Free fishing available this weekend in Kansas

Vanessa Osborne fishes at Sedgwick County Park’s Horseshoe Lake. The weekend of June 6 and 7 is Free Fishing Days in Kansas, meaning no fishing license is required to fish in any Kansas lakes. (June 4, 2015)
Vanessa Osborne fishes at Sedgwick County Park’s Horseshoe Lake. The weekend of June 6 and 7 is Free Fishing Days in Kansas, meaning no fishing license is required to fish in any Kansas lakes. (June 4, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Been putting off your annual fishing trip with the family?

Or wanting to give angling a try after several years away from the sport?

You might want to go this Saturday and Sunday, when all requirements for Kansas fishing permits will be waived, as they have been for one spring weekend each year since 2001.

"Basically we've implanted a free fishing weekend for people who used to fish and maybe would like to go back out with their family," said Doug Nygren, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries chief. "It's also for those who've never fished before, but they think they'd like to try it.

“We're just wanting to help people connect, or re-connect, with the outdoors, so we're saving them some cost."

Nygren said this particular weekend was picked because it's early enough in the year that hungry fish are fairly shallow and within casting distance of shorelines.

Other than this weekend, all people between the ages of 16 and 75 need to have some sort of fishing permit, unless exempt by military service or fishing on privately-owned impoundments. Costs range from $5.50 for a daily permit to $20.50 for an annual permit for Kansas residents.

Of course, Nygren's department is hoping those who utilize this weekend's free angling will like it enough to purchase one of those permits and go again. Currently, he said, about one in 10 Kansas residents have a fishing permit.

The state's heyday for fishing permit sales was back in 1972, when more than 370,000 licenses were sold. That doesn't include the many kids, seniors and owners of private waters who fished back then, when about 16 percent of Kansans had a fishing license.

"Back then we had the phenomena of all of those new lakes and reservoirs coming in to Kansas, something we'd never had," Nygren said. "It was an exciting time with a lot of new fishing opportunities."

The state's low mark for fishing license sales was in 2009 when about 253,000 licenses were sold. Nygren said several years of drought back then probably added to that record low.

Last year, about 270,000 licenses were sold, though he quotes federal figures as saying the total, counting those exempt, was closer to 400,000 Kansans.

Nygren said those same federal surveys show most states are dealing with reduced numbers of anglers compared to a few decades back.

Current Kansas anglers, he said, have more places to go fishing than ever, as private landowners, communities, cities and suburban areas continue to build lakes and ponds for water sources, recreation and flood control.

"We have about 250 public lakes owned by a government that are open to the public," Nygren said. "We estimate there are over 150,000 private lakes, and they're lakes of all sizes."

Permission must be received from a pond’s owner before fishing those waters.

Wildlife and Parks leases the fishing rights to scores of such waters and shares them with the public for free, under its Fishing Impoundments and Stream Habitats program.

Nygren said anglers in south-central Kansas needn't travel far from downtown Wichita to find fish-filled waters. The area’s urban fishing program is ranked as one of the best in nation, with about 20 waters ranging from 1 acre to more than 250 acres in Sedgwick and nearby counties.

"We stock them a lot, some every two weeks with catchable-size channel catfish," he said. "We have urban fishing programs in every community of 40,000 or more. Those people catch a lot of fish in those waters."

For more information, go to ksoutdoors.com/Fishing, or call 316-683-8069.

Reach Michael Pearce at 316-268-6382 or mpearce@wichitaeagle.com.

Advice for anglers

Craig Johnson, a fisheries biologist and avid angler, offers the following advice for those taking advantage of the upcoming free fishing weekend.

▪ Though he often fishes larger lakes for walleye and crappie, Johnson is a fan of the catfish stocking program in urban fishing waters in the Wichita area.

"They have higher stocking rates than most of the state, and they’re three-quarters of a pound and bigger," Johnson said. "You can put them in a pan, and they're good to eat."

▪ As well as traditional nightcrawlers, liver and stink baits, Johnson encourages anglers to try a small piece of hot dog. The less expensive the hot dog, the more scent it releases into the water.

▪ Johnson stressed catfish baits must be fished on the bottom. He likes a small sliding weight just heavy enough to get the bait on the bottom. A small split shot placed on the line to keep the weight a foot or so from the hook will allow fish to pull on the bait with little resistance.

▪ Most state fishing lakes, including the ones in Butler and Cowley counties, can offer fast action for bluegill and green sunfish in the shallows this time of the year. He suggests a small bobber, no larger than a nickel, a small split shot and size six or eight hook with a piece of nightcrawler threaded on about two feet below the float.