PRATT, Kan. — Reservoir bass fisheries are among the most challenging to manage, especially in Kansas.
As Fisheries Division Director Doug Nygren detailed the impediments recently, Mother Nature provided graphic visuals, with torrential rains and high water, not only impeding angler access and making navigation hazardous, but likely damaging the spawn because of prolonged dingy water. For example, Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan was more than 50 feet above normal in late May.
“Tuttle Creek has a drainage area the size of the state of Vermont,” said Melissa Bean of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “When we get as much rain as have, we’re going to see high water. This is what this reservoir was designed to do — flood control. But no one wants to see this much water.”
Also intended for flood control, other reservoirs were 20 feet high or more as well. At John Redmond, water levels were their third highest on record, at almost 24 feet above normal.
"Kansas' large federal reservoirs suffer from limited recruitment due a multitude of factors, including poor nursery habitat, turbidity and water level fluctuation, especially in irrigation and drought prone areas," Nygren said during the spring flooding. "We also experience size selective overwinter mortality."
In other words, the smaller the young-of-the-year bass, the less likely it will survive the winter.
But the good news is that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism (KDWPT) has found a way to overcome these obstacles in its impoundments and create good fisheries.
"Kansas currently has nine large lakes that are rated good-excellent for largemouth bass," the fisheries chief explained.
How does the agency do it? Early spawn stocking is a key element in its strategy.
"Four of these lakes have received early spawn bass, and they are making up 40 to 60 percent of the largemouth in those four lakes," Nygren said. "At Melvern Reservoir, the overall black bass fishery is rated good but that includes the smallmouth fishery as well. At Melvern last year, 65 percent of the largemouth sampled were stocked."
Since 2010, Kansas has been rearing largemouth bass in a climate-controlled building at its Meade Fish Hatchery, producing 7.9 million fry. Biologists adjust light and temperature to induce spawning 45 to 60 days ahead of the peak for the wild spawn.