Sizzlin’ summer fishing awaits at Milford Lake

Rick Dykstra admired one of the smallmouth bass he caught before releasing it.
Rick Dykstra admired one of the smallmouth bass he caught before releasing it. The Kansas City Star

On a hot, humid, late-summer day like this, most fishermen opted to stay in the air conditioning.

But Rick Dykstra was out on Milford Lake early, casting for his favorite species, smallmouth bass. His message to those fishermen who didn’t think the fish would be biting: You don’t know what you’re missing.

“The smallmouth fishing here doesn’t shut down in summer,” said Dykstra, assistant director of the Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I’ve come out here on days when it’s up in the 90s and the fish will still be shallow and they’ll be hitting.

“I’d rather fish when it’s nice and cool, but the smallmouths don’t seem to care. As long as their food is shallow, that’s where they will be.”

Dykstra was in the process of proving as much.

Positioning his boat in more than 20 feet of water, he cast a dark-green Bitsy Tube to a rocky bank just inside a point. He hopped it once, then felt a jolting strike.

He set the hook and watched as the bronze fish immediately flew out of the water. The bass tugged hard, putting a bow in Dykstra’s medium-light action rod. But it wasn’t long until he had the fish in the boat and he was admiring his latest catch.

“The key at this time of the year is fishing banks close to deep water,” Dykstra said. “They want places where they can move up to feed, then have easy access to that cooler, deeper water.

“At this time of the year, I fish more of a vertical pattern than a horizontal one. The smallmouths will move up and down a drop-off, and you have to find what depth they’re using.”

Dykstra found the right depth on a recent weekday morning. Fishing rocky banks on the south side of the 16,200-acre reservoir in northeast Kansas, he caught fish after fish on small tube baits. Many times, he and I both had smallmouth bass on at the same time.

By the time we left the water at about noon, we had caught and released 46 bass. None of them were giants, but a fair number measured 14 inches or longer.

That success didn’t surprise Dykstra. He has fished Milford for 34 years and he knows how good the reservoir’s smallmouth fishing can be.

“I talk to fishermen who go up to Minnesota and Canada and don’t have as good of smallmouth fishing as they will here,” Dykstra said. “They’re surprised when they come out here and see what we have.”

The smallmouth fishing this summer hasn’t wavered, despite several months of turmoil at Milford. The reservoir has experienced an outbreak of potentially harmful blue-green algae, as it has in recent years, and it is currently under a health warning. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recommends that recreational users not come into contact with water, and there are health risks to humans and especially dogs.

But Dykstra maintains the concentrations of blue-green algae differ by location on the lake — and results back him up — and that many areas remain safe. The reservoir is still open to fishing and recreational use, though some swimming beaches have been temporarily closed.

“There are a lot of rumors going around, like that our lake has been closed,” Dykstra said. “People are staying away, and that’s really hurt our businesses.

“But people who come out here and use common sense, just staying away from the areas with blue-green algae, haven’t reported any problems. It definitely hasn’t affected the fishing.”

Dykstra and others borrow Oklahoma’s motto when it comes to playing it safe with the blue-green algae. “If it’s green on top, stop. Find another place (on the reservoir) to recreate.”

The fishing for smallmouth bass, wipers and catfish has been outstanding this summer, said Dykstra, who issues weekly fishing reports.

He is recognized as one of the best smallmouth bass fishermen on the reservoir, and he has developed specialized techniques for catching those fish over the years. He started out fishing big baits and heavier bass-fishing equipment. But he eventually discovered that he could catch more fish and still catch big ones by downsizing.

Today, he uses finesse baits, a medium-light spinning rod and 6-pound test line. He uses baits such as small tubes, small finesse worms and grubs to entice the smallmouths. And he will use small topwater lures such as Pop’Rs early and late in the day.

His techniques work. He has caught smallmouth bass up to almost 6 pounds at Milford, a trophy in anybody’s eyes. And he has guided many other fishermen to smallies in the 3- to 5-pound range.

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the next state record (currently 6.88 pounds, caught in 2010 at Milford) comes out of Milford,” Dykstra said. “Milford has always been one of the state’s best smallmouth lakes, and I don’t see that changing.”

To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to bfrazee@kcstar.com.

More information

For more information on Milford’s fishing, contact Rick Dykstra at 785-238-2885.

Kansas: the smallmouth-bass state

Kansas has developed nationally known fishing for smallmouth-bass fishing. Here are five places to try, based on surveys by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

1. COFFEY COUNTY LAKE: (5,090 acres, located near Burlington): This power-plant lake has an excellent population of smallmouths. Surveys show that it has the highest density of fish in the state, and it has the highest number of preferred fish (14 inches and over), too.

2. MILFORD LAKE: (16,200 acres, located near Junction City): The largest reservoir in the state, Milford has plenty of the rocky cover that smallmouth bass love. It has consistently produced good fishing over the years, and several state-record fish have been caught there.

3. MELVERN LAKE: : 7,000 acres, located 35 miles south of Topeka): Melvern’s smallmouth-bass fishery is relatively new compared with lakes like Milford and Wilson. But it has developed nicely, now producing big fish.

4. GLEN ELDER RESERVOIR: (12,586 acres, located in north-central Kansas): The walleyes and white bass overshadow the smallmouth bass at Glen Elder. But the big reservoir has some big smallmouths and an abundance of rocky structure to hold them.

5.WILSON LAKE: (9,040 acres in central Kansas): With its rocky shorelines and points and mini-canyon coves, Wilson has the look of an ideal smallmouth bass spot. Along with Milford, it is has long been recognized for its smallmouth fishing. It has slipped a bit from what it was in the past, but it still has plenty of bronze fish to test fishermen.

| Brent Frazee, bfrazee@kcstar.com