Vegetation helps Wilson Reservoir become big for bass

Jody Pfannenstiel was up early working in the grass. But instead of pulling dandelions from his lawn, he was pulling bass from flooded vegetation.

“The bass population has never been this good before, as far as I’m concerned,” said Pfannenstiel, a Wilson fishing veteran of nearly 40 years. “A lot of it has to do with the (flooded) grass and weeds. It’s made the fishing a lot better.”

Fishing about six or seven hours on a windy August morning and early afternoon, Pfannenstiel, of Salina, caught at least 25 bass from six to about 20 inches.

Unlike a decade ago, they were about evenly split between largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Wilson’s beautiful shoreline of towering rock formations and coves has long been some of the Midwest’s best waters for smallmouth bass. The fish best known for clear Ozark streams thrive amid jumbled rocks where they grow fat on crawdads and shad.

It’s now as known for its largemouth bass. Good fishermen can count on good numbers of fish up to three pounds, according to Pfannenstiel.

His best day this year was in the early spring, when he and a partner caught an estimated 150 bass. Nearly all were largemouths. He remembers bass fishing as good in the mid to late-1990s.

“That’s when we had so much high water and a lot of fish must have washed in from ponds. All of a sudden we had big bass in here,” Pfannenstiel said. He said the same high water gave them ideal spawning conditions on the flooded shoreline.

As the lake dropped to normal levels in coming springs, the good largemouth spawns ended.

Now, things are different.

Pfannenstiel credits about six years of fairly stable water levels for allowing broad beds of several kinds of aquatic weeds to form. They are an important sanctuary for young-of-the-year game and baitfish.

“Without that cover, if you hatched you’d usually just get gobbled up pretty quickly,” he said. “There are a lot of things in here that will eat you.” He was speaking of Wilson’s good populations of smallmouths, white bass and stripers.

The weed beds also give Pfannenstiel a great chance to fish his favorite way for bass – with top-water lures.

On the lake at about 6 a.m., the 25-year veteran of tournament fishing motored to a favored cover and began casting a floating, plastic frog amid dense mats of aquatic weeds.

Pfannenstiel used twitches to move it about, letting it pause on any opening in the greenery.

His first fish of the day came within about five minutes. He’d boated four largemouths, the best being about 16½ inches, when he left the bay after about a half-hour of casting.

Battling wind-whipped whitecaps, Pfannenstiel worked his way up lake, hitting some rocky shorelines for smallmouths and stopped to fish any sizable clumps of flooded vegetation.

He hit paydirt where waves were pushing shad onto a rocky point that was thick with vegetation. Bass were seen smacking baitfish on the surface before Pfannenstiel arched his first cast at the spot.

Working around the outside and casting in, he caught eight to 10 smallmouths from the spot.

“We left fish still feeding when we left that spot,” he later said as he looked for a good concentration of bigger largemouths. “You could go back to a place like that and catch bass all day.”

He later found his best fish of the day, a largemouth probably a tad more than four pounds, at about noon.

It wasn’t his favorite bass of the day, though. Instead, it was a little largemouth of about six inches that somehow managed to get hooked on a Zara Spook almost as long.

“These are the fish we really like to see, and we’re seeing lots of these little fish,” Pfannenstiel said as he watched the released bass disappear into the flooded weeds. “Those are our future. That’s what lets us know we’ve got more good fishing for years to come.”

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