EL DORADO LAKE — Shane Eustice is getting reacquainted with an old friend that's looking better this summer.
"You can see rocks two feet into the water," Eustice said as he looked into El Dorado Lake from a boat ramp last week. "Used to be you could hardly see anything and what you could see was covered with zebra mussels."
His old friend has been generous this summer, too.
Over the past few weeks, Eustice has experienced some of the best walleye fishing in several years at El Dorado. The wiper fishing has been the best he's seen.
"You almost can't believe how fat these fish are," said Eustice, an avid tournament angler and occasional fishing guide from El Dorado. "We're catching 21- to 23-inch fish you can hardly get your hand around to grab. If you catch a 20-inch walleye, you may be releasing a three- or four-pound fish."
El Dorado Lake has had its ups and downs over the past decade.
Invasive villains zebra mussels and white perch showed up in 2003 and 2009. The presence of white perch, which wrecked fish reproduction at Cheney Lake for many years, caused biologists to saddle El Dorado with restrictive length and creel limits.
It's hoped more and bigger black bass, wipers and walleye will help keep the perch population down.
In recent years, the lake has dealt with extreme water fluctuations from 6 feet high to 6 feet low. At least low-water times drastically lowered zebra mussel populations.
Some years also had poor hatches of baitfish.
Eustice said this time last year, fish were hard to find in murky water. What he caught was generally thin.
Craig Johnson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist, said things started improving when El Dorado's water began clearing last fall. This year the lake has continued to clear.
In May 2010, Johnson used a secchi disk, a metal disk with black and white sections, and measured El Dorado's clarity at about 7 inches. Recently the disk showed about 42 inches of clarity.
And clear water has meant sight-feeding fish are gorging themselves on shad and attacking lures.
Eustice began catching good numbers of wipers and walleye about two weeks ago. Johnson and several other veteran El Dorado anglers have found increased success, too.
Early one morning last weekend, Eustice hosted two guests at the lake. The night before, he and Jerry Howard easily filled limits of two walleye and two wipers more than 21 inches while releasing dozens of other fish.
That morning, Eustice and guests trolled crankbaits in about 18 feet of water over old road beds and the edges of creek and river channels.
Eagle editor Sherry Chisenhall landed the first fish — a small walleye. Minutes later her second was about 18 inches.
Her next walleye put a serious bow in the rod, staying below the surface until Eustice scooped it up in a net. That walleye was 22 inches and as fat as most fish five inches longer. Later she caught one an inch bigger.
A third keeping-sized walleye was later added to the livewell.
Eustice and crew spent an hour casting plastic swimbaits for wipers but failed to land a fish. About noon, building heat forced the anglers from the lake.
Later that evening, Eustice returned with his wife, Shawna. Two keeper walleye quickly hit trolled baits. Three wipers made simultaneous strikes minutes later.
Monday evening, he and a guest returned and fished the same patterns. About a dozen fish, including several sub-legal walleye and white bass, fell for the trolled crankbaits.
No wipers or keeper walleye made it to the boat.
Until dark, Eustice trolled and cast lures in areas his electronics showed were holding plenty of shad and sizable fish.
"All the conditions looked like we should have caught fish," he said. "I guess it's just one of those nights."
He headed home disappointed but not discouraged. There should be plenty of trips where his old friend is generous again this year.