But now, the spot that was once a mecca for channel cats is little more than just another point on the map, with its popularity in decline since its heyday in the ’90s.
The location of the Hog Trough, originally south of the park’s south boat ramp between the ramp and Hobie Cove, has changed over time with the growth of the sport and the introduction of feeders to the lake. Many chummers now fish mainly off of Devil’s Gap point, according to fisheries biologist Nick Kramer.
“It is marked on the fishing hot spots maps, but I do not know how popular of a spot it is anymore,” Kramer said. “There is a group of chummers on Perry still, but not as many as the lore of the Hog Trough suggests.”
Kirk Tjelmeland, water resource planner at the Kansas Water Office and a former fisheries biologist for many years at Perry, said the lake is now known more for its overall great catfishing than for one specific spot.
“There use to be 20 to 30 boats daily with upwards of 50 boats on good-weather days. This changed in the early 2000s when fishermen started baiting other locations on other lakes and even on Perry,” Tjelmeland said. “When I left Perry, there would be five or six boats on the traditional Hog Trough, but probably 10 other spots on the lake, all producing good fish.
“The Goodyear workers seemed to dominate the trough at first, but as catfishing became more popular, a more diverse crowd appeared. There was a good deal of pride taken by those fishermen in catching ‘a limit’ and of course the biggest fish of the day.”
David Schmidtlein, of Topeka, was one of the anglers who chummed the area during its prime. He said most days the last two summers, he’d see anywhere between four to eight boats fishing the area, with other boats more spread out across the main lake and its several arms.
“Well, I think probably in general, I think there’s more fishermen going and starting their own spot,” Schmidtlein said. “I’ve heard that there’s one or two boats over in Slough Creek, and I know that there’s some up in the Apple Valley area, we’ve seen them up there.”
Schmidtlein, who now focuses his efforts more on crappie and walleye, said one of the reasons why he personally hasn’t done as much catfishing in recent years is because of how strong the crappie population has become on Perry.
“When we’re out there on that main lake by Devil’s Gap, we still see those catfish boats out there fishing,” Schmidtlein said. “But now, admittedly, back in 2000 and even before, there used to be anywhere from 10 boats up to two dozens boats all out there in the Jefferson Point area, and now they’ve totally abandoned that area for the Devil’s Gap area. And there’s a lot less boats, no doubt about it.”
The times they are a-changin’
The introduction of new techniques, the rising popularity of other fish species and a better understanding of catfish behavior may all be parts of the reason for Perry’s paradigm shift.
“I suspect (chumming) is no longer a fashionable way to fish,” said longtime Kansas outdoors writer Ned Kehde, of Lawrence.
Traditionally thought of as a deep-water scavenger, anglers and researchers over the years have found that catfish are often found in shallower waters, feeding actively.
As a result of this new knowledge, catfishing has evolved in recent years. Anglers now use a variety of methods to target catfish, including free drifting, dragging and trolling with live bait, cut shad or even crankbaits. In the fall months, catfish can easily be caught using a square-billed crankbait or swim bait from shore in just a couple feet of water as they bulk up for winter.
Schmidtlein uses a finesse approach to catching catfish that he developed one summer when the crappie bite shut off. He fishes vertically near brush piles just like he would for crappie and using the same gear, fly rods and light tackle.
“While crappie fishing in brushpiles, we’ve taken some really nice channel catfish out of them, too, usually 3 to 7 pounds,” Schmidtlein said. “Every year, we get at least one or two of those while fishing for crappie.
“That might be part of it. The chum hole isn’t nearly as prominent as it used to be, and maybe them channel cats are going in and eating the shad that the crappie and white bass cripple. It’s a good place to hide, too, in brushpiles. It’s a dickens getting them out, I can tell you that.”
He also thought the burgeoning blue catfish population on Perry and other lakes across the region has drawn away some of the interest in chumming for channel cats.
“The other thing that I think really has changed things at Perry is I think a lot of the cat fishermen have switched to blue cats,” Schmidtlein said. “And you know, blue cat fishing in a chum hole isn’t nearly as effective as it is for channel cats. So I think some of the channel cat fishermen have switched over and we see them drift fishing for the blues further up north. ...
“Probably the channel cat fishermen that like to eat the catfish probably do just that, chum for them and then take home the fish so they can put them in the skillet, and most of the blue cats caught at Perry have to be released because of the size restriction.”
David Studebaker, who organizes the Catfish Chasers tournament trail, agreed that blue cats are receiving more attention now than in years past, but says chumming is still a fairly popular practice in the catfishing community.
“Blues have surely taken some focus away, but this activity is still alive and well,” Studebaker said. “The biggest difference is there are multiple ‘hog troughs’ now on lakes. The original was getting overcrowded and folks created their own spots. I know there are these established baited holes in every lake in the state. This practice has not died as much as moved and spread out.”
Perhaps because of this spreading out, several other Kansas reservoirs are gaining reputations as top catfish spots, as well. Milford Reservoir. for instance, is among the top fishing destinations in Kansas, with big blues regularly pulled from its waters. Schmidtlein said he’s had some success catching good numbers of eater-sized blue cats on prepared bait at Coffey County Lake, also known as Wolf Creek. Schmidtlein’s also done a bit of catfishing recently at a chumming hole at Clinton Reservoir, where he says he usually sees about the same crowd as the Hog Trough — three to eight boats, typically early in the summer.
“In general, I have to conclude too that there’s less and less people doing it, for whatever reason,” Schmidtlein said of chumming.
But, he added, part of that may be that anglers have their own hidden spots they are chumming to get away from the crowded spots. He said back in the day at Clinton, they’d do some group chumming but they’d also go out to points, humps and river channels to get away from the crowd.
“Just because I wanted to prove that we could find them in other places, and we had very good success,” Schmidtlein said. “And I know in that process we’d see people, gosh, all over the lake.
“I don’t really know why the decline in popularity. Maybe it’s just the old-timers have, I hate to say it, but died off. The ones who used to do it years ago are long gone, and maybe the younger generation doesn’t take to it as well.”
Local fishing guide R.R. “Cat Daddy” Shumway, an old chum amongst chummers, used to fish the Perry Hog Trough quite a bit, but joked that he has since created “his own Hog Trough” on different waters.
He says he doesn’t think Perry’s trough is going away any time soon, though.
“It’s not dying off — at least, I don’t think so,” Shumway said. “It has always had its own crowd of (soy) beaner regulars.”
Fishing forums online seem to back up that notion, as the trough is still frequently discussed by catfish anglers, especially those trying to find GPS coordinates to the legendary chumming hot spot.
Shumway agreed, however, that the trough isn’t what it once was.
“It has slowed down,” Shumway said. “Use to be 40 boats there every day. People found out they can be pro beaners and do their own thing anywhere it’s legal.”
Despite the fading legacy of the Hog Trough, fans of the lake can rest assured that Perry is still a top-notch catfish reservoir, not just for channel cats but also for blue cats and even flatheads.
“Two times in the last six or seven years while crappie fishing with artificial bait, I’ve hooked into flatheads,” Schmidtlein said. “One day, we got our hands on one of them, we didn’t have a big enough net. It was 60-some pounds. That was up there by Old Town, and I know it was every bit of 65 pounds.
“And then, two years ago down there by the south end of the lake outside the boat ramp there, I hooked into one on an ultra-light. Half-hour later, I brought him up, and he weighed over 50, almost 55. And again, on an artificial bait and 8-pound test line, it was a heck of a struggle.”