A three-year plan to renovate the fishery at the Leavenworth County State Lake has incensed Tonganoxie-area anglers, but the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks insists the project will improve fishing at the lake in the long run.
The department was planning to drain the lake this fall anyway to repair damage to the dam, so officials figured they might as well address problems with the fishery at the same time, said Richard Sanders, KDWP district fisheries biologist.
"The lake has been dominated by stunted crappie and bluegill for the last couple of years," he said. KDWP previously tried draw-downs, which involves lowering the lake level to expose part of the basin area and provide a better opportunity for larger bass to prey on the stunted fish. "At Leavenworth, it didn't work," he said. "The bass just never responded, nor did the pan fish die off."
The lake, which is just northwest of Tonganoxie, was 40 to 45 deep in May before the valve was opened, and the draining has lowered the level about 12 feet so far. The water empties into a tributary of Nine Mile Creek, which connects to Stranger Creek, which flows into the Kansas River.
To prepare for the fishery renovation, KDWP will hold a public salvage from July 10 to Aug. 31 at the lake.
"We'll allow people to come in and collect fish using a variety of methods and gear you usually can't use at that particular lake," said Sanders.
Permitted methods will include trotlines, limb lines, rod and reel, bow and arrow, legal seine, gigs, cast nets, dip nets, and hand fishing. Trotlines and limb lines usually are prohibited within 150 feet of the dam, but they will be allowed anywhere at the lake during the public salvage period. Fishermen also should refer to the 1993 Kansas Fishing Regulations for seine fishing stipulations.
Any number of fish of any size can leave the lake with anyone who can catch them during the salvage, when creel and length limits will be lifted, Sanders said.
"The reason we're having the public salvage is because the public may as well help us catch these fish," he added. "The ones that don't get caught will perish anyway."
When the salvage is over, officials will drain the lake as dry as possible and use a fish toxin to kill any that remain in the small pools of water. Sanders said the poison detoxifies over time and won't cause problems when the lake is restocked, in October or next spring, depending on rainfall. KDWP will stock the lake with black crappie, channel catfish, red-ear sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye and some flathead catfish.
Fishing will be off limits at the lake for about three years to give the new fish time to develop. Sanders said a largemouth bass typically takes four years to grow to 15 inches.
"It's going to be rough to have the lake shut down for fishing for a while," said Sanders. "But the fishing should be better in the long run. There should be more desirable fish. If we can get rid of the gizardshad, carp and drum and cut back on the crappie, that will remove a lot of biomass and we can funnel the nutrient flow to the more desirable sport fish."