The hard water fishing season is right around the corner, and so far the fishing has been best the colder it gets.
I’ve spent my days off over the last three weeks fishing at the heated dock on Lake Shawnee, and the white bass and wiper bite has been fantastic so far.
On Nov. 2, I caught a 15-inch wiper — a hybrid between a white bass and striped bass — and some white crappie while fishing with my buddy, Brendan Handy, during a chilly trout opener. Unfortunately we didn’t catch any trout, but we heard reports from others who had been catching them toward the southeast side. We fished early on from the boat ramp where the trout were released, but anglers were catching tons of white bass and wipers and no trout. Eventually we made our way to the heated dock to get out of the cold and I almost immediately got bit by the nice wiper as soon as I dropped my line in. The county stocked the lake with 2,080 wiper intermediates this fall, and it’s really improved the fishing. We were getting consistent bites throughout the morning and probably would’ve caught many more if we could’ve stayed longer.
The best gear to use when vertical jigging from the heated dock is an ultra-light rod and reel or even an ice rod with 4- to 6-pound braided line and a 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. I prefer black-and-chartreuse or white-and-red marabou hair or feather jigs, and usually fish two 1/16th- or 1/32nd-ounce jigs per line in 10 to 15 feet of water. You can even go down to a single 1/64th- or 1/80th-ounce if the fish are sitting shallow. This will give you a slower drop and is less likely to spook the fish than running two jigs. I always tip the hooks with some sort of crappie nibble, and am a big fan of Fle-Fly’s new Smelly Smax as they rarely come off the hook.
Small, stinger-style panfish jigs on a light jighead work well, as do Johnson Beetle Spins without the spinner attached. If you’re seeking out purely crappie, I like pink and chartreuse or white and pink, but the color combination really depends on water conditions and time of day. Darker lure colors are best in murkier water or when fishing on cloudy days or at night, as they produce a better silhouette. On light days in clear water, white or light blue can be solid, or anything that looks like natural forage.
As a rule of thumb, whites generally mimic shad and darker colors mimic bluegills. Silver can be good on bright, clear days, but basically disappears if the sun goes behind the clouds. Likewise, gold works well on cloudy days. On Lake Shawnee, the main forage you’ll want to replicate for wipers or white bass is shad, as they are thick under the heated dock when it gets cold out.
Of course, many days the best fishing comes when using live minnows, and they can be a very effective bait when the water temperatures are in the mid-40s and up. As the water temps dip into the low 40s and below, I stick purely with soft plastics or feather jigs. They are finesse enough that a slight current or twitch of the rod makes them look alive, and as it gets colder you’ll want to deadstick smaller baits more than twitch anyways as the fish become less active. The opposite may be true of larger baits, however, as fish are more willing to expend energy and give chase if the reward is larger. I fish small ice jigs year-round, however, and they’re always good for a few fish.
On Nov. 12, I caught a 12-inch and a 14-inch white bass and had an even bigger wiper snap off my line — and my rod tip on my favorite ultra-light rod — while fishing again at the heated dock. It got down to 9 degrees that night, so the shad were packed tight under the warmer water and the predators were, as well. Again, I got instant bites as soon as I dropped my line in — I caught both fish within the first five minutes — but the fishing slowed after I lost the big one.
During my most recent trip this week, after the air temps rose into the upper 60s, fishing at the heated dock had died off as many fish had likely spread out and moved up into the shallows. I’m hoping this weekend’s cold front helps draw them back together, but if not it may be time to fish from the bank again.
I’ve seen several other anglers who’ve been catching some nice trout on the lake, as well. Cody Hatridge, of Topeka, posted photos of some good hauls and Washburn Rural angler Logan Redeker caught one of the fattest trout I’ve ever seen come from this lake on a white Woolly Bugger while fly fishing.
Perhaps the coolest catch was from Duane Johnson, of Topeka. He caught a yellow rainbow trout Nov. 18 on a Little Cleo. The yellow coloring of this fish is a type of albinism that has been passed on genetically in some of the stocked fish and is a rare find.
It’s a truly awesome catch!
KBN college state championship set
The 2020 Kansas BASS Nation College State Championship has been set for March 28-29, 2020, at Wilson Reservoir, the KBN announced this week.
The winning two-person team will earn a berth in the Bassmaster College Fishing National Championship.
The state championship is open to college fishing teams from any Kansas university, college or junior/community college. To participate, anglers must join BASS and become a member of BASS Nation, both of which can be done through Bassmaster.com. After that, they have to become affiliated with the state. For more information and help signing up, contact Kansas BASS Nation youth director Travis Burch by phone at 913-562-4660 or by email at email@example.com.
Kansas State’s team of Josh Flynn and Zac Hopkins won the 2019 state title in April on Council Grove City Lake.
The KBN High School and Youth State Championships also have been set for May 2-3, 2020, on Bone Creek Reservoir near Arma.