Joey Bisogno grimaced as he watched a big bass with a white spinnerbait in its mouth streak past the boat, pulling my line tight before shaking the hook.
“I got a good look at that fish, and it was big,” said Bisogno, a guide at his father’s Timber Hills Lake Ranch in southeast Kansas. “That’s one we wanted to get in the boat.”
He paused and added reassuringly, “Nothing you did. Those big ones didn’t get that way by being stupid. They know how to get away.”
Not all of them, though. Bisogno has guided customers to bass as big as 10 pounds, 3 ounces, on the many ponds and small lakes at Timber Hills, a hunting and fishing operation.
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Just last weekend, he guided his brother Nick to an 8 1/2 -pound largemouth and his dad, Joe, to one that weighed 5 pounds.
He’ll be the first to tell you that bass like that don’t come along every day. But he knows they’re in there.
“I have a feeling there are bass up to 12 pounds in this lake,” he said. “But everything has to be right to catch a fish like that.
“You have to be there at the right time of day, you have to be using the right lure, and you have to be flawless in the way that bait is presented.
“And it helps if you’re using something they haven’t seen before. Then you have a chance.”
Bisogno can show you photos on his cell phone that serve as proof. He has guided customers to bass weighing as much as 10 pounds, 3 ounces. And that was on a one-half acre pond.
Bisogno was fishing one of those big-bass havens on this day. He launched long casts in the early-morning fog that hung over Bisogno Lake, bracing himself for the big hit that he was confident would come.
This place had the look of bass territory. The 20-acre lake is full of flooded timber, brush and laydowns, rocks and dropoffs. Using a 10-inch plastic worm and big white spinnerbaits, we caught fish up to 4 pounds. But the true giants — like the one I had on my line — managed to escape us.
“Those big ones don’t come along every day,” said Bisogno, who lives in Fort Scott, Kan. “You get one shot at them, that’s it.”
Still, Bisogno has taken steps to increase his odds. He knows by experience where to cast.
“A good ambush spot is hard to find, but I know where a lot of them are on these ponds,” he said. “When you find one of those spots, it will produce year after year.
“You can pull a big one out of there, but others will move in. That good habitat is hard to find.”
Fishermen have access to about 25 small lakes and ponds when they visit Timber Hills. They can rent a cabin and get free access or they can pay a day fee and fish there.
The many ponds and lakes contain an abundance of fish, including crappies, bass and even trout. But as anywhere else, there are no guarantees.
During a recent Outdoor Writers of Kansas conference, a cold front slowed the fishing and made the big ones tough to locate. Still, there were signs that this is a special place … and not just for fishing.
When Joe Bisogno bought land in a secluded part of southeast Kansas, he dreamed of carving out an outdoors paradise. There’s little question that he accomplished his goal.
He has a 1,500-acre controlled shooting area where hunters can chase everything from trophy elk to buffalo to deer. Hunters also have access to almost that much land in the area, where they can pursue free-roaming deer and turkeys outside the fence.
There also are camping and hiking opportunities, wildlife watching venues, a rifle golf course, and trapshooting can be enjoyed.
“Kansas is a paradise for outdoor adventures; it’s just that not many people know about it,” said Joe Bisogno, who lives in Olathe and is the founder of the Mr. Goodcents sandwich chain. “We’re getting the word out.”
For more information on Timber Hills Lake Ranch, call 620-743-4114.