Outdoors

Fishing preview 2019: Best bets for anglers around the region in Missouri, Kansas

Danny Williams and his grandson fish on Milford Lake as the sunk sinks low in the sky.
Danny Williams and his grandson fish on Milford Lake as the sunk sinks low in the sky. Submitted photo

Here’s this year’s rundown of fishing prospects around the Missouri-Kansas region via KC Star outdoors correspondent Tyler Mahoney.

MISSOURI

Largemouth bass

BEST BET: This year’s fishing preview is starting off with what might be a surprise for many anglers. One of the best kept secrets in Missouri is that Lake Taneycomo is not only a great trout lake, but also a stellar largemouth bass fishery.

In the spring 2018 electrofishing surveys, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) found the percentage of largemouth bass greater than 12 inches was 78 percent, and the percentage of keeper largemouth bass exceeding 15 inches was 49 percent. There were some true giants shocked up as well.

What makes this lake so great for bass fisherman is the distinct differences in water temperature. The water temperature is typically much warmer below Rockaway Beach, which concentrates the largemouth bass below that area. Bass anglers should focus their efforts there and work down the lake towards Powersite Dam.

BEST OF THE REST: Mozingo Lake is always at the top of the list. Almost 20 percent of largemouth in recent sampling measured over 18 inches, and a few individual fish weighed in over 8 pounds.

Watkins Mill State Park Lake continues to get better as well. The lake “provides some of the best bass fishing in the region,” according to the MDC. Eighteen-inch bass are common. Truman Lake had some great bass fishing in 2018 and things are looking good for 2019 as well. You’ll find the highest concentrations of largemouth in the Little Tebo area.

Others to try: Lake Jacomo, Lake of the Ozarks, Higginsville City Lake, and Smithville Lake.

Smallmouth bass

BEST BET: The James River continues to be a go-to destination for smallmouth anglers. In 2018, MDC survey results showed that 67 percent of the black bass population was made up of smallmouth, followed by 29 percent for spotted bass, and 4 percent for largemouth.

Surveys also showed that 41 percent of the smallmouth are greater than 12 inches. Twelve percent of the smallmouth were bigger than 15 inches in the Special Management Area, which runs on the 22 miles of river between the Hooten Town bridge and the Highway 413/Highway 265 bridge at Galena.

Anglers have a chance for numbers and size in this stream.

BEST OF THE REST: The Jacks Fork River should also be on your list of Missouri smallmouth destinations. While the size structure might not be as good on average compared to some streams, the density of fish is solid.

You can expect to catch many smallmouth in the 12- to 15-inch range. The allure of the Jacks Fork doesn’t just come from solid fishing opportunities. The majority of it flows within the boundaries of the National Park Service’s “Ozark National Scenic Riverways.”

Expect gorgeous views of the landscape and wildlife sightings throughout your fishing trip. … Others to try: Meramec River, Table Rock Lake, Gasconade River, and the Eleven Point River.

Crappie

BEST BET: Truman Lake crappie fishing is predicted to be excellent in 2019. The fall 2018 surveys showed solid numbers of 8- to 9.5-inch on the lower portion of the lake. The upper portion of the lake had a larger class of crappie overall ranging from 10 to 12 inches. You’ll find mostly white crappie in the dingier water and black crappie in the clearer parts of the lake.

BEST OF THE REST: If you haven’t visited Stockton Lake, it should be on your list of crappie destinations.

The MDC reports that “High spring water levels in 2015 provided excellent spawning conditions for crappie. This produced big year classes of both black and white crappie, including one of the largest year classes of white crappie seen on Stockton in the last 24 years.”

Crappie fisherman should be able to find large numbers of 11-inch fish or better this spring. A large number of fish attractors, like brush piles, were added by the Army Corps of Engineers recently, which will help anglers key in on the fish. ... Others to try: Lake of the Ozarks, Smithville, James A. Reed, and Lake Jacomo.

Walleye

BEST BET: There’s a lake that has flown under the radar for walleye in the recent past. Mozingo promises an excellent outlook for 2019 walleye fishing: 2018 sampling efforts resulted in a catch rate of 84 walleye per hour, and 86 percent of the fish measured more than 18 inches.

Walleye will be stocked annually in Mozingo moving forward, so the fishing should only get better.

BEST OF THE REST: Stockton Lake walleye fishing should continue to be productive in 2019. The lake receives annual stockings and is usually considered the top walleye lake of Missouri every year.

However, there appears to have been poor recruitment from the 2017-year class. Luckily, there was good recruitment in the years prior. That means anglers should have a better chance at catching larger fish this year.

Others to try: Longview, Jacomo, Truman Lake (below the dam RIGHT NOW), and Smithville.

White bass

BEST BET: Lake Jacomo will be another great option for white bass in 2019. The MDC continues to classify it as underutilized, but personal experience this past year showed us that more people are starting to figure it out.

You can see many boats chasing schools of white bass around in the summer — 12- to 15-inch fish are common, and they are stout. Look for them to concentrate along the dam in April.

BEST OF THE REST: Stockton should have excellent white bass fishing in 2019, and 2018 was a great year for white bass.

You can find them in the summer time early in the morning or late in the evening chasing schools of shad. I recommend following Tandem Fly Outfitters on social media and you’ll see the evidence of how amazing the white bass fishing can be. … Others to try: Truman Lake, Smithville, and Longview.

Hybrids

BEST BET: For the Kansas City area, Blue Springs is where you need to be for hybrid striped bass.

Over 7,000 hybrids continue to be stocked on an annual basis. Fly-fishing for them off the dam during the spring has become increasingly popular. Look for wind-driven banks to hold more hybrids throughout the day.

Ten-pound fish or greater are becoming more common, so come prepared for a fight with some heavier gear.

BEST OF THE REST: Truman Lake will have another good year of hybrid fishing. They were stocked every year between 2013-2016. Good recruitment from these stockings is now yielding 5-pound plus fish regularly and more reports of 10-pound fish are occurring more frequently as well.

Others to try: Long Branch, Thomas Hill and Watkins Mill State Park Lake.

Blue catfish

BEST BET: The Missouri River is your best bet again in 2019. In the upper portion, blue catfish numbers remain “higher than ever recorded in this stretch of river,” according to the MDC.

Twenty- to 30-inch fish are common during sampling efforts. Large numbers of 20- to 30-inch fish are sampled regularly during annual monitoring efforts. The same goes for the lower portion of the Missouri. World-class fish weighing more than 90 pounds are being caught every year.

BEST OF THE REST: The middle portion of the Mississippi River should be good in 2019. Blue catfish between 20 and 30 inches are common. An abundance of young catfish was recorded by biologists along with some trophy-sized fished weighing over 70-pounds.

Others to try: Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Little Dixie Lake, and Long Branch Lake.

KANSAS

Largemouth bass

BEST BET: La Cygne nails the top spot again this year. While Sebelius Reservoir had a larger density of 12-inch fish or bigger, La Cygne had a much higher concentration of 15-inch fish or better compared to all other reservoirs.

La Cygne continues to have the best lunker rating of any area reservoir, too, meaning it has the highest density of fish greater than 20 inches long. During sampling, the biggest bass observed was 9.31 pounds. If you’re looking for big bass, this is the lake to target.

BEST OF THE REST: Sebelius Reservoir has high rates of fish greater than 12 inches and is considered excellent bass fishing by state biologists.

If you’re looking for a lake smaller than 1,200 acres, try Garnett-Crystal Lake or Butler State Fishing Lake. Both boast incredibly high densities of fish greater than 12 inches, as well as the highest rates of 15-inch fish or greater among lakes totaling less than 1,200 acres.

Others to try: Wilson Lake, Glen Elder, Alma City Lake, and Cowley State Fishing Lake.

Smallmouth bass

BEST BET: Coffey County Lake tops the list again this year. The density of quality fish greater than 11 and 14 inches is significantly higher than any other reservoir in Kansas.

The three-year average density of fish greater than 11-inches is more than double the next-closest lake. Remember, though, that this lake catches a lot of wind, which sometimes keeps it closed as a precaution to the public. Make sure to call ahead to verify the lake is open before loading everything up to head out there.

BEST OF THE REST: Glen Elder and Melvern were the state’s next-best lakes in density of fish greater than 11 and 14 inches, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.

But Wilson Lake had the highest lunker rating by far for smallmouth bass, meaning an abundance of fish greater than 17 inches. A 4.21-pound smallmouth was recorded during recent sampling at there.

Others to try: Perry, El Dorado, Jeffrey Energy Center, and Gridley City Lake.

Crappie

BEST BET: You’ve got a lot of options, depending on whether you’re looking for black or white crappie.

For black crappie, you’ll want to target Kirwin if you’re looking at reservoirs. It has the highest concentration of fish greater than 8 inches and has a solid number over 10 inches as well. For smaller lakes, Holton-Banner Creek Lake, which totals 535 acres, provides excellent fishing.

For white crappie, Hillsdale is a good option for numbers of fish greater than 8 and 10 inches. Clinton and Perry are always toward the top of the list, as well. For smaller bodies of water, Olathe-Cedar Lake is the best bet, and it’s not even close. It’s only 56 acres but has a large quantities of fish and a solid number over 12 inches.

BEST OF THE REST: Douglas State Fishing Lake will be a good option in 2019 for black crappie. You’ll find good densities of fish measuring over 8 and 10 inches. For white crappie, Eureka City Lake had the highest density measuring more than 10 inches in recent sampling. It has great water clarity and scenic views, as it sits on the edge of the Flint Hills region.

Others to try: Melvern, Toronto, Atchison State Fishing Lake, and Elk City.

Walleye

BEST BET: Wilson Lake comes in as a top target for walleye anglers this year. Of the major reservoirs, it had the highest density of walleye greater than 20 inches.

Six-pound walleye were observed during sampling efforts. Knotheads Bait and Tackle is always a great resource for up-to-date reports for Wilson Lake fishing.

BEST OF THE REST: Cedar Bluff had a higher rate of 15-inch-plus walleye than Wilson but fell behind in the 20-inch-or-greater category. Gridley City Lake is also a good target for walleye anglers looking to fish a smaller body of water.

One productive lake not listed on the surveys is Kanopolis. You might be surprised at the walleye and saugeye you’ll catch. Others to try: Glen Elder, El Dorado, Kirwin, and Webster.

White bass

BEST BET: This year, there’s a new lake that should be on your radar for white bass. Herington City Lake is showing some impressive numbers of fish greater than 9 and 12 inches. KDWPT biologists consider the white bass fishing on this 555-acre lake to be excellent. If you’re looking for a lunker measuring greater than 15 inches, Jeffrey Energy Center should be a target as well.

BEST OF THE REST: Of the major reservoirs, Cedar Bluff showed some impressive numbers in the lunker category of fish greater than 15 inches. You’ll find numbers, too.

Glen Elder is also poised to offer excellent prospects in 2019. A 2.65-pound white bass was observed during recent sampling there.

Others to try: Clinton, Holton-Banner Creek Lake, and Fall River.

Hybrids

BEST BET: Sebelius is back on top this year with the highest density of fish over 16 and 20 inches. Its three-year average density of 16-inch fish or greater also takes the top spot among all major reservoirs. An 8.56-pound wiper was measured in the most recent sampling efforts there.

BEST OF THE REST: El Dorado crept up this year towards the top of the list just behind Sebelius. There is a solid number of fish present that are greater than 16 and 20-inches. Cheney should be another top prospect this year as well. … Others to try: Milford, Clinton, Herington City Lake, and Winfield City Lake.

Blue catfish

BEST BET: Of the major reservoirs, Elk City Lake looks to be the top spot this year for blue cats if you’re looking for sheer numbers of fish. It boasted the best density of fish between 20 and 30 inches. Bigger fish can be found, but the biggest blue cat observed during sampling was just under 10 pounds.

BEST OF THE REST: Coffey County should be your next stop if you’re looking for large blue catfish.

It had the largest density of blue catfish sampled between 30 and 35 inches. A 35.71-pound blue cat was observed during recent efforts. And don’t forget about Milford, which has a good three-year average of 20-inch fish or better.

Others to try: Clinton, Tuttle Creek, and El Dorado.

Tyler Mahoney is a Rockhurst University-educated outdoors fanatic who works to support his hunting and fishing habits. Read more of his next-generation insight at mahoneyoutdoors.com.

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