Once upon time, and not very long ago, a Kansas angler who was addicted to catching smallmouth bass was thought to be an odd sort.
In fact, the smallmouth aficionado and the trout fishermen who wielded a fly rod and things such as caddis flies occupied the same boat. It was a frustrating endeavor, too, because there was no water on which to cast.
That's still the case for the trout fishermen. But during the past 10 years, smallmouth anglers around eastern Kansas have many acres of water to pursue their quarry, and the acreage, as well as the number of smallmouth, is multiplying yearly.
The new spot this year is Bone Creek Reservoir in Crawford County.
Nowadays at some waterways, anglers can catch 40 or more smallmouth on the best of treks. The fishing is so good at several of the reservoirs that an occasional debate erupts among anglers about which Kansas lake is the best for smallmouth.
Last year, Dick and Gail Bessey of Kansas City believed Milford Lake was the best, or at least the easiest lake for anglers to catch a lot of smallmouths consistently.
Moreover, the state record smallmouth came from Milford on April 26, 1997, and weighed 6.37 pounds.
Leonard Jirak, a Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, disagreed with the Besseys, contending that Coffey County Lake was the finest. Then a cadre of smallmouth bass devotees from southeast Kansas asserted that Big Hill Lake couldn't be topped. Farther west, folks retorted that Wilson Lake was the best.
This spring, however, the Besseys agree with Jirak. Coffey County shone this spring because it wasn't fouled by all the cold rains that bombarded eastern Kansas since early April. In contrast, the smallmouth fishing at Milford was stymied by high, cold and murky water.
Consequently, the Besseys enjoyed several bountiful outings at Coffey this spring. But at Milford, they had to work long and hard to catch and release 20 smallmouths, and one day they tangled with only eight.
The Besseys know a lot about Kansas' smallmouths. They have been chasing them since 1989.
Their conversion to smallmouth angling occurred when they became tired of using heavy-action casting tackle to pitch and flip lures into the snag-infested coverts of the largemouth bass and catching only a dozen largemouths on the best outing.
The only drawback to the Kansas smallmouth is they aren't as big as the average largemouth. But the smallmouth is a much better fighter. Moreover, the Besseys prefer fishing with medium-action spinning outfits, which makes fishing for these pugnacious demons an even sportier endeavor.
This spring the Besseys have found Coffey and Milford's smallmouth preferred a split-shot rig dressed with either a green Berkley Power Tube or a four-inch green Zipper Worm.
These lures were affixed to a 1/0 Eagle Claw R Bend hook, and the hook was tied to eight-pound Berkley FireLine. Occasionally, they will opt for a white tube lure or a green Hula Grub.
At Milford in the spring, the Besseys often cast these lures on rocky and gravel points, and then they slowly drag the lures on the bottom and across the points, traveling from water four feet to 12 feet of water.
Accompanying every cast, there is a subliminal vision of a seven-pounder engulfing the Besseys' offerings, and in the near future that seven-pounder could become a reality.