In Thursday’s bitter cold, seven anglers gathered beside a Wichita stream. But rather than to catch fish for themselves, they’d come to release more than a thousand so other anglers could try to tempt them to their lines, and take them to their frying pan.
“The whole purpose of the special trout program is for people to come out and catch, and then eat, these fish while we have them,” said Andrew Schaefer, a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist, as he dumped a bucket of rainbow trout into Slough Creek in Sedgwick County Park.
“Rainbow trout need water 65 degrees or under. We can have that in the wintertime here, but (the water) will eventually get too warm.”
Chances are most of those released fish won’t be around when the water is too warm for their survival. Most will have been caught.
“Our trout fisheries have the highest catch rate of any fish we have in Kansas,” said Doug Nygren, Wildlife and Parks fisheries chief. “The catch rates per hour are really high. It’s great for recruiting children. We have a lot of people who really like to catch, and eat, them.”
While trout aren’t native to Kansas, the state has long held avid trout anglers who’d travel to the Rockies or Ozarks for the hard-fighting fish. Nygren’s not sure when trout were first brought to Kansas, but he said the current Wildlife and Parks stocking program has been active for more than 20 years.
This season runs Nov. 1-April 15, with a regimented stocking program bringing fish from the Missouri Ozarks or Colorado mountains. About every two weeks, three Wichita waters – KDOT East Lake, Vic’s Lake and Slough Creek – get a new batch of fish. The latter two are within Sedgwick County Park. Wildlife and Parks has 33 waters designated as trout stocking locations in Kansas. Lack of water or poor water quality usually means only about 25 of those streams or lakes get trout throughout the trout season.
A portion of the Walnut River in El Dorado State Park is part of the program and receives regular stockings, as does a pond at the Dillon Nature Center near Hutchinson.
Wildlife and Parks pays a heavy fee to get trout brought to Kansas.
“It’s an expensive program, around $4.50 per pound by the time you get them delivered,” Nygren said. “If we’re stocking half-pounders, which is our goal, they’re about two bucks apiece.”
All trout anglers 16 years and older are required to purchase a $14.50 special trout permit, which runs the calendar year. Youth under 16 don’t need a special permit, but are limited to keeping two trout per day. Adults or youth who buy the special trout permit can keep five trout per day, with no more than 15 in possession.
Some waters, like the Dillon Nature Center, only require trout permits for those actively fishing for trout. Others, like the three in Wichita, require a trout permit for all adults fishing the waters during the trout season. Informational signage is posted at the trout waters. Trout permits aren’t needed to catch and keep the fish after the season closes on April 15.
Kansas annually sells around 13,000 trout permits, which isn’t enough to support the program. Nygren said they use fees gathered from selling other kinds of fishing licenses and permits to make up the difference. Regular fishing licenses also must be held by those 16 to 75.
Nygren said a wide variety of anglers take part in Kansas’ special trout stocking program. Many like to fish the lakes with the same spinning outfits they use for summertime catfish, casting out a baited hook then waiting for action to come. For many it’s the only time they get to fish for trout.
Then there are guys like the five from the Flatland Fly Fishers who came to help Schaefer release fish into Slough Creek.
Through the years the club has volunteered to help sculpt the mile-long stream into the best flowing trout water possible, complete with riffles and deep pools. At its request Slough Creek is “artificial lures only” for trout fishing, unlike nearby Vic’s Lake, which allows lures and bait.
Club member Jim Tanner regularly makes extended trips to the Rockies or Ozarks to fly-fish for trout, but also spends several days at Slough Creek during the special season. He said the stream draws many anglers, most of whom find success. He best likes it when he shares the stream with young anglers.
“I always like to see kids catching fish,” said Tanner. “Fishing is one of the greatest joys in life.”
David Johnson, of Zeiner’s Bass Shop, said many local trout fishermen do well with any of several prepared trout dough baits. Most come in a variety of colors, and it can take some experimentation to find what the trout prefer. Johnson said anglers should be sure to try brown, which is the color of the pellets the trout were fed before they were stocked into Kansas waters.
Light line, as low as two- or four-pound-test, helps with success. Johnson recommends the bait be placed on a size 14 or 16 treble hook, with a small weight clamped about 12 to 18 inches up the line.
“The dough floats, so that gets the bait up off the bottom, and above any weedlines,” said Johnson. “A lot of trout get caught that way.”
Those who prefer to do continued casting often do well casting tiny spinners on light lines. That would include size 0 Mepps or 1/12th spoons. Bright colors seem to help.
Slough Creek is the most popular local water for fly fishermen. Rick Brown says anglers should fish it like a mountain stream.
“Anything you throw in Colorado will work in Kansas, except for dry (floating) flies,” said Brown, a Flatland Fly Fishers member. “Our trout don’t feed much on the surface.”
Popular streamers, like size 10 or 12 woolly buggers, often work, said Brown. His favorite colors are olive, brown and black. Marabou jigs as slight as 1/100 of an ounce can be productive on Slough Creek.
Brown also recommends ruby midges, red zebra midges and red San Juan worms. A tippet of around four-pound-test is ideal.