CLARK STATE FISHING LAKE – The relative gentleness of the 150-mile drive west from Wichita adds to the “Oh my gosh” gasp when you top the small rise on K-94, about 30 miles southwest of Greensburg. Why pioneers named it the Bluff Creek Valley is instantly obvious. So is why many modern Kansans call it the prettiest public fishing hole in Kansas.
For hundreds of feet, the prairie falls off at angles so steep that even the area’s mule deer, with their pogo-stick legs, would find much of it inaccessible. The highway uses sharp turns to ease vehicles into a valley studded with tall cottonwoods and feathery willows.
Across the valley stretches 300 acres of water so clear that you can see a fishing lure four feet below the surface, as well as the fish attached to it.
“These fish are so fat, their mouths always look small,” Joey Yeager said as he unhooked a brick of a bass Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a skinny bass in this lake.”
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His fishing partner, Lowell Aberson, a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s fisheries biologist for the lake, said its bass-fishing future may be looking better than it has in decades.
The lake was made in the 1930s, when the federal Civilian Conservation Corps gave jobs to hundreds of destitute men of the Great Depression. Often with little more than mules and shovels, they labored at places like Clark County for barely more than meals and a tent, to move the thousands of tons of dirt and rock needed to construct the lake’s dam, which holds well 80 years later.
Aberson said the lake was at its lowest during the drought-stricken summer of 2013. All boat ramps were well out of the water and the lake was 7 feet low. That changed one summer night, when more than seven inches of rain fell. The biologist found water running over the lake’s spillway the next morning, which gave him great hope for the next decade.
“There’s so much habitat, like flooded little cottonwoods and willows, that will make pretty good nursery structure for young fish,” he said. “I expect we’re going to continue to have some tremendous year classes coming on. Not only of bass, but also of crappie and bluegill, for the next several coming years.”
The lake also has good populations of white bass, walleye and catfish.
Yeager, a 31-year-old angler from Cimarron, makes the 90-minute drive mostly for largemouths.
“It’s gotten to where I kind of expect to catch a five-pounder every time I come,” he said as he launched his boat, and headed to a cove on the lake’s western shoreline. Aberson was along for the first couple of hours.
The first bass of the day, a chunky fish pushing 2 pounds, hit a three-inch plastic bait. When Yeager and Aberson started flipping plastic lizards and crawdads into flooded vegetation, things began to happen. Yeager soon jerked several bass aboard of about a pound. Aberson set the hook hard on a fish by an old beaver den and took his time pulling the conservative three-pounder aboard.
“When Clark gets really going good, it seems like that size is about average,” said Yeager. Aberson, who has the benefit of also electro-fishing the lake for surveys, agreed that size is pretty common.
Yeager did most of his fishing that afternoon amid Clark’s many coves and bays. With two boat ramps on both sides of the steep-sided lake, he knows he can almost always find a spot out of the wind whenever he can take a break from farming. Aberson said the steep valley, and many coves, well-suits those who can’t handle white caps.
“I see (canoes and kayaks) all the time out here, and people in belly-boats,” he said of anglers casting from float tubes.
“It sure fishes like a lot more than 300 acres,” said Yeager, referring to the many coves where fishermen can find privacy. Tuesday afternoon there were six boats on the lake. Both anglers said there are more afloat most weekends.
Yeager found plenty of casting room and 15 to 20 bass were brought aboard. Three or four that were hooked probably weighed as many pounds. Yeager didn’t break the coveted five-pound mark, or get a strike where he lost a fish of a solid eight pounds last year.
Though the fishing at Clark left him a bit disappointed that day, Clark, itself, never lets him down.
In between casts he stopped to watch a chattering kingfisher fly across the water and an obviously with-fawn fat whitetail doe at the back of a cove. He gazed often at the hills and high bluffs that rise well above the lake. He pointed toward several stems poking through the lake’s surface and said by early summer they’ll be holding platter-sized lily pads, each with a pink blossom.
“They’ll be gorgeous. The entire lake is gorgeous,” he said. “This is the kind of lake where it’s just good to be out here. It’s all just good for me when I’m here.”
Clark State Fishing Lake
▪ Maintained, primitive campsites with picnic tables and pit toilets.
▪ Water sports, such as skiing, pleasure boating and swimming, are not allowed.
▪ No supplies are sold at the lake.
▪ There is a nature trail. Roads that connect the lake’s two sides can be rough, and some sections pass through open range where cattle are not fenced from the roads. About 900 acres of public wildlife area surround the lake.