Some Keys for Deciphering the Ways of the Walleye at Milford Lake, Kansas
By Rick Franklin and Ned Kehde

When Cabela's National Team Championship walleye tournament arrives at Milford Lake, Kansas, on June 6-7, the bulk of the contestants' quarry will be roaming on shallow flats, humps, and points.

Milford Lake Walleye Milford is nestled in the picturesque Flint Hills and fed by the Republican River and seven feeder creeks. The topography of this 16,020-acre reservoir rests upon a bed of limestone, chert, and clay. Some of its shoreline consists of limestone bluffs. There are also many miles of clay banks, humps, and points, and some of them are laced with rock outcroppings, submerged roadbeds, and foundations and rubble of former farmsteads. Besides miles of limestone bluffs and clay shorelines, Milford is graced with scores of rocky and gravelly points and banks.

In early June, the water temperature normally hovers around 73 degrees. At that temperature, the majority of Milford's walleye forage upon a variety of such invertebrates as bloodworms and immature mayflies.

Traditionally Milford's water clarity ranges from two to five feet. The clearest water is found from Rush Creek to the riprap of the dam. And the dirtiest water can be found from Madison Creek to the riprap of the Wakefield causeway. During 2002 and 2003, a severe drought caused the lake level to drop seven feet below normal, allowing the clarity to improve to seven feet in spots. But even throughout a drought, algal blooms and harsh winds erupt, clouding the water clarity, and reducing the visibility to just a couple of feet in the lower third of the reservoir.

Since Milford is a flatland reservoir, lying in the middle of one of the world's greatest grasslands, anglers are frequently tormented by ranks of heavy white caps that course the length of the lake, running from Curtis Creek to Madison Creek. Yet on those days when an extremely stiff wind angles out of the southwest or south, anglers can find some refuge and some walleye in several of the bigger feeder creeks.

Natural walleye recruitment at Milford is problematic and often insignificant. Therefore, a regular and extensive stocking program by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks augments the population. For instance, the KDWP stocked 125,457 fingerling walleye and 5,082,200 fry in 2002.

A jig and a nightcrawler is the traditional tool of the dyed-in the-wool Kansas walleye angler. Anglers use it to drift with the aid of the wind across massive expanses of flats or points, allowing the jig head to drag and bounce on the bottom. And on those rare days when the wind fails to blow in Kansas, anglers use their electric trolling motors to slowly maneuver the boat and drag the jig across significant features on the flats and points. Anglers also use a vertical motif to carefully probe such subtle spots as rock piles, brush piles, ledges and stumps with the jig and crawler.

And it should be noted that a plethora of PVC skeletons, rock piles and tree piles have been recently constructed on various contours of the lake. Although spinner rigs, as well as other crawler and leech rigs, are seldom employed by Kansas anglers, tournament participants from other state might teach Kansas anglers a thing or two about the effectiveness of these walleye tools during the heat of this June's tournament.

The art of pitching a lightweight jighead festooned with a piece of a nightcrawler at visible logs, stumps and boulders isn't in the repertoire of the traditional Kansas walleye angler. But there are some spots at Milford where this finesse tactic might yield a few dividends for a tournament angler.

Even though the Milford's walleye will be feeding primarily of invertebrates or aquatic insect in their larval and pupal stages in early June, there are times when anglers can entice impressive array of fish by casting and slowly retrieving crankbaits on rocky points, shallow humps, and shallow foundations. Moreover, clay points that are graced with a shelf or ledge can also attract some walleye that can be allured with a crankbait. Anglers suspect that these walleye are feeding on gizzard shad, shiners and large crustaceans.

Traditionally, the three-inch, 1/8-ounce Lindy Shadling was the mainstay of Kansas walleye anglers who plied shallow-water environs during low-light periods or when the wind blew at a moderate pace. Nowadays anglers also use such lures as a No. 5 Rapala Shad Rap. And on windy outing a large lipless crankbait can periodically yield several nice-sized specimen.

On extremely windy days, anglers frequently troll crankbaits across points, humps and flats, focusing on water as shallow as three feet and no deeper than 10 feet. And when the wind doesn't howl, tournament anglers might reap some sizable catches by trolling deep-diving crankbaits along subtle ledges, as well as significant drop offs, in 10 to 15 feet of water.

Across the years, newcomers to Kansas walleye fishing have been confounded by their sonars. In fact, years ago several walleye experts from Lindy Little Joe of Brainerd, Minnesota, discovered that Milford had too many fish -- primarily rough fish - to allow anglers to use their sonars to find walleye. Instead, it is recommended that walleye fishers use their sonars as a tool to locate the best coverts to probe with a jig, rig, or crankbait.

From the perspective of many veteran Milford walleye fishermen, the murkier and shallower environs of the upper end of lake are where anglers traditionally fish rather precisely and slowly. The lake's middle section is where a moderate fishing pace normally shines. And around the clear-water areas near the dam, anglers often work quickly and aggressively.

But topnotch tournament fishermen have a habit of finding exceptions to the many rules of thumb, and it will be interesting to see if some of the teams of accomplished walleye anglers, competing in the Cabela's National Team Championship, will finish high on the leaderboard by employing a few unorthodox tactics on Milford's walleye.

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