Cardinals are singing to greet the dawn and softwood trees are beginning to bud. For thousands in the Wichita area that means it is, hopefully, time to put away the snow shovel and pick up the fishing rods. Fortunately, they won’t have to travel far this year to find good public fish populations, according to Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologists, based on annual fall test nettings and what they’ve learned from anglers.
None of the major reservoirs in central Kansas have much to offer bass fishermen, but a few state fishing lakes sure do.
“If you want big fish, and numbers, got to Butler (state fishing lake),” said Craig Johnson, a biologist and avid angler. “It’s just a quality fishery... it has fat and healthy fish and not a lot of fishing pressure.”
Johnson said largemouth bass around 20 inches are “pretty common,” and he’s sampled several weighing more than six pounds. As well as good habitat, he credited an overriding catch-and-release attitude among most bass anglers for the lake’s success. That doesn’t mean the fish are easy, though.
“Not many of those bigger fish are carrying hook scars, so they also must be pretty smart,” said Johnson.
Biologist Jeff Koch spoke highly of McPherson State Fishing Lake, with size and densities similar to those at Butler State Fishing Lake.
“It’s only 46 acres, but it’s a good destination for bass fishermen,” Koch said. “It has high densities and some really, really good sizes.”
Almost all reservoirs, community and state fishing lakes offer good to excellent channel catfishing. Marion Reservoir has long been popular with a good mix of quality — three to six-pounders — and good numbers, too. Cheney Reservoir normally doesn’t have as high of numbers, but the lake seems to produce numerous channel cat in the 20-pound range annually. Kingman State Fishing Lake was drained last year, but some sizable brood fish from the Wildlife and Parks hatchery have been stocked to make for some good fishing.
El Dorado Reservoir offers a unique opportunity because blue catfish stocked about 10 years ago to help control zebra mussels are finally over the lake’s 35-inch minimum length limit. As well as a variety of sizes for channel catfish, El Dorado has good numbers of 15- to 20-inch blues, which must be released immediately. All three major reservoirs have solid populations of flathead catfish, and have produced flats in excess of 70 pounds in recent years.
El Dorado Reservoir is its usual good bet for quality crappie.
“It doesn’t have a lot of quantity, but the quality makes up for the numbers,” said Johnson. “It’s a good trip when you can take home 15 to 20 fish, but there are some 15- and 16-inch crappie in there. You won’t catch a lot of those, but you can still catch at least some jumbos out there.” Fish closer to 12 inches are closer to average for El Dorado.
Biologist Jessica Mounts didn’t run fall test nets at Marion Reservoir last year, but she’s heard good things about the lake’s crappie population. Ice fishermen had a great winter at the lake, catching some impressive numbers. Most were around nine or 10 inches, with the occasional fish around 12 inches. Mounts suggested anglers also look at Marion County Lake, where both numbers and size appear to be nice. Wellington City Lake should have a nice mix of crappie, too.
If you like catching big, toothy fish that don’t fight much harder than snagged sticks, but taste like pure gold on the table, this is your year.
“Cheney is going to be special this year,” said Koch. “About 50 percent of the (walleye) are those fish 21 inches plus, and a lot of 25- to 26-inch fish. Both Cheney and El Dorado have restrictive limits of two per day, and 21 inches or longer on walleye. It is hoped good numbers of the predatory fish can feed on white perch populations in both lakes. The news is pretty good at El Dorado, too.
“The densities are down, but about 40 percent of the walleye exceed 21 inches and there are some really big walleye in El Dorado,” Johnson said. “It’s not full of walleye like it has been, but the ones you get usually make it into the memory book.” Unfortunately, both lakes also share some bad news, too.
“You better enjoy it while you can, because we don’t have a lot of smaller fishing coming up,” Koch said. “The drought has been really hard on recruitment.”
Again, no shortage of good waters, especially for those who enjoy catching fast-fighting wipers. There’s no question where to go for size, at least.
“El Dorado has some bigger fish, the overall wiper catch is improving,” Johnson said. “It has fairly good numbers of 26- and 27-inch fish, with a few that are larger.”
Mounts said Marion Reservoir had good numbers of wipers from 18 to 21 inches, and reminded anglers it has no length limit and the limit is five per day. Cheney and El Dorado have limits of two wipers, or 21 inches or better, per day. For Cheney, Koch said anglers can expect good numbers but not a lot of keepers.
“We’ll have a lot of fish in that 18- to 21-inch range,” he said. “They aren’t really big, but they should be fun and pretty easy to catch.”
He said Cheney again has a nice population of white bass, which could make for good spawn fishing if rains bring up water levels.