Category Archives: Lake Reviews

Blues on the Rocks

Preamble

One of my yakangling buddies is Spencer, from over at www.theoutsidebend.com. He’s a catfish specialist. I like to call him the Whisker Whisperer. He has a kind of disorder. I don’t know exactly what the medical term is for it, but it causes him to obsess about catching big fish from his kayak. Something I can relate to.

So, when another kayak fishing acquaintance shot me a message to let me know that he was going to sponsor a catfish kayak fishing tournament on a lake in Kansas that’s known for it’s trophy blue cats, Spencer was on my short-list of people I know who might be up for the 5 hour drive. I immediately hit him up with the info.

It was an easy sell. We agreed to start making plans. We gave ourselves a team name. We got hyped. We got totally bitch-slapped by the ugly reality of scheduling. I have lots of family birthdays in April which made that weekend bad for me and Spencer had a grad school final that made it pretty much impossible for him. That hype though… That wasn’t going to just go away. We decided to just change the date and go on our own, the weekend before the tournament.

The planning phase started. Now I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else, but for me, the planning is a sacred part of the trophy-hunting process. It’s not something to be taken lightly. I looked at maps of the lake for areas to fish and for the best place to camp so we could put right in and get on it. Then I looked again. And again. I did my blue cat research and I started upgrading the gear that I’d need for the trip. The days drug sluggishly towards the date marked off on the calendar, and the anticipation built.

Then, mercifully, the calendar gave in. It was Catfish Eve…

I scheduled Friday off from work. I had everything loaded up on Thursday night and I was going to head down first thing in the morning and arrive shortly after lunch. I would find the best spot at the camp ground and set up basecamp. Spencer and his friend Seth couldn’t leave until later so I was going to try and get as much ready as I could, and then get on the water to put in a little ‘pre-fishing’ in order to feel out the bite, and look at the chances for getting some fresh bait on the water.

Day 1:

A little over five hours after I pulled out of my driveway I was coming down the road to the causeway and took a right into the road that led to the campground.

Ok, so, vital to any good adventure is a little adversity to overcome. It adds a sense of drama and urgency and it makes for better stories later. Well it was right here and now that the first obstacle made an appearance. It stood arms stretched wide like Gandalf in the lord of the rings – with that whole “You shall not pass!” bit…

You Shall Not Pass!

You Shall Not Pass!

As is often the case, this obstacle would initiate a chain reaction of events that would significantly change the trajectory of our course. But we’ll get to that.

All was not immediately lost. This entrance was on the North side of the road. Directly across from it on the South side was another entrance to the campground bearing the same name (peculiar) that was open. It would put us on the ‘wrong’ side of the causeway, but I had no choice but to check it out, so I turned around, crossed the road, and made my way down the winding drive to the campground.

I had my pick of the spots since there wasn’t another person there. I pulled in to the spot closest to the water.

This was the best spot on the campground but even so it was far from ideal.

IMG_20160415_150907951 (Copy)

It was by the edge of a cliff and there was no easy access to the water that I could see. There was one tiny path, but it would require putting the kayak on it’s side to get down. I have no idea how it would be getting back up… To make matters worse we were about 3/4 mile to the face of the causeway, and the passage under the causeway that would let us to the North side (where we had intended on fishing) was on the OTHER side of the lake.

Cliff hanger

Cliff hanger

The only path down

The only path down

This is probably a good place to bring up the wind. The wind wasn’t just going to be a factor. It was going to be a driving force affecting every part of this trip. Twenty to thirty MPH sustained and with the flat Kansas terrain it was kicking up some serious swells on the lake. This camp put us on the side where the wind was blowing across the expanse of the open water towards the causeway. The North side of the lake would be more sheltered from the wind and wouldn’t have all those chaotic whitecaps I was staring at from this elevated spot.

So with all this wind, and all those white-capping waves, that causeway looked a whole lot farther away than it normally would. And that passage – way on the other end of it? We may as well try paddling to China.

I needed to pull a solution for this closed gate to the North out of thin air. And fast.

There followed at this point a flurry of activity that included calls to the Army Corps of Engineers, chasing down a contractor who showed up to spray down the outhouses, and finally a face-to-face with a park ranger. I was going to get this situation sorted once and for all! After I was finished talking with the ranger I thanked him for all his help and I watched him drive off. He helped clear everything up for us. We were camping here.

I made a follow up call to Spencer and broke the news to him. We’d have to wing it.

It was about 5:00 at this point so I broke out my gear and set up camp. I decided that I’d lower my yak down that narrow trail and get on the water to look for any good spots. I’d just deal with getting it back up after the guys showed up. Once camp was set up camp I noticed a small path that ran next to the edge of the cliff and went into the woods. I took a quick peek and found that it wound down to the water with no drop off. WIN!

Carefully...

Carefully…

A short time later I was at the water’s edge and paddling out. I saw what looked like the tell-tale signs of an old road bed on the shore so I anchored up in about 10 feet of water and threw out a couple of lines towards where that road bed should be.

I was hooked up in no time with my first kayak bluecat. WIN AGAIN! He wasn’t huge but it was a good sign about the bite and our prospects the following day. A couple more runs from fish that I couldn’t hook up and it was time to paddle in. All this activity in such a short time made me feel like this road bed could be a good spot.

First kayak blue cat

First kayak blue cat

Once my partners arrived I briefed them about the trail to the water I found, and the about fish activity I had in my short outing. Based on this we decided that we’d go ahead and start our day on this side of the causeway the following morning. Remember that “Chain of events” bit I mentioned earlier?

Preparing for battle

Preparing for battle

We rigged up and finished the night with a few beers by the campfire. Campfire camaraderie the night before a day of fishing is another one of those sacred things. It can wash away the residue of cubicle existence and invigorate the soul.

Day 2:

The birds started started chirping at the very first sign of color in the sky and the day we’d been waiting for was upon us. Spencer made a pre-dawn run out to troll for some Kansas hybrid bass and I stoked the fire and started breakfast. He was back in by the time the sun cleared the horizon and we proceeded get on with the essentials of coffee, eggs with bacon, and personal hygiene. Then, with those necessities of life behind us, we were paddling out to hunt some trophy blue cats. FINALLY!!

Our adjusted game plan was pretty straight-forward. We’d start off at the road bed. Anchor up and soak our baits. We’d adjust as needed by raising our anchors and letting the wind push us closer to the face of the causeway.

Setting up in that wind and those waves took a little work. Once we were in place it wasn’t so bad, but it was constant mixture of bobbing and bouncing on the waves while swinging and swaying in the wind.

Spencer got on the first fish of the day and it was a solid starter. As the morning started to progress,however, we weren’t really getting the action we expected. We repositioned closer to the causeway. Closer. Eventually we were on a spot that started to give us some hope. We were getting some runs but couldn’t seem to hook up. I’m not going to lie, when you make all the plans and do all the work to make a trip like this happen you feel some pressure to get some results. Getting bites and then having those fish pop off is VERY frustrating.

Spencer's first blue cat

Spencer’s first blue cat

Finally Spencer was hooked up and it seemed like a good one. After a short battle he pulled up a beast of a long-nose gar that he had to just cut his line to let go.

Spencer working it

Spencer working it

Ironically he had speculated that the reason we weren’t hooking up might be because we were dealing with gar tagging our baits. This fish just sort of confirmed that theory. It was lunch time at this point and we only had one catfish between the three of us to show for our efforts. We needed to regroup.

We decided to fight the wind and waves and paddle back to camp to reassess our game-plan.

A little food and a tasty beverage and we were considering our options.

We were really all thinking the same thing. It just took a few minutes off the water and away from the wind to finally get us all openly on-board with it…

We drug our yaks and gear back up the hill. We broke it all down, we loaded it all up, and we made a B-Line across the causeway to the boat ramp on the other side.

Load, unload, load. Repeat as necessary.

Load, unload, load. Repeat as necessary.

After we parked and started unloading to put in, we saw a guy pull up a stringer with one cat that was 60lbs plus and another in the 30s. If you’re looking for a sign that you’ve made the right call by moving spots when you’re fishing, well… That’s the kind of sign you like to see. Even the bait was easily found on this side

Seth with some shad

Seth with some shad

We paddled straight to the passage under the causeway. The wind was funneling here so it was even stronger and it was directly opposing the current so it was setting up some crazy swells even bigger than we’d been dealing with all morning. We set up some spots and made some shifts.

Some big swells

Some big swells

Again I had a couple of runs that I couldn’t hook up. I was beginning to get frustrated and out of my zone. Spencer and Seth finally parked there yaks against the rocks and got up on the embankment. Spencer found a nice big circular current and he immediately started catching fish from it. He got hot and caught the biggest fish of the trip at 20+ lbs from this spot. I was ready to do about anything to get on some fish but more than anything I wanted to catch a good fish from my yak.

Spencer with the best fish of the trip

Spencer with the best fish of the trip

I made an effort to position myself in my kayak so I could work that big vortex but the lake wasn’t having it. I just started to get pounded against the rocks by those waves. Enough. I begrudgingly got out and up on the rocks. I gave it a few minutes up there but my heart wasn’t in it. This just wasn’t what I came for. I put back in and paddled to find a better position under that bridge while I tried to get my head straight.

After a bit I had managed to regroup mentally, and I was feeling good about my new spot and position. Soon I had my first fish of the day on the board. I think we finally felt like we were getting a handle on the area and how to fish it. Then we started losing light. That was it. Our day was ending. Our time had run out. “If only we had started on this side” I thought. Chain of events…

The wind had picked up even more and that last paddle to the boat ramp in the dying light of the day was the sketchiest paddling I’ve ever done. Those swells rose up like bullies in a hallway trying to force us between taking a beating against the rocks or getting pushed out towards the main lake. The wind had taken up the Gandalf duties. That Shire place must be somewhere in Kansas… So, that final push to the boat ramp was pretty much horrible. I think Seth summed it up nicely when he pulled up on shore a couple of minutes behind me, “Dude that was f***ing terrifying!”

We loaded in the dark and went back to camp.

After the abuse Milford had handed us all day long we were exhausted. We considered doing some shore fishing in the dark but after a beer and a little food we all fell out like babies; overgrown, battered, campfire-and-fish-smelling babies.

The next morning was calling for rain, but the forecast was pretty vague about exactly when and about how heavy it would be when it did start. We had hopes of getting 2 or 3 good hours again in the morning before we had to head home.

Day 3:

The air was wet but not technically raining when we got up at first light – call it ‘power mist.’ We hustled to get everything broke down and loaded up then we fired up a quick breakfast. The sky showed signs of clearing so we left camp for good and made the run to get back under the causeway bridge.

In the short time we were on the water that morning I landed three more fish. More than the previous two days combined. None of them were the trophy cats I was looking for but at least I felt like we were collectively getting a good handle on this area.

Kayak blue

Kayak blue

And then it was time to go. We paddled in and loaded up one last time. We talked for a bit with each other and with one of the locals there who was just please as punch that we had made the drive from Iowa to come down and fish there.

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth

“Welcome to Kansas guys! Have a safe trip home and I hope you come back and fish here again!”

Count on it old-timer. We have enough first-hand information now to be dangerous. We’ll be on point when we show up next year and we’ll be bringing our A-game. (And we know EXACTLY where we’re going to camp next time!)