Ned at K&K Flyfishers in Overland Park, KS, gave me a tip about
a lake that's located relatively close to where I live. I first
heard about this lake three years ago and had tried once, but
failed, to find it. So, on the drive home from K&K I decided to
try again. This time I found it and the sight of it almost put
me into shock, it looks so pretty.
Thank you, Ned!
It seems that more private landowners and government agencies are
really "getting it" when it comes to constructing new ponds and
lakes that can hit the ground running with respect to providing
excellent fish habitat. This lake is an example of how it's done.
In decades past the standard procedure throughout our nation was
to clear-cut all timber growing inside a proposed lakebed's footprint.
Today's enlightened construction method for new lakes deliberately
leaves all or most footprint timber intact. Why? Because thanks
to the dedication of fisheries biologists it is now widely understood
that, once flooded, standing trees immediately provide hard core aquatic
habitat for creatures ranging from microscopic plankton to large game
fish. And above the lake surface, flooded trees as they decay provide
excellent hunting and nesting habitat for insects and birds. In the
Midwest one tree in particular – the Osage Orange (or "hedge") – has
wood so dense and rot resistant that once submerged the underwater
structure it creates will often remain intact for well over a half
To the county department that purchased the acreage this lake is
built on, it was not enough to simply create a beautiful body of
water that will likely guarantee a quality public fishery for many
decades to come. The county imposed a regulation that is seldom
seen: a prohibition on the use of boats powered by internal
combustion engines. The only mechanical propulsion device
allowed on this lake is the electric trolling motor.
Also, as I discovered later, this lake is patrolled frequently by
law enforcement that is always looking for power engine violators,
loud parties, littering, etc. Consequently, the outdoor recreation
experience is marked by the sounds of wind, water and wildlife;
there is a near-total absence of human noise. No high-speed bass
boats, no powerboat wakes to contend with. Most appealing. I
immediately set about buying the required non-resident boat sticker
and fishing permit.
Hearing my glowing comments abut how nice this lake looks, my friend,
Paula, wanted to see it for herself and fish it with me. Since I'd
just finished outfitting my Bell tandem canoe with the deck fittings
needed to operate my 2-anchor system, I had the means to get another
person out on the water with me. (Impossible if I'd used my solo canoe.)
We hit the lake on a Saturday shortly after 1PM, and it quickly
became evident that the day's west wind was going to be a problem.
The lake's orientation is East/West; this let the west wind get
compressed and funneled between the adjacent hills, creating a
wind tunnel effect.
Something else quickly became evident: the fish in this lake have
a mighty low opinion of my sweetheart Old Reliable fly (a #10
flashback Hare's Ear Nymph). In two hours of hard fishing at
four different spots I caught exactly two small bluegills, with
not many more light taps indicating half-hearted short strikes.
Slightly embarrassed that "Mr. Fly Anglers On Line Contributing Writer"
(yours truly) was catching little more than moss clumps for his efforts,
I explained to Paula that my lack of success was actually the outcome
one should expect, given this lake's clear water combined with the
high mid-day sun.
"Fish get very spooky and cautious in water this clear," I explained.
"I don't look for the fish to start feeding until maybe the last hour
Paula smiled and replied happily how nice it is just being out on
the water on a quiet, beautiful lake on such a pretty day. Bless
her heart. I could only hope she wasn't sitting up there on the
bow seat silently wondering if she'd been sold a bill of goods by
a fly rod-waving dummy who doesn't have a clue.
Tired of banging my head against a brick wall and with the wind
speed increasing, we paddled back to the put-in point, beached
the canoe and ate lunch. Using my camping cook gear I fried a
bag of bluegill fillets – fish I'd caught on an earlier trip at
another lake. We ate bluegill fillets along with pasta salad
and mixed fruit. "Failure" never tasted so good; still, the
meal and good company didn't ease the sting of shooting blanks
at so many excellent-looking spots.
Paula was agreeable to indulging my desire to stay at the lake
until dusk so that I could evaluate its evening activity. Perhaps
there would be a mayfly hatch? The wind kept blowing hard as the
hours passed by, convincing me that it would blow like this
overnight as well. So for safety reasons I junked the idea of
fishing from the canoe. We racked my boat then walked the lake's
perimeter sidewalk to get a look at some areas we'd not been to
earlier while afloat. The shoreline cover that we discovered
during this walk looked very encouraging so we doubled back to
my truck, picked up my fly tackle then retraced the sidewalk route.
This lake has something I've never seen anywhere, a paved sidewalk
that runs the full length of the face of a dam. A paved sidewalk
with park benches installed every 40 yards. Fancy, indeed. We sat
on one of these benches and waited for whatever would happen as
Murphy's Law: the wind laid down to a near dead calm and it was
now too late to walk back to the truck, rig the canoe for action
and try to reach a good spot (wherever the good spots were – as
yet I had no idea).
Suddenly Paula spotted heavy waves being generated by a fish about
thirty yards to the south of us, a fish that was swimming very close
to the rocky face of the dam. I came off the bench and began casting
to it, and might have earned one brief take but wasn't sure; the hit
wasn't quite solid enough. This fish kept working along the dam's
face, but never got close enough that I could get a clear look. I
suspect it was a big channel catfish that was sheep-dogging little
bluegills into the wedge of shallow water then biting them.
I tried four of five different flies, first for this unknown big
fish and then for panfish, all with no success. Through the clear
water I could see that the dam extends out into the lake at a very
As sundown neared I kept searching hopefully for signs of an insect
hatch along the dam, but saw none. By the process of elimination
my attention was finally drawn to some cattails growing along the
south shoreline adjacent to the dam. Here at least was the kind
of standing vegetation favored by aquatic insects like damselflies.
So that is where I moved to next. Finding a gap in the cattail
line, I began fishing.
And once again, to my disbelief, even here in this high probability
habitat Old Reliable failed me.
My faith in Old Reliable runs so deep that I was beginning to have
serious doubts whether this lake is any good for panfish. Maybe
all we have here is a pretty face? Maybe I'd thrown away good
money getting permitted to fish and boat this place?
Just then a surface swirl about fifteen feet out from the cattails
gave away the position of a fish. The characteristics of the swirl
suggested a panfish had attacked a prey item just below the surface.
Because Old Reliable functions best at greater depth, I clipped him
off and in the fading light tied on a lighter weight nymph – one of
Rick Zieger's #14 flashback Pheasant Tail Nymphs. I sent a cast
beyond the swirl, swam it back through the zone and the PTN got
hammered by a thick-bodied bull bluegill the size of my hand. Hello!
For the next twenty minutes, before the western sky became so dim
that I couldn't see my line twitch on their takes, large bluegills
prowling the cattail line grabbed the slow-moving, shallow-running
PTN like coyotes fighting over a crippled cottontail. Those twenty
minutes imprinted this lake as a place I need to visit again for
bluegills, and confirmed Ned's tip that it's a lake I should check
out. Nevertheless, the hours of frustration and failure I'd
experienced earlier in the day while fishing cover that looked
red hot left me wondering.
This suburban lake is located near the Kansas City Metro Area.
The fish here have doubtless been tempted by hundreds of kinds
of lures and artificial flies. So these bluegills didn't just
fall off the turnip truck; they've been around. It's possible
that many days of fishing will be needed, and many tactics
employed, before I can begin to crack this lake's code. ~ Joe
From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer, now retired. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe recently
retired from the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the
former 'day job.'