over the popular broad flat, Roberts didn’t see another boat catch a walleye or saugeye over the lake’s 15-inch minimum length limit.
Meanwhile, action was pretty steady in the Blue Heron, the name Roberts gave his boat because of its color and ability to consistently find and catch fish.
Though he used GPS technology to stay right atop an exact spot, Roberts and a guest relied on the same jig-and-nightcrawler bait that served anglers well when he first cast a line into the lake.
Within about 90 minutes, four keepers where in a cooler. After a run of about 18 sub-legal fish, he tried another spot up on the flat. Doing no good, he returned to his favored break.
Through the afternoon, Roberts watched as several boats left the flat to try other areas. Most eventually returned, which told Roberts the bite must not be much better in other spots.
Spending another half-hour on the break, five or six more shorts and a nice wiper were hauled aboard. Finally, a rod bowed deep and an 18-inch saugeye was caught and coolered.
Roberts headed in, having fished for about three hours.
“The ol’ Blue Heron strikes again,” Roberts said with a smile, slapping the weathered side of the old boat.
And it’s not a surprise it did it again at Kanopolis.