Here are some tips from a veteran Kansas bass angler that can make your catch rate go up this summer -- no matter where you fish in the Sunflower State.
By Tim Lilley
July's hot weather doesn't keep Kansas' largemouth bass from going about their daily routines, and you shouldn't let it keep you off the water. If anything, this month just might offer the most predictable bass action of the whole season.
And I don't mean "predictable" as in: "They ain't bitin'."
For one thing, weather patterns stay fairly constant. You can expect high skies, plenty of bright sun, temperatures in the 80s and 90s - sometimes hitting triple digits - and breezes, if any, that are light and out of the south or west.
The sun rises early and sets late. Anglers can ordinarily expect to find the bass most active during periods of low light, but that doesn't mean that you can't catch them in the middle of the day - you'll just have to change up your approach and location. More about that later.
Let's start this look at hot-weather bassin' by offering some tips on the state's best fishing opportunities this month.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
As was the case 12 to 15 years ago, the Sunflower State's major western impoundments are way low now. Most serve many purposes, but at this time of year, irrigation is a priority. When you combine that with a long dry spell, you get lakes like Sebelius and Webster that are upwards of 20 feet or more below normal entering the 2004 fishing season. It's impossible to predict their July levels as this is written, but it's a good bet that they won't be anywhere near what most folks would call "recreational pool."
Low water notwithstanding, Sebelius and Webster have to be included on a list of the state's best largemouth reservoirs because their bass populations are so very strong.
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks biologists survey public waters around the state annually to get a feel for how various game fish species are faring. The most recent data available reveal that biologists found more than 150 bass per unit surveyed at Sebelius, with almost 40 of those fish being 15 inches or longer. Because the surveyors use nets of various sizes in these surveys, it's impossible to know exactly how large an area on Sebelius is contained in each unit sampled, but it's likely that a surface-acre of water would be a conservative estimate. So going with that as a basis and then plugging in some numbers, the inference would be that 1,500-acre Sebelius has a ton of largemouths, a high proportion of which, more important, are keeper-sized bass. Adjust your rough calculations for a lake that's likely upwards of 20 feet low, and it's reasonable to suggest that bass fishing at Sebelius this month might be a lot like fishing in a barrel.
Over at Webster Reservoir, the numbers of bass surveyed weren't as high overall, but the quality of the fishery was actually better. Biologists found more than 78 bass per unit surveyed at this 3,500-acre lake, more than 67 of which were 15 inches or longer. That kind of ratio is difficult to find anywhere.
Cedar Bluff is another western lake worth mentioning because (1.) its largemouth population is healthy and (2.) the state obtained water rights for the impoundment back in the early 1990s, so it's no longer used for irrigation. Cedar Bluff will be in better shape this month than probably any other western reservoir will, so anglers planning a trip in search of "western bass" should include Cedar Bluff on their itineraries.
Many anglers in eastern Kansas already know that La Cygne Reservoir in Linn County is a hot bass lake - literally and figuratively. It's a cooling reservoir for an adjacent power plant, so thanks to that hot-water inlet, its bass have the advantage of a year-round growing season. At this time of year, largemouths will be found lakewide; some feeder creeks and a series of cuts and small bays around the lake offer the right kind of structure.
And although it'd be tough to call them "best-kept secrets," Melvern and Milford are other eastern reservoirs that will offer solid largemouth fishing this month. Both have big complements of bass, both are large (Melvern is 7,000 surface-acres, Milford more than 16,000) and both are rarely spoken of as largemouth destinations - which suggests that either could surprise you this month with the kind of fishing action that'll leave you thinking of these reservoirs as "sleepers" when it comes to bass.
SMALL PUBLIC LAKES
Viewed from here, July is the perfect month for visiting any of the myriad strip pits that dot the acreage of the Mined Land Wildlife Area tracts in southeastern Kansas. The fisheries in these potholes are the result of the reclamation of surface-mining sites that were active more than 60 years ago, and most offer worthwhile bass action.
For the most part, these little lakes are clearer, deeper and, generally, cooler than what Kansas anglers expect to encounter - especially during July. But they offer great bass fishing from either the shore or small boats. A few are furnished with ramps that even make it possible to launch larger bass boats, so there are pits right for just about any angler with just about any kind of boat.
Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers got busy building the Sunflower State's major reservoirs, state wildlife officials had put together the plan for a series of state fishing lakes set up on pretty much a county-by-county basis. Today, the network of SFLs continues to offer exciting summer bass action literally all over the state.
Here are the top SFLs in terms of overall bass populations, as defined by survey data from the KDWP: Sheridan, Woodson, Neosho, Leavenworth, Butler, Brown, Osage, Kingman, Crawford and Cowley. Most of the state's most avid bass anglers are within an easy drive of one or more of these Top 10 SFLs.
Osage, a personal favorite, features a mix of natural and artificial structures that shelter a respectable number of bass, some quality fish among them. You can pretty much say the same thing for the other nine impoundments, all of which are less than 200 surface-acres. So even if you've never visited one of them, their sizes make it possible for you to learn them quickly and start catching bass right away.
Local waters also make available some good small-lake bass fishing around the state. At spots like New Strawn City Lake, Logan City Lake and Lake Olathe you'll find decent numbers of bass that, for a couple of reasons, don't see a whole lot of fishing pressure. First and most important, these municipal waters are generally even smaller than the SFLs. And second, at le
ast some of them require the purchase of local licenses and boat tags in addition to those required by the state. If you balk at the extra expense, think about the trade-off in terms of gasoline and wear and tear on your tow vehicle.
During the many years I called Olathe home, I fished Lake Olathe more than any other water in Kansas because (1.) it was close, (2.) there were rarely more than three or four boats on the water, and (3.) it had really good bass fishing. The largest bass I ever hooked lived in Lake Olathe. That fish bit a plastic worm on a hot evening in the middle of the summer.
If there are any underused bass fisheries in Kansas, these smaller public waters probably top the list.
Early spring might be the best time to fish Kansas farm ponds, because they usually warm up earlier than any other waters and their bass grow more active before those in larger waters do. But summer has to run a close second when it comes to the right timing for visiting a local pothole.
Often, gaining landowner permission is tougher than catching nice bass from most farm ponds. And anglers who do a little homework and are courteous and respectful of a property and its owner can expect to be granted leave to fish.
Another route to go involves researching the waters that the KDWP leases in order to provide public access. The complete list is available from KDWP headquarters in Pratt, (620) 672-5911, or on the KDWP Internet site, www.kdwp.state.ks.us. Chances are good that you'll find one or more of these close to home.
Small waters like these are perfect for anglers without boats or for those who enjoy fishing from float tubes. Nothing beats lazily kicking around a farm pond in a belly boat on a warm July evening. Not only is this kind of fishing relaxing, but it's also awfully productive.
TACKLE AND TECHNIQUES
If you're planning to fish as the first rays of a new day's rising sun hit the water, be sure to have some topwater baits along. Walking-style baits like the venerable Zara Spook or splashy baits like a Pop-R or buzzbait will generate reaction strikes from fish lying around shoreline cover and in submerged brushpiles in water 4 to 6 feet deep. Another great way to catch July bass is to work a buzzbait over the top of the weedy slop that often builds up in coves and cuts, especially on smaller lakes.
A key to topwater success during the heat of the summer is to work baits slow. That old angling cliché about not moving a floating bait until all the rings have settled following your cast is true now. And if you're on a lake, regardless of size, that contains stumps and brush in shallow water, be aware that those spots positively cry out for a walking bait or a popper. That's because you can keep those lures in the strike zone for as long as you like. Just a little bump with your rod tip is all it takes to impart some action, though you're moving the bait hardly at all.
Fishing either early or late in the day also represents a wonderful opportunity to take summer bass on floating worms - which is important because it gives you a chance to fish the same lure in a number of different ways. If you don't like to carry a lot of gear with you, plastic worms probably are the way to go. Bring a selection of 4- and 6-inch worms in your favorite colors. Add some hooks, bullet weights for Texas-rigging and some split shot for use in making a Carolina rig.
You can start out early by hooking a worm through its collar and fishing it without weight as a floating bait. As the sun climbs higher and the morning unfolds, you can switch to a Carolina rig by adding some split shot 18 to 24 inches up your line and rigging the worm weedless. Later on, when the most active bass are likely to be those holding in the deepest water, you can switch to a Texas rig and take them. You'll find that worms offer you the most versatility when you take this kind of approach during your July outings.
If, however, you don't care how much stuff you have along, then be sure to include some spinnerbaits, some jigs and pork or soft-plastic trailers, and some medium- to deep-running crankbaits. Doing so will give you a full arsenal of baits with which to handle any kind of fishing situation that you might encounter.
Fish a spinnerbait in and around flooded timber, especially trees and laydown logs in the water along the shoreline. July is an apt time for using a trailer hook on these lures, because you'll often be getting reaction strikes from bass that will hit a little short, and a trailer hook will improve your catch rate.
Most anglers consider a jig and trailer to be the bait to use for pitching or flipping. There's no doubt that this bait is killer when used in relation to those techniques, but it's also a dynamite bait to fish in open water with any kind of rocky structure.
One use for it is to imitate the crawfish that bass love. All you have to do is cast it out, let it free fall to the bottom, then crawl it along with a slow, fairly steady retrieve. Imagine a real crawfish meandering along and among those rocks, and then move your bait tin a manner that makes it look natural. You might be surprised at how hard bass will hit it.
When it comes to summer crankbaits, it's hard to beat lipless models like the ever-popular Rat-L-Trap. Weighted and noisy, they offer you the irresistible mix of their fish-attracting properties and their ability to modify their running depth simply by varying your retrieve.
You can count it down to just about any depth you like - just let the bait fall to the bottom and work it slowly back to the boat or shore, bouncing and banging into the structure, which will trigger reaction strikes.
During summer outings at the larger reservoirs mentioned in this story, you'll occasionally encounter white bass attacking wads of baitfish near the surface in open water. If you do run into such a feeding frenzy, casting a Trap into the fray and retrieving it rapidly may well catch you a nice mess of whites in a hurry.
About the only other must-have items on your July bass checklist are such things as will offer protection from the sun and from the potentially dangerous effects of the heat. For starters, good-quality polarized sunglasses not only help you see fish and underwater structure more effectively but also protect your eyes from the sun's most harmful rays; think of them as sunscreen for your retinas.
Speaking of, sunscreen, slather the literal variety on all your exposed skin. The higher the SPF ("sun protection factor"), the better - and products with SPF ratings of 15 or higher are easier to find than ever before. Make sure you have some with you, and apply it often throughout the day.
Caps offer additional sun protection, wide-brimmed floppy versions providing protection for your neck and ears as well as your forehead and face. At the very least, you should wear a baseball cap.
Lightweight fabrics in light colors make the best f
ishing apparel, because the lighter hues reflect sunlight and the lighter fabric is more breathable - and both help keep you comfortable on the hottest of days.
Finally, you should have plenty of water or sports drinks along to keep yourself hydrated. And if you ever start feeling bad on the water, head for cover quickly. Heat stroke can be fatal in extreme cases, and it's always debilitating. A few extra casts just aren't worth the risk.
Maybe the best advice is to head for the shore and some shade - and air conditioning, if you can find it - through the middle of the day. You definitely can catch Kansas bass in July through the hottest part of the day - say, from 10 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon - but you'll often do so at the risk of sunburn and/or heat stroke.
With that in mind, it's probably best to take a break from the sun and heat for a few hours. Doing so will help you to enjoy the best of the Sunflower State's July bass action for many seasons to come.
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