Every June, a flotilla of anglers gathers almost daily on the submerged humps and mud flats of Clinton, Coffey County, Hillsdale and Melvern lakes.
They come to prey upon walleye.
Walleye begin invading these environs in May. Their mission is to devour the larvae and pupae of aquatic insects. And as increasing numbers of walleye arrive at these haunts, an increasing number of anglers follow.
Mike Suit and John Swenson, both of Lawrence, began chasing the walleye at Melvern in mid-May. But unseasonably cold weather kept the water temperatures around 60 degrees and stymied many of the insect hatches.
Consequently, the bulk of the walleye remained in deep water. In fact, David Schmidtlein of Topeka caught several mid-May walleyes at Melvern in 28 feet of water, and he characterized the fishing as lackluster. Likewise, Suit and Swenson found the fishing in the shallower lairs at Melvern to be trying, but Swenson managed to entice a six-pounder to engulf a jig and nightcrawler.
Despite the cool water, Suit and Swenson caught a good number of small walleye at Clinton that were gamboling about the series of humps and adjacent mud flats that lie east and south of Clinton Point. Still, they found it nearly impossible to catch one longer than 15 inches.
Even though Clinton's walleye were small, they were numerous. And as more and more of these small walleye made feeding forays across Clinton's flats and humps, more and more anglers arrived.
For instance, shortly after sunrise on Memorial Day, 63 boatloads of walleye anglers plied the underwater topography near Clinton Point, hoping big walleye would appear.
Schmidtlein was one of them, but he was disappointed by his catch of 18 small walleye and two that exceeded 15 inches in length. He blamed the cold water for his paltry catch.
However, the hot weather that hit immediately after Memorial Day pushed area thermometers into the 90s and water temperatures well into the 70s stirred the aquatic insect and some bigger walleye into action. On May 29, Skip Harrell of rural Lawrence finally caught a limit of keeper-sized of walleye at Clinton by employing a jig and nightcrawler, signaling the start of 2002 walleye season.
At Clinton, Melvern and Hillsdale, a jig tipped with a nightcrawler is the day-in, day-out favorite lure of most walleye anglers in late spring and early summer. But at Coffey, a jig tipped with a minnow is periodically more effective than a one adorned with a nightcrawler.
A growing contingent of anglers allure scads of walleye by casting a small crankbait around wind-blown rock piles and points. This tactic is especially effective at Melvern, beginning once the walleye start to prey on gizzard shad and other young fish in late June or early July.
Chris Ogburn of rural Ottawa began wielding a crankbait for walleye more than a decade ago, and he won several Kansas Walleye Association tournaments by deftly manipulating a tiny Lindy Shadling in the wind.
Ogburn and his fellow crankbait aficionados speculate that the wind blows the zooplankton across the shallow rocks, and the shad come to feed upon the zooplankton. Then the walleye chase the shad and, of course, the anglers arrive, armed with small crankbaits, to pursue the walleye.
According to Ogburn, a crankbait will catch walleye from about now till early October, but the fishing is seldom as sterling in the ensuing months as it is in June.