Sometimes public waterways can be the best-kept secrets when it comes to fishing.
Among the public options anglers can access in Kansas are Fishing Impoundments and Stream Habitats, where landowners are paid by the state to allow anglers to access their property during certain times of the year.
KDWPT fisheries program specialist David Breth said the state currently has roughly 200 accessible fishing areas, which include ponds, streams and river access. To sign up, landowners just need to contact their local fisheries biologist. The biologists’ phone numbers are available in the Fishing Regulations Summary book.
“Payment rates depend on the county and also the property type,” Breth said. “Yes, stream and river access is the toughest to sign up. In Kansas, a property owner on one side ‘owns’ to the middle of the stream, with few exceptions such as the Arkansas and Kansas rivers. So, if a different person owns the other side, it sometimes takes cooperation between two landowners to allow access.”
Breth began coordinating the program in December, so he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to compare Kansas’ walk-in fishing program to other states in the region. However, he said he intends to do this someday.
“Fish stockings and management strategies are dependent on the characteristics of the pond,” Breth said. “Usually, the biologist will just keep up with demand of an already existing population of fish. The most common stocking requests are bluegill and channel catfish. Largemouth bass are next in line, but aren’t as available in most years.”
The great thing about these fishing spots is that they aren’t as well known by anglers as other public waterways such as state lakes and community ponds, so they typically see much less traffic. This can allow fish the opportunity to grow and flourish, something I encountered firsthand during a recent trip to one of these F.I.S.H. areas.
It was late in the day when I arrived at the area, so I didn’t have much time to explore the area. There was a pair of ponds on the property, with one pond a short walk from the fence and another one farther north up a hill. I went to the closer pond and began throwing a Z-Man TRD into the weedy areas at the edge of the pond. I got a few bites but the fish were fairly lethargic, and I soon decided this particular pond may be filled with mostly catfish as I watched them come to the top of the water to suck bugs off the surface.
As I walked the edge, I saw a gigantic dorsal fin come up out of the water. At the time, I had no idea what sort of fish it was, but after looking at several species later, I decided it must have been the fin of a large flathead catfish that had pulled up into the shallows. It looked as though it was rolling in the warm mud, and I tried putting a few casts near the unidentified fin to see if it would take it. No such luck.
As I kept walking along the bank, I hooked into a small largemouth bass and a hybrid bluegill. I kept hearing fish coming to the top in this little cove, so I walked toward it and put a cast into a weedy spot that I had heard a few splashes. I deadsticked it for a minute, but nothing bit, so I jerked the bait a bit.
I jumped about a foot out of my own skin as some sort of hidden giant slapped its tail against the water with a mighty splash. Apparently, the dogs in the next county line must have heard it, too, because all I could hear after that was barking in the distance and the sound of waves splashing against the bank. I watched as two monsters cruised just below the surface, creating a wake in the water as their serpentine bodies wriggled through the murky depths. One took off to the north shore, while the other headed east toward cover near a fallen tree. A few seconds after they disappeared, I watched a snake slither across the surface of the water with his head raised, obviously deciding he had better things to do than stick around and get swallowed whole by whatever giant was lurking below.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had an experience like this at a F.I.S.H. area, either. Another time at a walk-in pond on N.W. Rochester Road, I was bass fishing with a Texas-rigged Culprit plastic wormwhen a beast of a flathead swam right up next to me in the shallows. As soon as I cast the worm, however, he pulled the same maneuver, disappearing in one giant, noisy flick of his powerful tail.
“Most of the fish we stock in these waters are first year (young of year) fish,” Breth said. “Channel catfish may be up to 6 inches or so when they are stocked in the fall, but the bluegill, bass and even wiper or saugeye will be fry to fingerling (3 inches) size when they are stocked in the spring. If the pond has been in the program long enough, there could be some bigger ‘state’ fish, but more likely those fish were already there or brought in by someone else. Every once in a while, a larger individual gets stocked from our brood populations.”
In Texas, the state has a program that brings in giant Florida largemouth bass (13 pounds or more) as brood stock for spawning in order to create super-sized bass populations through selective breeding. Lake Conroe, which hosted this year’s Bassmaster Classic, was one such lake that benefits from the ShareLunker program. Kansas doesn’t currently have a program like that, but with anglers’ help the state can still maintain quality fishing in these areas.
“I always ask for anglers who are fishing these properties to reach out to the agency (specifically the biologist) and let us know about the property,” he said. “Our biologists only have so much time and resources to monitor fisheries in their districts and can’t possibly know how each are doing. A simple phone call or email can alert us to a problem or help us ensure a good property keeps producing fish and stays in the program.”
For more information on public fishing spots, pick up the 2017 Fishing Atlas at KDWPT offices or download the PDF on the online version of this column.