The remaking of Melvern Lake began eight years ago as a joint effort of the Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Walleye Association and Leonard Jirak of Wildlife and Parks.
According to KWA's Dan Norris, walleye fishing at Melvern hit a pathetic low in 1990, when a two-day tournament was won by an angler who caught just two walleye. That sorry event became the catalyst for the reservoir's revamping.
The first part of this overhaul converted the swimming pond that sits below Melvern's dam to a rearing pond for walleye.
Norris remembers that most of the bureaucrats at Wildlife and Parks scoffed at this plan, saying it couldn't be done and, if it could be done, it would be too expensive.
Despite those disparaging words, this combine persevered. And in mid-September of 1991, the Corps, KWA and Jirak drained the swimming pond and stocked Melvern with its first batch of six- to nine-inch walleye.
Sept. 16 marked the eighth anniversary of this project, during this spell about 50,000 hand-sized walleyes have been planted in Melvern. Nowadays, Norris and other walleye anglers call Melvern a respectable walleye abode.
Moreover, this undertaking never became the expensive ordeal Wildlife and Parks folks predicted it would be. In fact, it developed into such an effective procedure that the Wildlife and Parks hatchery near Junction City has begun raising eight-inch walleye for stocking around the state.
Jirak's quest for a renaissance at Melvern didn't stop with stocking walleye. He has also improved the lake's biomass by allowing commercial fishermen to remove 500,000 pounds of buffalo and carp.
Now there are so few buffalo roaming the lake it's no longer worthwhile for the commercial anglers to set their nets. And in Jirak's mind, the wellspring of the lake's rebirth commenced with the removal of these massive plankton-consuming creatures.
The first fish to respond to the demise of the buffalo and carp was the white bass. Until an unfortunate bacterial infection erupted this summer and killed more than 50,000 white bass, Melvern's population of white bass was stellar. Some skilled anglers could catch and release 400 a day.
With the demise of the white bass, Jirak expects the walleye and other species to flourish.
For instance, five years ago, he stocked 300 smallmouth. Next year those 300 will have multiplied to 2,500, and some of the smallmouth will weigh more than four pounds.
To help keep the buffalo and other rough fish at bay, Jirak stocked 15,000 striped bass this June and will stock more next year. If they grow, anglers will relish some spectacular battles in the years to come.
As for the crappie, they are making a comeback. Moreover, most of them reach the length of 10 inches in three years. In years pasts it took four years from them to accomplish that feat. To prevent anglers from overharvesting the crappie and to keep Melvern's renaissance on tract, Jirak wants to institute a 10-crappie creel limit.
Last week Jirak stocked 34,000 eight-inch walleye which should grow to 18 inches in three years, and make Melvern a walleye hotbed.
Next year, Jirak hopes to begin working on the largemouth bass. He plans to clean part of a cove. Then keep 25,000 bass caged in that cove, feeding them food pellets, until they grow to 12 inches.
If area bass clubs are looking for a project, they ought to talk to Jirak. He needs a hand with this big endeavor of reconstituting Melvern's once fabulous bass fishing.
Once the bass population has been restored, anglers all across eastern Kansas should give Jirak and his coworkers at Melvern incessant salvos and perhaps a hero's medal or two.