MILFORD RESERVOIR — It's the most exciting scene in Kansas fishing. Fingerling shad squirt into the air while below them long, silvery fish loudly crash the surface hard enough to send splashes yards into the sky. Gulls dive amid the melee, picking up injured shad.
The sounds will carry a half-mile.
Such a piscine riot was a few yards behind Vic Oertle on Friday evening, but he couldn't turn and watch.
He had his hands full with a nice wiper. His fishing rod was bowed deeply and his line sung like a plucked harp string as the fish pulled.
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So it's gone for weeks, he said, despite Mother Nature hitting Milford Reservoir with some nasty blows.
Heavy rains in northern Kansas kept the lake swollen to about 15 feet above normal for weeks because high water downstream prevented releases.
The zebra mussel population quickly went from "Hey, there's one" to "Oh my gosh."
Blue-green algae levels were so dangerously high that pets died from ingesting the water, and Milford was totally closed to all use for several days.
Except for those days when he couldn't fish, Oertle never complained.
"We had some of the best fishing ever," said Oertle, of Manhattan. "It's the highest water I can remember fishing, but we were catching white bass in flooded cornfields."
Oertle has been fishing and guiding at Milford for more than 40 years. It's his testing water for lures he designs and produces for his Fishtech Lures company.
As he crossed the lake Friday afternoon, Oertle rattled anecdotes attesting to Milford's productivity this year.
In July "I caught five smallmouths over five pounds. My best was 6 pounds. 1 ounce, my best-ever anywhere," he said "I was also catching 25-30 smallmouth a day."
He spoke of recent days when he's spent the afternoon in fast action with white bass before turning to wipers in the evening. Some evenings he caught the powerful fish on surface lures for 90 minutes.
A passing angler told Oertle he'd recently caught several blue catfish between 15 and 20 pounds. Both had heard stories of blues over 50 pounds hauled to boats this summer.
But wipers and white bass were in Oertle's thoughts Friday afternoon. It wasn't long before they were in his boat, too.
Where a favored flat dropped into a submerged creek channel, he began casting heavy, slab spoons. Slowly raising his rod's tip, he watched his yellow line for signs of a hit as the spoon fluttered to the bottom. His third cast got a white bass of about a pound.
Good by most standards, Oertle termed the action "OK" after he and a guest caught about 15 whites in an hour. "We can do better," he said as he fired up his boat.
Eventually he stopped at the edge of another flat, and both anglers had fish on their first casts. For more than an hour they enjoyed white bass on about every cast.
At about 6:15 p.m., Oertle's boat split Milford's calm, mirrored surface and flushed floating rafts of tens of thousands of gulls gathered to rest during migration.
His stop was Milford's legendary "Miracle Mile," a stretch of shoreline famed for top-water wiper action.
Oertle slowly moved his boat amid a big bay, casting a surface-churning buzzbait as he waited for wipers to show.
An hour before, dark birds began to dive and silver fish churned loudly in scattered spots. It was far from the acres of melee Oertle had seen a few days before. He and his guest had six wipers from three to six pounds ambush their baits. Oertle had expected better quality and quantity.
As he headed for the ramp, Oertle was disappointed but not discouraged. Milford's fall fishing is legendary. Soon his beloved white bass, some to three pounds, will gather on rip-rap near bridges. Wiper fishing will remain good for several months.
And the lake's future is bright. This year's high-water about guaranteed great gamefish hatches as young fish had plenty of places to hide.
"It'll be good because it's just always a great fishing lake," Oertle said.
Indeed it is, even come algae or high water.