Dale Hines was where he spends most of his spring and summer days, in his boat near the center of Wilson Reservoir, fishing water deeper than many Kansans have cast.
“We’ve been finding them out here in this 40 to 45 feet of water for several weeks,” said Hines, owner of a guide service that bears his name. “They should be right there on the bottom.”
The guide started at a depth finder, turned off the engine, then handed a spinning rod rigged with a jig and nightcrawler to guest Sue Graham, who sat in the bow of the boat.
Within the next 30 minutes, a 16-inch smallmouth bass, several channel catfish and a 17 1/2-inch walleye, the target species, were pulled from the depths. Though a nearly everyday event for Hines, the morning was a rarity for Graham.
“I seldom go fishing from a boat anymore,” said Graham, who fishes several times per week, “I just go from shore. The bank fishing can be very good at Wilson. Lately it’s been some of the best it’s ever been.”
She showed a photo of a friend with a 23 1/4-pound striped bass.
“She caught that fishing from the shore (June 5),” Graham said. “I caught some nice catfish from the same place.”
Though one fishes from a boat that’s worth more than many cars, and the other can drive a car to within a few yards of where she casts from the shore with simple equipment, Hines and Graham agree Wilson Reservoir is a versatile lake with something to offer all kinds of anglers.
“There are just so many natural points sticking out into the water around here,” Graham said of the Smoky Hill’s lake that’s known for rugged sandstone outcroppings. “And at a lot of those, you may have some pretty deep places 10 feet out from shore. Sometimes you can catch walleye, bass, stripers, catfish and drum from one spot. When people are catching walleye off the bank, they’re always pretty happy.”
Though she won’t divulge the location of her favorite spot, which is where her friend, Angelina Hill, caught the big striper from shore, Graham said she recommends a variety of places to those who come in the store to buy bait or tackle. She recommends people fish points where the wind is blowing into the shoreline, especially from deep water. During last weekend’s near gale-force winds, she had customers fishing large minnows off the face of the lake’s dam as the waves crashed in.
“They had a limit of stripers (2) and almost caught a limit of smallmouths,” she said. “They were really hooking into the fish.”
One mistake bank anglers can make, she said, is staying in a spot too long if it’s not producing. She said she often has to drive to several spots, giving them all a fair chance, before she finds where fish might be concentrated on the days she catches fish.
Hines is a big believer in staying on the move until he finds good action, too. He has a host of spots he checks. If walleye aren’t there, he may put heavy weights on the bottom to his client’s lines, and drag a hunk of nightcrawler at the end of a two-foot long leader as he trolls slowly. Once he finds the fish, he’ll stay over the area with his electric motor.
On his June 10 morning of fishing with Graham, Hines didn’t find any sizable concentrations of walleye. They had three over the 15-inch minimum length limit when he took her to the dock after about three hours. Frustrated, he figured the action must have been slowed by a major weather front and three inches of rain the day before.
On a more-recent guide trip last week, Hines and his clients caught their limit of five keeper walleye each in an estimated two hours.
“They were back out in that 40 foot of water where they’ve been,” he said. “They were deep.”
When the walleye bite stops within a few weeks, Hines said he’ll continue to fish deep, such around 25 feet for another pattern – when he and clients can catch tasty white perch (some to 10 or 12 inches) and big, hard-fighting stripers in the same spot.
“You have the shad and you have the white perch chasing the shad and the stripers chasing the white perch,” said Hines, who often catches white perch two at a time while fishing a slab spoon and crappie jig on the same line. “You catch a lot doubles until the stripers start tearing you up, and then you have to go to just one slab. It’s a lot of fun.”