This can’t be western Kansas.
The minute you take a road that descends off the stereotyped flat landscape of the region, you set eyes on a sparkling jewel of a lake that looks like it belongs in a state such as Utah or New Mexico.
It looks out of place. Finding water, let alone beautiful water, is a chore in southwestern Kansas.
But there it is, Clark State Fishing Lake, one of the state’s most scenic bodies of water.
Set in a deep canyon, it is surrounded by steep bluffs, rugged hillsides, prairies and an abundance of wildlife. It is a long way from anywhere.
Yeah, this is a part of southwestern Kansas that few people envision.
“This is our little piece of heaven,” Gary Konrade said recently as he prepared to launch his boat for an afternoon of fishing.
His brother, Louie, added, “If you think it’s beautiful now, you should see it in the spring. Everything’s green and it just glows.”
But it’s more than just the beauty of the area that attracts the Konrade brothers to the 300-acre lake year-round. It’s what swims around in the clear water.
They are avid fishermen, and they know Clark State Fishing Lake is one of their best options in southwest Kansas, which doesn’t have a lot of water.
This area is known for pheasants, quail and deer. Big fish? Not so much.
But the Konrades know that Clark, a lake that was build by the Civilian Conservation Corps years ago, is an exception to that rule.
They have landed walleyes in the 5-pound range, live wells full of white bass, big crappies and channel catfish here. And though they don’t consider themselves bass fishermen, they are well-aware of Clarks’s reputation as a top largemouth lake.
“This place isn’t exactly a secret,” Gary said. “It gets a fair amount of fishing pressure.
“But it holds up. Even at this time of the year, we’ll catch fish.”
Moments later, the Konrades were looking for those fish with the help of their electronic sonar units. When they came across a big school of baitfish, they abruptly killed the engine and dropped the trolling motor.
“At this time of the year, these fish usually aren’t too far from the big schools of shad,” Gary said. “That’s the key. Finding the bait.”
The Konrades and a guest, Phil Taunton, immediately dropped their jigging spoons into the 25-foot-deep water and slowly worked them just off the bottom. It wasn’t long before Louie felt a slight tap and he set the hook. He brought a struggling white bass to the surface, admired it for a second, then tossed it back.
The brothers caught bigger ones as they moved from spot to spot. They also caught a few walleyes that exceeded the 15-inch minimum length limit, channel catfish, spotted bass, and bluegills.
“Some people don’t realize it, but this is a good time of the year to fish,” said Gary, who lives in Dodge City, Kan. “The fish are feeding up for winter and they’ll school up.
“A lot of times, they’ll relate to structure, like dropoffs. We’ve had days when we could sit at one spot and catch fish after fish.”
This wasn’t one of those days. The Konrades had to stay on the move. But by the end of the afternoon, they had plenty to show for a half-day of fishing.
Lowell Aberson, a district fisheries biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, wasn’t surprised. He knows that Clark’s fishing can match its beauty.
“I’ve been the biologists in this area for 21 years and I’m amazed at how consistently it churns out fish,” he said. “The fishing was down during the drought years. But when the water came back in the fall of 2013, it flooded a lot of vegetation and we have had good year-classes of fish ever since.”
Aberson has gotten in on some of the outstanding fishing. He caught a 7-pound walleye at Clark about seven years ago, and his surveys have shown that it is one of the best small-impoundment bass fisheries in Kansas.
“This a busy time of the year for us,” Gary Konrade said. “We like to hunt, but we also will be out here fishing right up until the ice goes on.”
Western Kansas fishing
This is pheasant and deer hunting season in western Kansas. But it’s also fishing season.
Take it from brothers Gary Konrade of Dodge City, Kan., and Louie Konrade from Spearville, Kan. They are still casting — and catching big fish.
They had a day to remember two weeks ago when they fished Cedar Bluff Reservoir. They caught four big walleyes — one 26-inch fish, two in the 25-inch range and one 22-incher — fishing vertically with live bait in a deep hole.
But they weren’t surprised. They know that late fall can be a great time to catch big fish in western Kansas. Here are a few options.
▪ KIRWIN RESERVOIR: This 5,000-acre reservoir near the town of Phillipsburg in northwest Kansas ranks high in the state for walleyes and black crappies.
▪ CEDAR BLUFF RESERVOIR: This 6,869-acre reservoir 13 miles south of Interstate 70 is known for its big walleyes and crappies. It also is one of the state’s top largemouth bass lakes.
▪ WEBSTER RESERVOIR: This reservoir covers 3,740-acre reservoir in northwest Kansas and is rated by Wildlife, Parks and Tourism as the state’s top walleye lake this year. It also ranks high for white bass and wipers.
▪ SCOTT STATE LAKE: One of the most beautiful lakes in the state, this 300-acre impoundment in southwest Kansas is known for its fishing for white bass, walleyes and largemouth bass.
▪ HORSETHIEF LAKE: This 440-acre reservoir located nine miles west of Jetmore in southwestern Kansas is a sleeper. A new reservoir, it just filled this spring after timely rains. It has a walleye population that is already ranked third in the state for small lakes. It also contains a bass and crappie population that should thrive in the newly flooded cover.