In angling circles throughout Kansas, a friendly debate occasionally erupts among some of the best fishermen about which is the best big lake in the state. Here is the gist of some of that chatter:
Most largemouth bass fishermen insisted that La Cygne Lake is the best year-round spot. But after the flood of 1993 rejuvenated the reservoirs of western Kansas, many knowledgeable anglers have argued that Cedar Bluff and Sebelius lakes are the finest largemouth abodes from April through October. For instance, Shawn and Justin Saathoff of Lawrence enjoyed a stellar day at Cedar Bluff on June 2. Five of their biggest bass weighed nearly 20 pounds.
Nevertheless lots of folks maintain that the best largemouth bass fishing occurs at the community reservoirs in eastern Kansas that charge anglers a fee to fish and launch a boat, such as Banner Creek and Lake Wabaunsee. In addition, other anglers swear that Big Hill Lake in Labette County is superb.
Among walleye anglers, Cheney Lake, near Wichita, has been described for the past two years as the best bet in May and June. In fact, the Kansas Walleye Association staged a tournament there on May 6, and 88 teams of contestants caught 562 keeper-sized walleye and 53 limits of eight fish. Tournament officials described it as the finest catch in the 13-year history of the KWA. But for year-round walleye fishing, Coffey County Lake is recognized by the cognizant as the peerless one.
Once upon a time, anglers deemed Perry Lake as the one of the finest white crappie reservoir in the world. But nowadays it isn't even the best in the state. It is said that Kirwin, Webster and Cedar Bluff lakes are the best. And in the eyes of Chat Martin of Lawrence, Kirwin is the best of the lot.
Perhaps the most contentious exchanges takes place among the smallmouth bass fishermen. Some say Wilson Lake is at the top. Others call Milford Lake the finest, saying it's chock-full of smallmouths, as well as the home of the state record. Even though Coffey's smallmouths are small in size, the population is large, and the size is rapidly improving. Thus, if it isn't the best, some fishermen assert that Coffey soon will be the best.
Dick and Gail Bessey of Shawnee fish all three lakes, and this year the Besseys rate Milford as extraordinary. In seven outings in late May and early June, the Besseys caught and released 321 smallmouths, and the biggest weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces and another weighed 4 pounds, l2 ounces. What's more, Bill Burwell, a talented smallmouth angler from Abilene, says Milford isn't whipped by the wind as often as Coffey and Wilson are.
There is, however, no bandying about the best striped bass reservoir. Everyone agrees it's Wilson. According to Jack Hoskinson of Wilson, a 21-pounder was caught in May, and Hoskinson's best weighed 42 pounds, which he caught in 1988.
Respectable numbers of channel catfish abound in all the reservoir. It is Kansas' most prevalent game fish. Yet the savviest anglers maintain that Milford is the top spot. It is so good that the World Wide Catfish Anglers Tournament Series and United States Catfish Anglers scheduled tournaments at Milford this year.
Vic Oertle of Manhattan, Blair Flynn of Overbrook and Mike Flynn of Wakarusa declare that Milford also provides the most bountiful catches of wipers and white bass. Before the unseasonably cool, windy weather arrived in late May, Oertle and the Flynns enjoyed several splendid outings, catching and releasing scads of fish, weighing up to 11 pounds.
An unscientific distillation of these debates reveals that fishermen's observations are often vastly different than those of the fisheries biologists. For instance, a variety of anglers find Milford to be an outstanding lake this year for certain, but biologists deem other waterways to be better.