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Once in a while you run across a state that requires a little creativity and flexibility when it comes to fly fishing. Kansas is one of those states. And while it might be difficult to imagine a lively fishing scene in this land of rolling plains and vast farmland, the state’s Wildlife, Parks and Tourism department maintains more than 40 fishing lakes and administers a fish stocking program in waters across the state. Traditional fly fishing? No. Rewarding and challenging for any fly fishing enthusiast? Absolutely.
Kansas may lack the natural cold-water streams necessary for a native trout environment, but they do engage in an active stocking program, sourcing thousands of trout each season from a Missouri hatchery. You can also step outside the box and try your hand at catching some of the state’s other game fish on the fly. The state is known for its white and smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie, walleye, and wipers (hybrid striped and white bass). You can take your fly rod anywhere there’s “regular” fishing, so pick one of these hot spots and take off for a day.
This little three-acre lake sits inside Clinton State Park on the eastern side of the state. Each season the state stocks the lake regularly with rainbow trout, an event to which local fly fishermen look forward with great anticipation every year. The park also houses the larger Clinton Lake – formed by the Clinton Dam and also known as the Clinton Reservoir – which yields smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, bullhead, and a variety of catfish.
The park offers boat access, picnicking, camping, a beach area, and shore fishing access. Be sure to rinse and dry all equipment well in this location as it contains zebra mussels and the state asks for cooperation in not spreading them to other waterways.
Known as the Fishing Capital of Kansas, this 16,000-acre hot spot is situated a few miles north of Junction City and is known for its largemouth and white bass, catfish, walleye, and crappie. Hit the Gathering Pond on the other side of the dam and try angling off the piers and jetties.
Located in Topeka, this is another favorite for Kansas trout fishing. The state stocks the lake, typically once in November and again in February. You may also snag a smallmouth or largemouth bass, walleye, or crappie on this 410-acre lake. Amenities include 16 fishing docks, a campground, a junior fishing lake, and a marina.
This is a little-known Kansas fishing gem, located in Pittsburg. The 200 abandoned coal mining pits are filled with water and harbor a good population of catfish, crappie, and bass. In winter, the pits are stocked with trout.
Kansas has a unique program designed to enhance angling opportunities in areas with a population of over 40,000 people. Counties in which the state stocks fish include:
Stocked fish include channel catfish, wipers, and hybrid sunfish. Stocking happens from April through September and encompasses 77 lakes throughout these counties.
The trout season in Kansas runs from November 1 through April 15. During this time a trout permit is required; after April 15 you may still fish for trout but no permit is required except if fishing the Mined Land Wildlife Area. This area requires a year-round trout permit. Other fishing is year-round.
Fish are stocked throughout the year, with trout typically being deposited at various times from November through March. It doesn’t take long for the prized prey of fly fishermen to get snapped up – almost as soon as they exit the chute – so it’s most productive to time your trip as closely with the stocking date as possible.
Particularly when going for trout, don’t worry about getting up too early in the morning. Local fly fishermen note that it takes a bit for the fish to wake up and become active.
Bring your waders, boots, brimmed hat, vest or pack, bug spray, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and nippers and forceps. You probably won’t need a wading staff or cleats here, as there isn’t much in the way of river or stream fishing – most of your activity will be shore fishing.
Due to the variety of species available to anglers in Kansas, you will want to equip yourself with a couple of different rig choices. The usual 4-6 weight with 5X or 6X tippet and 9-foot leader will serve you well for the trout lakes, while you’ll want a 6-8 weight for bass. Play around with different weights and indicators to control for depth – because most trout fishing in Kansas takes place in lakes rather than rivers and streams, this is an aspect that will take some tweaking to reach that sweet spot.
Typical flies work well in this state – take along a good variety of midges, hare’s ears, copper johns, and poppers, as well as woolly buggers, streamers, minnows, and other baitfish imitators for the bass and walleye.
All people ages 16 through 74 must carry a valid Kansas fishing license while angling. Resident licenses cost $27.50, while non-residents will pay $52.50. There are five-day and one-day options available to non-residents, at $27.50 and $14.50 respectively, and one-day licenses for residents at a cost of $8.50.
You must possess a trout permit if fishing for trout – this is available to residents and non-residents for $14.50. A paddlefish permit is $12.50, and $7.50 for those 15 and younger. A bass pass will set you back $14.50. Some cities and municipalities have their own trout permits, in which case a state trout permit is not required, so be sure to check the regulations to make sure you have the appropriate license.
A year-round trout permit is required at Mined Land Wildlife Area Unit #30 and also at Tuttle Creek State Park Willow Lake. The general statewide trout creel limit is five per day.
Kansas is a different kind of fly fishing experience. The plains and farmlands may not seem like the most exciting angling environment but there’s something to be said for serene simplicity. The variety of fish species and the active trout season make for a fun way to spend a day – or a week – casting a line on the state’s many beautiful lakes and reservoirs.