Outdoors

The 2018 KC Star Fishing Preview: If you want to catch fish, here's the scoop

Forest Brown, left, and Tyler Albrecht show off some nice walleye caught below Truman Dam.
Forest Brown, left, and Tyler Albrecht show off some nice walleye caught below Truman Dam. Used with permission

Here's The Star's annual rundown of where the fish should be biting this season in Missouri and Kansas.

Missouri

Largemouth bass

BEST BET: We have a familiar face at the top of the list for largemouth bass this year. Mozingo Lake will be a fantastic fishery again in 2018. LastsSpring, sampling revealed a solid population of largemouth bass. Most importantly, large individual fish are still abundant, with over 30 percent of the 375 bass sampled measuring over 15 inches. Eight pound fish were numerous in the sampling. The diverse habitat, filled with brush piles, chunk rock points, milfoil and shallow coves offers a variety of presentation opportunities for anglers.

BEST OF THE REST: Watkins Mill State Park Lake has flown under the radar. However, the Department of Conservation says this lake “provides some of the best bass fishing in the region” and that “fish over 18” are common." Well sign me up for some summer topwater action. Smithville Lake continues to show a strong population of large fish, with over 32 percent of the bass exceeding 15 inches in the last sampling. Improved shallow water habitat has helped reproductive success tremendously. … Others to try: Table Rock, Taneycomo, Pomme de Terre, and Jacomo.

Smallmouth bass

BEST BET: Although record floods in 2017 most likely increased the spotted bass numbers in the James River, 55 percent of the population is still comprised of smallmouth bass. The 2016 survey showed over half the smallmouth population was greater than 12 inches long and one out of every five fish was greater than 15 inches within the Special Management Area. Lunkers do exist there, as evidenced by a 21.6-inch bronze giant that made its way into the sampling.

BEST OF THE REST: The Meramec River offers great opportunities with 20 percent of the smallmouth exceeding 12 inches. A good portion of the population also exceeds 15 inches. Be mindful that the Special Management Area now has a 15 inch minimum length limit for smallmouth bass and a daily limit of one now begins at the Highway 8 bridge near the Phelps/Crawford county line that extends to Bird's Nest Access. … Others to try: Gasconade, Current, Jacks Fork, and Table Rock. Also, try asking the locals in SW Missouri about “Creek X.” I hear it’s a hidden gem.

Crappie

BEST BET: It looks like boaters having a good time on Lake of the Ozarks might be joined by a few more crappie fisherman this year. The outlook is considered excellent for 2018, with about 65 percent of the white crappie sampled in the Niangua arm being 9 inches or larger. You’re likely to maximize your success by using electronics to locate productive brush piles near lake points or docks.

BEST OF THE REST: Mark Twain Lake has been coming on strong in recent years and 2018 should be exceptional. Fall 2017 surveys indicated the crappie population over 9 inches long has soared, nearly doubling since the previous fall. Most anglers won’t have to sort through too many small fish to find a limit, either. Almost 50 percent of the catch will be at least 9 inches long.

Be ready for the most productive fishing to occur in late April and early May when crappie can be caught on jigs or minnows in shallow water. ... Others to try: Truman, Table Rock, Smithville and Pomme de Terre.

Walleye

BEST BET: 2018 will be another great year for Stockton Lake anglers. 15 inch fish or larger are common and densities are high. In fact, the most recent sampling showed 92 percent of the walleyes were greater than 15 inches long. 19 percent were greater than 20 inches. Looks like there will be plenty of good eating-size fish to go around for everyone.

BEST OF THE REST: Like Stockton, Smithville Lake now also receives annual stockings of walleye. As a result, catch rates will increase substantially, but you’ll also hook into some quality fish too. The 2017 sampling showed 32 percent of the walleye exceeded 20 inches in length. Fishing the spawning run towards the dam (at a peak when water temperature hits 45-50 degrees) and points and flats during the summer will produce good numbers of fish. … Others to try: Longview, Jacomo, Truman Lake (below the dam) Bull Shoals and Lake of the Ozarks.

White bass

BEST BET: For the second year in a row, the Department of Conservation describes the white bass fishing in Lake Jacomo as “excellent and underutilized." Twelve- to 15-inch fish are common. When April hits, look for the fish to concentrate along the dam. Crankbaits and top water lures will be very productive. According to the Jackson County Parks and Rec website, the maximum horsepower for motor boats is 25, while sailboats and pontoons are limited to 40 horsepower. That makes Lake Jacomo a convenient option for a calm, stress-free day of fishing.

BEST OF THE REST: 2018 is expected to be another great year for white bass in Truman Lake. Recent years have produced larger fish more consistently. Good numbers are also anticipated based on 2017 sampling. In the spring, look for the spawning run up major creek channel arms like the Pomme de Terre, Osage, Sac, South Grand, and Tebo. If you want some added excitement, try a top water bait like spooks or poppers in the late summer when the fish will be chasing shad. … Others to try: Mark Twain, Smithville, Stockton and Longview.

Hybrids

BEST BET: Truman Lake continues to benefit from large stockings in 2013, 2014 and 2016. In 2016 alone, 108,753 hybrids were stocked at Truman State Park and Osage Bluff.

In 2017, hybrid striped bass fishing was excellent with large quantities of 5+ pound fish caught, along with consistent reports of 10+ pound fish as well. A great 2018 is expected. Time it right in late summer and early fall, and you’ll be in for a fantastic topwater bite. Dare I say, you’ll be hooked!?

BEST OF THE REST: Blue Springs Lake is stocked annually with 7,000 hybrids to maintain the population and 10-pounders or larger are increasing. In early spring, the “Blow Hole” is a popular destination on the lake when water is flowing into Blue Springs from Lake Jacomo. Trolling or looking for schooling fish on the surface chasing shad are the best methods for locating hybrids. According to most, April is the best month. … Others to try: Long Branch, Thomas Hill and Watkins Mill State Park Lake.

Blue catfish

BEST BET: Once again, the Missouri River should be red hot in 2018. In the upper portion, numbers are at their highest ever recorded. Hundred-pound fish are out there and being caught. In the lower portion, 2017 MDC sampling efforts showed high densities of 25-35 inch blues. Angler reports of giant 70-90 pound fish are becoming more consistent. Success continues to improve in the KC area and the middle portion offers excellent fishing action with large numbers present in the 18- to 29-inch range.

BEST OF THE REST: Truman Lake has outstanding numbers of fish ranging from 4-15 pounds. Several local guides who provide valuable info about Truman for the weekly fishing report consistently share stories of trips featuring full limits of blues caught in little time. Fish in the 20- to 40-pound range are commonly landed. Additionally, the Platte River is improving each year with 40-pound fish or bigger becoming more common. Blues are most common in the lower 10 miles of the river (the lower three miles in late spring). Others to try: Little Dixie Lake, Long Branch Lake, and the Mississippi River.

Kansas

Largemouth bass

BEST BET: La Cygne overtook Sebelius Reservoir by more than double digits in the density category of 12- and 15-inch fish or better this year. La Cygne also touts the best lunker rating by a longshot, meaning it has the highest density of fish greater than 20 inches long. During sampling, a 10.69 fish was shocked up and my weekly fishing report resources tell me there’s been numerous double-digit fish already caught this year by lucky anglers.

BEST OF THE REST: Sebelius Reservoir has high rates of fish greater than 12 and 15 inches, but the lunker category was lacking. The biggest fish shocked up was right around 3 pounds. If you’re looking for a lake smaller than 1200 acres, try Pottawatomie #1 or Cowley Lake. Both have extremely high densities of fish over 12 inches and have an excellent rating from biologists. … Others to try: Big Hill, Butler, Bourbon, and Richmond City Lake.

Smallmouth bass

BEST BET: Coffey County Lake tops the list again this year, and it’s not even close. The density of quality fish greater than 11 and 14 inches is more than double the next closest lake. Remember though, this lake catches a lot of wind, which sometimes keeps it closed as a precaution for the public. Make sure the lake is open before loading up the boat and driving out there.

BEST OF THE REST: El Dorado was the No. 2 lake last year, but Glen Elder has surpassed it in 2018. The density of quality fish over 11 and 14 inches in Glen Elder has improved and the lunker rating takes the next spot behind Coffey County. A nearly 3.5-pound smallie was recorded during sampling. … Others to try: El Dorado, Wilson, Melvern, Jeffrey Energy Center.

Crappie

BEST BET: Of the major reservoirs, Hillsdale has continued to hold the top spot for highest density of fish over 8 inches in length. However, John Redmond continues to take top honors in multiple categories. It places among the top of the crowd with a high density of 10-inch fish or greater and also has the highest lunker rating of 12-inch fish or greater. Its three-year average is well above any other reservoir as well. Don’t count it out of your playbook.

BEST OF THE REST: Centralia City Lake, a 400 acre body of water, comes in on top of virtually every category for lakes under 1200 acres. Its density of 8- and 10-inch fish or better is strong, as well as the amount of trophy fish over 12 inches. Scott State Lake is the only place to beat Centralia in the three-year average. The next time you try Perry Lake, definitely consider spending some time nearby at Centralia City Lake. … Others to try: Perry Lake, Carbondale City Lake East, Scott State Lake, Lovewell, and Marion.

Walleye

BEST BET: El Dorado did not have the highest density of 15-inch fish or greater, but it barely missed the top spot. Its solid numbers of good fish are exciting, but the lake’s top rating of fish over 20 inches makes it even more attractive, coming in noticeably higher than all other lakes. Some big “greenbacks” await eager anglers who are willing to put in the time.

BEST OF THE REST: Glen Elder and Cedar Bluff both had higher densities of 15 inch fish or better than El Dorado. Cedar Bluff boasts the highest three-year average of 15-inch fish or better as well. … Others to try: Wilson, Marion, Kirwin, Webster, and Milford.

White bass

BEST BET: Of the big reservoirs, it looks like Glen Elder is the place to be with solid densities of fish greater than 9 and 12 inches, putting it on top of Cedar Bluff, which came in at No. 2. For a third year in a row, Cedar Bluff still holds the highest lunker rating (15 inches and longer) of any Kansas reservoir.

BEST OF THE REST: Clark State Fishing Lake totals 300 acres and is located in Clark County in southwest Kansas. If offers scenic views of the surrounding canyon country and also boasts the highest density of 9-inch fish or better of any Kansas lake or reservoir. What might be lacking in size will surely be made up for in numbers. … Others to try: Lake Shawnee, Toronto, Elk City, Kanopolis.

Hybrids

BEST BET: Sebelius is back on top this year with the highest density of fish over 16 and 20 inches present. Its three-year average density of 16-inch fish or greater also takes the top spot of all major reservoirs. Be aware that on January 1, 2018, the Department of Parks, Wildlife, and Tourism increased the Wiper creel limit to five per day, up from two per day.

BEST OF THE REST: Although Sebelius took top honors with highest density of 16- and 20-inch fish, only two lakes received an excellent fishing rating from biologists: Cheney and Marion. Both have provided outstanding fishing in the past and this year will be no different. … Others to try: El Dorado, Milford, Herington City Lake, and Wellington City Lake,

Blue catfish

BEST BET: Of the major reservoirs, it’s basically a toss-up between Coffee County and Milford. Both have good densities of 20- and 30-inch fish or better, but Coffee County has the higher three-year average. Be mindful of the new slot limit on Milford Lake, which requires all blue cats between 25 to 40 inches long to be released. Only one fish 40 inches or greater can be kept.

BEST OF THE REST: Tuttle Creek and El Dorado may not top the charts in density of fish, but there are still lunkers swimming around. A 23.88-pound and 24.69-pound fish, respectively, were shocked up during sampling efforts. … Others to try: Elk City, Wilson, and Clinton.

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