Clinton, Melvern, Perry and Pomona lakes are all shrinking.
"Even though it's a natural occurrence," veteran angler Blair Flynn said, "it isn't a good sign for the future of our fishing."
Flynn made that observation way back in the early '80s and he was correct. Nowadays folks who drive across the Highway 92 bridge at Perry can readily see the lake has become smaller from all the silt the many floods deposited during the past 30 years.
Even in their prime the four lakes were relatively small. Their total acreage, in fact, doesn't equal Truman Lake in Missouri.
Clinton, Melvern, Perry and Pomona are so small they can be traversed in minutes. A fisherman, using a standard-size bass boat, can travel on Perry the largest of the four from the dam to Ozawkie in about 15 minutes.
Moreover, in one outing, a knowledgeable fisherman can use sonar to explore every creek channel and nearly every covert at Pomona.
Beginning in 1989, the number of sophisticated fishermen probing these waters increased significantly, and the bulk of these fishermen pursue crappie.
Since these lakes are so small and easy to fish, the crappie suffer heavy angler predation. They are especially vulnerable during the winter and spawning season.
As the four lakes decrease in size, the number and size of gar, carp and buffalo increase. These fish, seldom pursued, adversely effect the reproduction and growth of the crappie, catfish, bass and walleye.
Back in the winters of the late 1980s and early '90s, the four reservoirs produced some of the finest crappie fishing the world has ever seen. But a decline began after the flood of 1993.
Now it appears winter crappie fishing has dramatically deteriorated, and there aren't enough crappie to accommodate all the fishermen. Some anglers assert that part of the decline is the fault of Wildlife and Parks for not enacting stringent creel limits.
KWP disagrees, saying fishermen can't affect the crappie populations in the four reservoirs. Therefore, they say, creel and size limits aren't effective.
Further, KWP netting surveys reveal the lakes still contain good crappie populations, hinting that even the most astute anglers are incapable of assessing the state of a fishery and these fishermen aren't savvy enough to catch crappie. According to KWP studies, more crappie die from natural causes than by fishing.
Whenever a lean period occurs in the crappie populations, KWP blames the weather and the Corps of Engineers for causing wild fluctuations of lake levels.
Critics retort the KWP studies lack a hard-edged empirical base, and say the state agency should turn Perry into a test lake for 20 years. The test should revolve around an eight-crappie limit per angler, enough to feed a family of four a hearty meal.
After the 20 years, KWP would have substantial data, rather than hypothetical computer models and problematic netting and creel surveys, to assess the effectiveness of creel limits.
Meanwhile, the short-term effects should be positive, because anglers will learn about the many benefits of catching the same fish more than once. The long-term effects could be positive, too, because the crappie population might expand as anglers predation diminishes.