For decades anglers in these parts touted the crappie fishing at Pomona, Perry, Melvern and Clinton lakes as some of the best in the world.
Fishermen of all stripes eagerly awaited the last days of April and the first weeks of May, when the crappie began gamboling along shallow shorelines in preparation for their season of procreation.
During this spell, the fishing was so simple that even the rankest amateur could catch a bucketful of male crappie dressed in their handsome spawning colors and an occasional female with her belly bulging with thousands of eggs.
Crappie fishing has been one of the rites of spring in northeast Kansas since the 1960s, but to the chagrin of many old-timers, crappie populations have flagged at these four reservoirs during the past six years.
Consequently, the luster on this grand spring ritual has been tarnished.
Nevertheless, oodles of anglers still relish these days. And to the pleasant surprise of a few, the fishing during the last days of April nearly replicated the heydays of yesteryear at Pomona and Clinton lakes.
For instance, Mike Suitt of Lawrence, who has fished Clinton since it was impounded, caught scads of crappie from around the roots of flooded trees on April 27. One weighed three pounds, four ounces the biggest he has ever caught.
Despite this spring's minor renaissance at Clinton and Pomona, several anglers searched elsewhere for their spring bounty of crappie and some of them found it at Coffey County Lake.
After three springs of testing the waters at Coffey, such knowledgeable anglers as Terry Bivins of Lebo and Clyde Holscher of Topeka proclaimed without hesitation that crappie fishing during the spawning season at Coffey was the finest they have ever experienced, surpassing even the grand old days at Perry and Melvern.
What makes Coffey such a delight is that all the crappie are large. Bivins, for example, caught more than a 150 crappie on April 27, and not one of them measured less than 10 inches. Most broached 13 inches.
Moreover, Holscher has seen only one crappie under 10 inches during his three years of guiding on the lake.
There is another unique and pleasant angle to the crappie spawn at Coffey involving the lake's bountiful population of walleye and smallmouth bass. There are times when an angler can catch a 15-inch crappie on one cast, a 16-inch smallmouth on the next and a 17-inch walleye on the third cast.
In fact, Dick and Gail Bessey of Shawnee have spent many springs at Coffey in chase of smallmouth bass with small jigs. They have caught scores of 13-inch crappie as well as a bevy of bass and an occasional walleye.
Then walleye anglers such as Chris Ogburn of Ottawa have caught a hundred walleye and a gaggle of big crappie and an occasional smallmouth in a day's fishing.
According to Leonard Jirak and Dan Haines, the lake's Wildlife and Parks biologists, there aren't very many small crappie because they are devoured by the vast populations of smallmouth, walleye, wipers, white bass and channel catfish.
Then the crappie that do survive the onslaught of the lake's many predators grow rapidly.
In addition, Jirak says an extremely stringent creel limit allows anglers to catch the same crappie over and over again, which also allows the crappie to grow to what Jirak termed "a ripe old age."