Milford Lake offers Kansas Wonderland for Giant Crappie

Joe Bragg, operator of Thump 30 fishing guide service, scouted Milford Lake for spawning crappie.

Acorns Resort ( is on the Farnum Creek arm of Milford Reservoir, offering cabins, camping, pool, and a restaurant.

By David M. Zumbaugh, images by Jon Blumb

A generous offer for a guided May crappie fishing trip on a premier reservoir in Kansas buoyed my spirits after the restraining misery of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a long-time member of the Outdoor Communicators of Kansas (OCK) has its privileges! The weather predicted for the weekend was invitingly mild, but was to be accompanied by the classic, relentless, gusting south wind. I packed an assortment of outdoor and camping gear and headed west to Milford Lake, the largest in Kansas, impounding 16,000 acres.

Milford Dam, seen from East Rolling Hills Park, which includes a swimming beach in the foreground, a playground, picnic shelters, two boat ramps, and lots of walk-in access to the water.

The first stop was an enlightening tour of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Milford Lake Fish Hatchery. Pioneering work on the propagation of striped bass, developed here, has been shared with other USA hatcheries to enhance the stocking of many lakes throughout the country, according to hatchery manager Daric Schneidwind.

Daric Schneidewind, Manager of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism’s Milford Fish Hatchery, answered questions from members of the Outdoor Communicators of Kansas.

A tour of the Milford Fish Hatchery was given to the Outdoor Communicators of Kansas by Daric Schneidewind, Manager.

Walleye and other popular sport fishes are grown and distributed from this facility to aquatic impoundments. When they mature to keeper size, they put smiles of delight on many a Kansan face.

For supper, the OCK conference group was invited to an old-fashioned fish fry at Grandpa Boone’s Cabin ( in Milford, Kansas. Ironically, the lake was named after this city, which had to be moved to a new location as the lake was created by damning the Republican River in 1967. Brad Roether is the proprietor of Grandpa Boone’s and the nearby Milford Tropics (a great place for a “cold one”) and the Mayor of Milford too!

Outdoor Communicators of Kansas held their spring business meeting, led by President Nick Neff, at a cabin at Acorns Resort.

It was rewarding to get reacquainted with OCK pals, meet new members, and interface with Michele Stimatze from the Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Mike Miller, Assistant Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, received a special award for his contributions to the Outdoor Communicators of Kansas.

After a scrumptious meal, our group gathered at Acorns Resort for more camaraderie and a “Bottled in Bond” bourbon tasting session.

Four selections of Kentucky whiskies were featured in a tasting conducted on Friday evening by member Rob McDonald.

While no one over imbibed, I doubt anyone can remember the favored rankings of selected spirits. This resort features cabins of various capacities, an RV park, yurts, boat rentals, The Cove Bar & Grill, and even an events center. A popular place for outdoor recreationists throughout the year for sure.

I arrived at my comfortable Army Corps property campsite at a reasonable hour, only to be disturbed by some happy campers until the wee hours. Unfortunate, as entrepreneur Roether promised to put me on a longbeard at an early hour the following day. He did not disappoint me. With clear eyes and intent mission, I stealthily conspired to slay a gobbler. For temptation, I placed my hen decoy in a newly planted field. 

Soon, two curious Toms espied the imposter and had a contest to see which could puff up the most disgraceful display of feathery testosterone; but the pageantry occurred just out of range. Unluckily, three white-tailed deer browsing for breakfast interrupted the ambush by wheezing and snorting, warning my quarry to safer quarters in the creek bottom. When hope for a turkey dinner faded, I dejectedly trudged out of the woods for a 9 AM rendezvous with Joe Bragg of Thump30 Guide Service ( to pursue his specialty, crappies.

Photographer Jon Blumb and I were welcomed aboard Joe’s well-fitted, very comfortable boat and prepared to angle for speckled treasure. We did not have to wait long. Joe put us on fish almost immediately, and the bite was intense and frequent. With Buck’s graphite poles rigged with Z-Man jigs, the fish couldn’t resist. In just a few hours, we had enough fish in the cooler to keep us busy at the fillet table, a few whoppers exceeding two pounds.

Bucks Graphite Jig Pole, a favorite of Joe Bragg, is available in 8, 10 and 12 foot lengths.

Other OCK conference attendees were successful landing species Milford is renowned for, including smallmouth bass, walleye, and blue catfish. May is a prime time for hitting Kansas lakes, with both bank fishing and on-the-water opportunities plentiful.

Mike Miller, left, past Secretary/treasurer, received an award for service to the Outdoor Communicators of Kansas, presented by past President Brent Frazee, center, and President Nick Neff, right.

KDWP&T publishes a Fishing Atlas, providing access locations throughout the state, presenting bountiful opportunities regardless of your skill level or favorite fishy preferences. A search of the KDWP&T website will identify kids fishing clinics, always a novel way to introduce youth to the outdoors.

Kansas in spring is a wonderland. Hiking and biking trails abound, along with other popular outdoor pursuits. Paddle sports (kayaks and paddle boards) are gaining momentum with rentals available at various locations, including Council Grove Marina.

Saturday’s creel of crappie, from the boat guided by Joe Bragg, was ready to be cleaned and chilled at Grandpa Boone’s Cabin in Milford, Kansas.
Joe Bragg stretched one of his favorite favorite crappie baits, the Z-Man jig, to demonstrate its amazing strength.

Mushroom hunting in eastern Kansas can be outrageously good. May is a key month for bird migration, and all habitat types are represented, from deciduous forests and marshes to arid grasslands.

More than 450 species have been confirmed in Kansas. Did I mention wild turkeys? While fishing at Milford, bald eagles were competing with us, noisily complaining about our success.

So, get outside and take a field trip to the Sunflower State soon.

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Worlds Colliding

John Wilson and I went hunting blue-winged teal in west-central Missouri. Missouri Conservation Photo

By Brent Frazee

I’ll never forget the day when my worlds collided in an instant.

Sept. 11, 2001.

One moment, I was reveling in the peace and solitude of the outdoors, with not a care in the world. The next moment, I was jolted into the reality that no American ever thought possible – our country was under attack.

That was the day terrorists hijacked American airliners and carried out suicide missions, flying them into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Thousands were killed that day, buildings laid in ruins, panic ensued…and a giant was awakened.

For me, that scene was unimaginable as I joined my neighbor, John Wilson, for a day of teal hunting at his lease in west-central Missouri. It was a brilliant morning, one of those days that made a hunter just happy to be alive.

Before the sun even made its arrival, lines of teal swept over the marsh in front of us, promising an exciting day of hunting.

I remember John’s black lab whimpering in anticipation and glancing at us as if to say, “Why aren’t you shooting?” He obviously didn’t know anything about shooting hours.

When the time finally arrived, many of those teal we had seen evaporated as they often do on these September mornings. It was almost as if the early birds had teased us, knowing that they were safe from our gunfire.

But as the darkness slowly gave way to daylight, there were still enough of the rapid blue-wings around to provide plenty of opportunities. It was one of those textbook days when everything went as planned.

John hit some difficult shots, his dog made some memorable retrieves, I got some good photos, and everything was right in the world.

After the teal stopped flying, we just sat in the duck boat for a few minutes, taking in the beauty of another duck season getting off to a great start.

But in an instant, that serenity was shattered. As we motored back to John’s boathouse, we saw John ‘s father-in-law nervously pacing on the levee, and we immediately know something was wrong.

Our minds raced. Had something happened to one of our family members? A car crash maybe? A fire?

When we drew close, John yelled out, “What’s wrong?”

And his father-in-law answered, “We’re under attack.”

Surely, we had heard wrong, we thought. Under attack? From what or who?

When we pulled the boat in, he proceeded to explain the terror everyone watched unfold on television that morning. He told of the jetliners flying into the New York buildings, of the devastation and the mass fatalities. And suddenly, the solitude of the outdoors and that waterfowl marsh disappeared.

At that moment, uncertainty filled the air. Were those attacks only the start? Were terrorists going to invade other major cities? Were our loved ones safe?

John and I scrambled to call home, and once we determined everyone was OK, we headed home, listening to radio reports as we went.

We passed convenience stores where long lines of vehicles waited at the gas pumps. And the closer we got to our Kansas City airport, we noticed that the sky was eerily silent – no planes coming or going.

Like everyone else, we were fearful of what this meant. And more than once, we talked about the contrast in our day’s activities.

We also talked about our patriotism and our grave concerns for our country. In the next few days, we would realize just how unifying that day would be for our country.

Luckily, our worst fears never materialized. But to this day, 9/11 will be remembered as a landmark moment for the USA.

When people ask the question, “Do you remember where you were on 9/11?” I think to myself, “I was a world away – in a waterfowl marsh.”

Fishing Buddies for All Time

By Brent Frazee

I was just a little guy when I learned the importance of having a fishing buddy.

Every time I would visit my grandparents’ home, I would head to their garage. I knew that’s where grandpa Eric would be, and his good friend Mel would be with him.

They had a Man Cave before the term even became popular. That’s where gramps kept his boat, along with his rods and reels, tackle boxes, nets and minnow buckets. There were faded pictures hanging on the wall, and the modest building just dripped with fishing nostalgia.

Gramps and Mel spent hours there, spinning yarns about their fishing trips, cleaning their catch for the day, or working on the boat to make sure it was ready for the next day.

They would hook up the boat and head out several days a week to Lake Delavan in Wisconsin, about an hour drive from their home in Rockford, Ill.

They would always return with a gunny sack full of fish, usually bullheads that others found somewhat undesirable. They routinely told me that the fish tasted much better than people gave them credit for, and they proved it.

They would hold huge fish fries for the neighborhood, complete with my grandma’s pies made from apples that grew in the back yard, and they took pride that their events got rave reviews.

I got to go with them a couple of times, and I marveled at how special their relationship was. They could have been the inspiration for the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” despite the fact that they predated the comedy classic by many years.

They were constantly griping at each other, but they didn’t do a very good job at disguising the bond they shared. They agreed on what part of the lake to fish, the type of bait or lures they would use, even which bar and grill to frequent.

I remember thinking, “I would like to have that kind of relationship someday.”

The years went by quickly, I became preoccupied with getting simply getting stories for The Kansas City Star, where I worked for 36 years, and I fished with a variety of characters. But I seldom fished with the same person many times, because I was always traveling to fish with different subjects.

Still, I developed friendships and established traditions that I largely overlooked until I slowed down in retirement and reflected on the good times.

Like the times I have spent with David Perkins, who I met when he owned the Kansas City Sportshow.

We started fishing together in the North Country in the early 1980s and we still carry on that tradition.

I remember when we fished in the Eelpout Festival, a huge ice-fishing event that centers on one of the Northland’s ugliest and most undesirable fish.

I can still picture the director of that festival coming up to Dave and insisting he try some of the eelpout nuggets that were featured in the concession stand. Dave resisted until the guy practically forced a couple of nuggets into his mouth. Dave chewed on it for a while, said how it tasted like chicken, and smiled at the guy who was feeding him. When the guy turned away, Dave spit out the nugget he had squirreled away in his cheek and almost gagged.

I’m still laughing.

We enjoyed great trips with famous fishermen such as Al and Ron Lindner, Ted Takasaki, Larry Dahlberg and the Griz (legendary Minnesota guide Ted Gryzinski). We caught huge smallmouth bass at lakes such as Mille Lacs and Rainy and big walleyes on the Mississippi River and the boundary waters.

We continued that tradition this year when I met up with Dave in his hometown of Eden Prairie, Minn., and we traveled to Hayward, Wis. There, we fished with one of our favorite guides, Fuzzy Shumway, and had several days of epic smallmouth-bass fishing.

But it’s more than just the catching. Dave and I act like a couple of kids in the boat, constantly joking with each other and carrying on. Sometimes, our guides don’t quite know what to make of our behavior, but we haven’t been kicked out of boat yet, so I guess that says something.

Dave isn’t alone in that regard, though.

  • I have also been fishing with Jim Divincen, the executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, since the 1980s. He invited me to a media event, and we immediately hit it off. We laugh about the characters we have fished with over the years, the big fish we have caught, and the times when cold-blooded Jim would show up in layers of clothing even on nice, warm spring days.

I always test Jim’s one-time utterance, “Anything for the media,” and ride him like a state-fair pony from the moment we step into the boat until we leave. All in good fun, of course.

One guide even said, “And you two are friends?”

Jim understands, though. At least I think he does. He is a great guy and someone I am proud to call a fishing buddy.

  • Jim Schroer was one of the first guys I fished with when I was hired at the Star. He owned J and J’s Bass Pro Shop in Kansas City, Kan., at the time and he wanted to welcome me to town. We caught a lot of fish that first trip, but I jokingly remind him it’s all been downhill ever since. Not really, but we’ve had our share of misadventures. I remember one time when he invited me to go fishing with him at Smithville Lake. I couldn’t go, but he called the next day and said, “Good thing you didn’t go. I sunk the boat.” A huge wind storm swept across the lake and waves swamped his craft. Jim got out OK and his boat was towed to shore. The bad thing for him: To this day, I won’t let him hear the end of it.

Of course, there have been other incidents Jim would like to forget. One day he was stepping into my boat, and the back end started to drift. He did the splits and almost fell into the water. His tub of lures flew into the lake and he landed in my boat on his back. As he struggled to get up, I reacted as any true fishing buddy went. I reached for my cell phone to snap a few pictures as he flailed like a turtle on its back, then I helped him up.

I could go on and on about other fishing buddies I have shared a boat with over the years. Sadly, some of them are gone now. But some still are very much a part of my life.

Occasionally, I fish alone and I enjoy the solitude.

Somehow, it’s just not the same.

Opening Day Traditions, Memories for Life

  • Fishing, hunting, warm, cold – you gotta go!
  • Keeping young, no matter your age
  • Remembering my dad
In keeping with tradition, a crowd of fishermen showed up March 1 at Bennett Spring State Park for opening day of the Missouri trout season. Photo by Brent Frazee

By Brent Frazee

I have always been fascinated by the tradition involved in fishing and hunting.

Opening day of deer season.   Spending time with a lifelong friend or relative in a fishing boat.  Days in the field with an old bird dog   And the fishermen’s unofficial first day of spring, the Missouri trout opener.

They all elicit images of the romance in our outdoor sports that the anti’s could never understand.  It’s reminiscing about days with a friend or relative who is no longer with us, of an unforgettable day of fishing, of a big buck that showed up out of nowhere, of a day when the weather presented a formidable challenge.

We take memories of those days to our old age, thumbing through faded pictures of long-ago fishing trips or reminiscing about special moments long after we are no longer able to participate.

I’ll never forget the last time I talked to my dad before he passed away. “Do you remember Arnie?” he said in almost a whisper.

Arnie was our guide the first time my dad took me to Canada. I was just a little guy and I was thrilled that I would get to meet a real Indian.

Arnie was colorful, to say the least. He drove us to the boat ramp in a beat-up truck with a door that wouldn’t shut, a motor that coughed and sputtered, and seats that were so worn that the foam was showing.

Arnie guided us to the trip of a lifetime, showing us where to catch giant northern pike. My dad and I reminisced about those days often, especially when there was a lull in our conversation.

We didn’t talk about the little-league games my dad coached, the big-city vacations we took, the trips to our family farm or the many major-league games we went to.

We talked about special times together in a fishing boat.

I see how many other people bond the same way.  And I smile.

Photo by Brent Frazee

Tradition is a big part of who we are as fishermen and hunters.

In my world, nowhere is that more evident than at Bennett Spring State Park in south-central Missouri.

The park celebrated its 95th trout opener on March 1, most of them as a destination managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and stocked by the Department of Conservation.

Some fishermen will try to tell you that they have been to every one of them – but then, you know how fishermen like to stretch the truth.

Still, there are many who have been attending the opener for many years and wouldn’t miss one, no matter what.

Over the years, I have interviewed many of those proud old-timers and have taken delight in their stories.

Chet Snyder of Grandview, Mo., comes to mind. He is 85 and still makes sure he gets back to Bennett on opening day every year.

He has been fishing the opener for 63 years and he won’t let anything hold him back.

“We’ve driven on icy roads, through snow storms, in real cold weather, but we’ve always gotten there,” he said. “It’ something I won’t miss. It’s tradition.”

When I talked to him several years ago, his dedication to follow tradition was especially impressive. He suffered a seizure less than week before the opener and he was released from the hospital only days earlier.

He asked for the doctor’s OK to travel to Bennett for the opener, and he got it. His son did the driving and he was back on the water.

Snyder returned for this year’s opener with his sons Chuck and Curtis and his grandson Cody. He cast for a short time, but a problem with his balance kept him from going at it as hard as he once did. Still, he was there, and that’s all that mattered in his mind.

But Snyder certainly isn’t in a class by himself at Bennett. Walk into the park store and you’ll hear others talking about how long they have been coming to Bennett for the trout opener.

I suppose I have a streak of my own. I have been attending the Missouri trout opener since 1980 when I started working at The Kansas City Star—most of them at Bennett, but a few at Roaring River. Now that I’m retired, I still go back, using the trip as an excuse to do an article for one of the media outlets for which I freelance.

I enjoy talking to old friends, making new ones, and reminiscing about past openers.

It’s tradition, and I’m not ready to give that up.

Late-summer musings …

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.

By Brent Frazee
• Why is it that you catch fish on a new lure, get excited, and buy a bunch of them, only to find out that it was a one-trip wonder?
• Why is it that no one talks about lures such as electric-blue plastic worms or gadgets such as the Color-C-Lector, once the rage in fishing, anymore?
• Why is it that lure companies have such short-term memory? Those revolutionary baits they introduced last summer are quickly forgotten when the new models are unveiled.
• Why is it that those crappie or bass that were just a fraction short of being a keeper never seem to grow to the desired size the next year?
• Why is it that the fishing can change so quickly – from boom to bust – in only one day without any discernible change in conditions?
• Why is it that an artificial bait can often outfish the real thing, a nightcrawler or a minnow?
• Why is it that a fish at the end of your line always looks so much bigger in the water than in the boat?
• Why is it that photos seldom do justice to the big bluegills you catch?
• Why is it that two fishermen can fish side by side with nearly identical equipment and one will catch all the fish?
• Why is it that a catfish will bite strange baits such as hot dogs or soap?
• Why is it that bass fishermen who constantly boast of having great practice rounds seldom finish high in tournaments?
• Why is it that some pros can talk of a 5-pounder getting away at the boat and know exactly how much that fish weighed?
• Why is it that some experts say that luck plays no part in fishing? The record books are full of lucky fishermen.
• Why is it that a fisheries biologist doing an electrofishing survey will find a big bass in a spot you had just cast to with no luck minutes earlier?
• Why is it that you can toss a lure right into the middle of a school of surfacing white bass and not even get a hit?

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.


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Summer Walleyes in the Heat of Summer, NO PROBLEM!

Inland Lake walleyes in the mid-west are easy hot-summer fun if you’re fishing guide, Les Jarman.  Read how.  Brent Frazee Photo

By Brent Frazee

Think about the very worst conditions for walleye fishing.

High noon.  A hot sun beating down. Temperatures in the low 90s.  A blue sky, with hardly a cloud in sight.

That about covers it, doesn’t it?

So why was Les Jarman, a longtime guide, so optimistic that he and his friend, Ken White, would soon be catching walleyes in those conditions as they trolled on Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri?

“We’ve caught walleyes in the middle of the day on days that were hotter than this,” Jarman said, as he zig-zagged his boat on a flat near the river channel.  “These walleyes will get out here on these flats in the summer and they’ll suspend.

“If the baitfish are here, the walleyes will be too.  If you put a crankbait in front of them, they’ll hit.”

Staring at his electronics, Jarman saw the perfect scenario setting up.  As he trolled in 20 feet of water not far from the river channel, he watched the screen of his depth finder light up with specks of baitfish.  The occasional mark of a gamefish also showed up.

“The walleyes are scattered right now,” said Jarman, 65, who lives in the town of Stockton and operates the Specialized Guide Service.  “They’re just out here chasing shad.

“That’s why I like to troll.  Instead of sitting on one point, I can cover a lot of water this way.”

Approaching an area where a long point extended into the flat, Jarman felt something jolt the Bandit crankbait he was trolling through the Bic Sac arm of the Ozark reservoir.

When the fish stayed down, Jarman knew he had a walleye.  Moments later, he tossed that keeper into a live well already splashing with fish.

Hot weather, hot fishing.  That’s Jarman’s formula for success.  Though he fishes for walleyes year-around at Stockton, he knows the fishing doesn’t necessarily come to a halt when the heat arrives.

From early June to mid-October, he trolls for walleyes far off shore, and he and his guides clients routinely catch limits.  Jarman himself has caught fish up to 6 pounds trolling.

There is a science to his approach.  He doesn’t merely pull into open water and start trolling. He tries to keep his crankbaits cutting through the water over main-lake structure.

“I’m looking anything where there is a change in the bottom,” he said.  “Main-lake or secondary points, drop-offs, humps – that’s what walleyes will relate to in the summer.”

Jarman likes to troll with 60 to 70 feet of line out.  He uses 10-pound test and trolls at two miles per hour.  He wants to keep his crankbaits 10 to 12 feet down in water that is at least twice that deep.

“Walleyes will always come up to hit a bait,” Jarman said.  “If you troll too deep, you’re not going to catch them.  You have to be in the right zone.”

During the hottest part of summer, Jarman prefers to troll early in the day and in the evening hours.  But he knows that the fish will hit in the middle of the day, too.

He proved it on a recent sultry day in the Ozarks.  He, White and I caught enough walleyes to make a meal.  And there was a bonus.  We also caught about 20 white bass, several big crappies and a couple of keeper largemouth bass.

But such results aren’t unusual.  Jarman and his clients have been catching limits (four walleyes 15 inches or longer) of walleyes regularly in the June heat.

For Jarman, that’s just one more trick in his trade.  After guiding on Stockton since shortly after it opened in 1969, he knows where to find the sharp-toothed gamefish.

He also knows that he is fishing on the right reservoir. Stockton has long been recognized as one of Missouri’s top walleye spots, thanks to regular stockings by the Department of Conservation.

Jarman’s favorite method is to use suspending stickbaits in the early spring. He caught a 10-pound, 4-ounch walleye in March several years ago.

But he doesn’t stop fishing when the weather turns hot and humid.  He knows he can tie on a small crankbait such as a Bandit and stay on the move.