In the lake’s 50 year history, Jon Hawkinson has seen the highs and lows of Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
For most of last year and earlier this spring, he enjoyed it even though it was literally near it’s lowest of lows.
“That whole part of the marina over there was just sitting in the mud, and the rest might as well have been,” Hawkinson said shortly after launching his boat at the lake a few miles from his Manhattan home. “I think it was the second lowest the lake has ever been in history; the other time was many years ago.”
Kathy O’Malley, co-owner of the lake’s Wildcat Marina, confirmed that earlier this year Tuttle Creek was about 15 feet below normal because of last year’s extreme drought.
Currently, it’s about a foot above normal because of spring run-off from melting snows and rains.
Hawkinson had no complaints about the low-water times, particularly last year.
“It was one of our better years for fishing on Tuttle Creek, but that’s what happens with a drought,” said Hawkinson, who was raised near where the Blue River now enters the lake. “You get steady water conditions and the water gets really clear. It was really good.”
Unlike most years, Hawkinson and friends had steady success of nice-sized crappie into July. It’s the first year they’ve caught numbers of legitimate four-pound white bass.
“A lot of guys caught a lot of saugeyes,” Hawkinson said. “They caught them right up against the rocks throwing crankbaits, in four or five foot of water.”
This winter, when Tuttle Creek was at its lowest, Hawkinson and others also boated around slowly, looking at dry places where prime fishing spots had once been, while trying to find others.
“Usually we found more brush at some of the really good places than we though there was down there when we were fishing,” he said. “It kind of told us why we didn’t catch many fish in some spots but lots in others. We learned quite a bit.”
And that knowledge came in handy this spring, when the lake started to rise in a hurry.
“It drains such a huge area that Tuttle Creek can probably rise faster than about any lake in Kansas,” he said. “We filled up and the same rains didn’t really do that much for (nearby) Milford or Council Grove.”
And the fishing with a full Tuttle Creek has been pretty impressive so far this year, too.
For close to a month Hawkinson has been enjoying sometimes good to great crappie fishing.
For a while, he and friends were walking the shorelines, fishing a jig about six feet below a bobber that lets the line slide through until it stops at a small crimp placed on the line.
More recently, as water temperatures have risen above 60 degrees, they’ve caught the 12- to 15-inch fish in water only a foot or two deep, in full spawn mode.
Like at most places in Kansas, though, he’s never been able to predict when those great days will be this year.
“You can go out one day and catch 60 or 70 with no trouble, then the next day you may go to several places and work hard to catch two or three,” he said. “I can’t make any sense out of it, unless the screwy (hot and cold) weather this spring has them all messed up. You just have to go and try it, really, to know what it is going to be like.”
About two weeks ago Hawkinson went out one cloudy, windy afternoon with some friends, when they didn’t expect the fish to be biting, and they had no trouble catching 25 to 30 nice fish. Many of the crappie were females pushing 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.
The next afternoon, the same stretches of shoreline were basically bare of crappie.
Hawkinson and the journalist he was hosting caught six crappie in about four hours of angling.
Though he can’t explain the whys of the off-and-on angling since the lake’s filled, Hawkinson is dead sure about one thing: Tuttle Creek will someday be much higher than regular levels. So it’s done many times in the past.
O’Malley said the lake was 25 to 30 feet above normal as recently as 2010.
No problem for lake experts like Hawkinson, he’ll probably still be catching fish.
“I’ve been up (in the upper end) when the water was rising so fast we kept having to back all of our equipment up the shoreline,” he said. “I’ve seen catfish coming up the freshly flooded corn rows, their dorsal fins sticking out of the water, hurrying to feed on sand toads and worms. That’s a lot of fun fishing then, too.”