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 (www.acornsresortkansas.com) 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 (www.lakemilford.com) 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 (www.thump30.com) 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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FINDING HIDDEN TREASURE in SUMMER

  • They Exist Near Your Home
  • They Beckon for Your Next Cast
  • They Can Hold State Record Fish

By Larry Whiteley

I love to find hidden treasure, but not the gold or silver kind.

Hidden treasure for me is finding jewels of rarely fished small waters.  By small waters, I mean privately owned farm ponds, strip pits, businesses with water retention ponds, and even golf course water hazards.  Places a lot of people don’t even pay attention to or don’t even know they are there.

Many city parks departments and state fisheries departments stock small waters for public fishing, but a lot of these get very little fishing pressure.

There are thousands of these hidden small water treasures across America and are great places to catch fish in uncrowded conditions.  Most are full of bass, crappie, perch, hybrid bluegill and catfish.  All you have to do is search them out.

They are perfect for just walking the bank, launching a small johnboat, canoe, kayak or float tube. If you only have a few hours to fish, they are great! You can pretty well count on certain areas holding fish every time you go.

Unless they are public waters though, they are private and accessible only by permission from the landowner or the person in charge.  You can try calling, but it is much better to get permission in person.  Be courteous and thankful.  You might also offer to share your catch if they allow you to keep fish.

My best tip for catching fish on small waters is to make as little noise or vibration as possible.  In small bodies of water fish can see you.  In fact, vibrations travel farther in small waters, so even if they can’t see you, they can tell someone is near the edge of the water.  If fishing from the bank, walk up quietly and stay out of sight.  It’s a good idea to even wear camouflage clothing.

Look for channels, humps, brush piles, lay down trees, weed beds, moss, cattails, lily pads, logs and tree stumps — anything that offers habitat for feeding fish.

For catfish, go with all the normal stinky catfish baits, as well as worms and I also like using shrimp bait.  If it’s crappie you’re after, jigs and minnows are always good, but I have also caught some really big crappie in small water on crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

Perch jerkin’ is always fun and even more so if you go with ultra-light equipment. If the small waters happen to be stocked with hand size hybrid bluegill, you are in for a real fight and a great time.  

For baits, look around for natural baits the fish are already feeding on. Catch some of these natural baits and impale them on a hook or match them as close as possible with artificial baits you have in your tackle box.

The crown jewel in the hidden treasure of small waters is the largemouth bass. America’s most sought after fish can grow very large in small waters, as long as the forage is right.  So don’t let the size of a lake fool you into thinking there are no big bass in it.

Remember, George Perry’s world record bass came from Montgomery Lake in Georgia which is little more than a muddy slough — the silted-in remnants of an oxbow off the Ocmulgee River that continues to flow just a few yards away. Studded with cypress knees and shaded by Spanish moss, it is narrow enough to cast completely across.

Dixon Lake, a small city lake located in Escondido, California, is well known for several potential world record bass.  One was caught and released and another was found dead.

I personally believe that the next world record largemouth bass could very well come from small waters like a pond, small lake or strip pit.  It might just be your state’s record bass, but you would settle for that wouldn’t you?

With spinnerbaits and crankbaits, I can make a lot of casts and cover a lot of water.  Plastic worms are good too, and use frog baits through the moss and lily pads.  If I am fishing at night there’s nothing like the heart-stopping moment when a big bass hits a topwater bait.

After you are done fishing for the day, make sure you leave the property more clean than when you arrived.  Now, go find the person that gave you permission and thank them for a great day, and offer to share your catch if you kept fish.  Ask if you can come again, is it OK to bring a family member or two…and should you contact them each time?

Now, clutch them to your chest and love them like a wealthy uncle because yea verily I say unto you, these places are small treasures worth their weight in gold. Well, clutching them to your chest and loving them may be a little much, but make sure you let the property owners know you appreciate them.

Do everything you can do to insure you can keep coming back.  Lastly, keep your small waters to yourself and don’t tell any of your fishing buddies where you found your hidden treasure.