Three major reservoirs within an hour of Wichita should again produce some of the best angling in Kansas.
Anglers looking for the fastest action, and best chances to take a few fish home for dinner, may have to switch to difference species of fish in 2017.
Andrew Schaefer, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist for Cheney, has been on the job about two months. Still, he did enough test netting last fall and talked to enough local anglers to get a handle on what the lake holds. Cheney should provide good catch-and-release opportunities for walleye and wipers.
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“The walleye numbers are up, but most are around 16 to 18 inches so (there will) be some good fishing opportunities, but not many (21-inch) keepers,” said Shaefer, an Iowa native who came to Kansas after working in Florida. Both walleye and wipers have conservative limits at Cheney to help control the population of invasive white perch.
Anglers may keep two per day of each species, and all must be 21 inches or longer.
Based on what he’s learned, Schaefer thinks Cheney’s wiper population is about twice what it was in 2016. The largest year-class are 3-year-old wipers that are 15 to 17 inches. There are some fish a year, and several inches, better.
“There are some 4-year-old wipers in there that are just shy of 21 inches,” said Schaefer. “Some of those will become keepers as the season progresses.”
Schaefer said wiper populations can vary greatly from year to year, due to stocking rates and weather conditions. Big cold fronts, that drop water temperatures rapidly, can kill a lot of wipers from a stocked year class.
Twenty years ago, Cheney was one of the better white bass lakes in Kansas, then white perch began to crowd them out. Cheney’s white bass population is still a far cry from what it was years ago, but the lake has a strong year class of 11- to 13-inch fish, and an older year class of fish around 15 inches.
Schaefer said test nets showed the lake’s white perch population is about half of what it was in 2016. Generally the fewer the perch, the bigger they get. This year anglers should find good numbers of “eaters” up to 12 inches. White perch are commonly rated as one of the best-tasting fish in Cheney.
El Dorado Reservoir
El Dorado’s biologist, Craig Johnson, has high hopes for two species of fish that don’t normally draw a lot of attention in south-central Kansas - blue catfish and smallmouth bass.
“We haven’t built up a good following for blue catfish, but they have a lot to offer if people want to try something new,” said Johnson. “About 78 percent are of harvestable size in El Dorado if people are looking for something they can keep.”
Blues were stocked into the lake several years ago, and now are reproducing well. Johnson put a slot limit on the lake that requires all blue catfish between 25 and 35 inches to be released. The limit is five per day. Only two of those fish can be more than 35 inches. Several fish that size were caught by anglers last year. Johnson said the lake has strong numbers of blue cats from 16 to 22 inches.
Johnson rates El Dorado’s smallmouth bass population as good, and that’s for quality and quantity. Last fall’s population was highest density in five years. Some will put a serious bend in a fishing rod.
“Guys that know what they’re doing can often go and pull several nice fish a day,” said Johnson. “We’re talking 21 1/2-, 22-inch fish. They’re good-looking fish. In the past they were often kind of skinny, but a lot of these are really plump.”
El Dorado’s reputation as a good crappie lake continues. Johnson said the number of bigger crappie are down from last year, but still high enough for good fishing. Winter anglers have done well on crappie 12 to 15 inches. There’s a solid year class of fish 6-9 inches, which may produce some keepers later in the year.
Walleye, always a popular species at El Dorado, are down. Johnson said the lake “lost a lot of fish,” possibly from poor year-class recruitment or when large amounts of water were released from the lake last summer. About 26 percent of the lake’s walleye are 21 inches or longer. The lake still has some real hogs. Last year numerous walleye from 27 to 30 inches were caught.
Known as a good to great walleye lake a few years ago, Marion has faded fast.
“It doesn’t look very good,” said Johnson of the lake’s walleye potential. “Last year we probably had the lowest catch rate in quite a while.”
The lake doesn’t seem to have a lot of fish that will top its 18-inch minimum length limit. Last fall’s test netting showed no fish that would have hatched last spring, even though the lake was stocked for the first time since 1993.
Marion’s best opportunity for solid action is probably with its big population of relatively small wipers. Johnson said the lake’s wiper population has probably never been higher, which is a reason it’s the only lake in the state with a liberal limit of five wipers per day with no size limit. The highest density, size-wize, is around 15 inches, though there are a few fish up to 23 inches.
“When you can get into them, it should be a lot of action, a lot of fun,” said Johnson. “If you’re wanting to catch fish, they’re probably your best bet.”
Johnson said Marion has a good population of crappie, with many from eight to ten inches. He predicts good growth rates. He also rated the lake’s white bass population as good, even though numbers remain low compared to historic values, he said. Many of the white bass in Marion are good-sized fish. Good spring inflow could lead to a nice spawn and help the lake’s white bass population recover quickly.