Monthly Archives: May 2013

More Casts and Blasts from the Cottonwood River

Sunday’s column about setting lines for big catfish on the Cottonwood River netted me several e-mails and phone calls from anglers who knew and appreciated the river. The one I appreciated the most was from Bob Hoch, a retired Wichita Eagle employee of many, many years.

It turns out Bob had spent some of the best summers of his childhood with his grandparents, who owned and farmed the stretch of the Cottonwood I’d written about. Bob had even had the great fortune of fishing with legendary angler Ned Noll, his uncle.

Not only did Bob confirm what I’d written about Noll, but also about the probable presence and size of Noll’s version of a great white whale…a huge flathead he’d named “Ol’ George.”

Read on, and enjoy what Bob has agreed to let me reproduce.



I enjoyed your Sunday Outdoor feature story about fishing on the Cottonwood River.  Alex “Casey” Case is my cousin and Ned Noll was my uncle.  I spent lots of my youth on the Claude Noll farm where this story takes place.

I used to live with my grandparents there during the summer harvest time.  Back in the 1930’s, Grandpa hired someone with a bulldozer to cut wide paths from the farm down to the river and back up the bank to the field on the other side.  That saved him from having to drive his old John Deer tractor and various implements out on the highway to get to that field.  He also had that guy shove some rocks to make a short “dam” — just below where that campfire ring is.  Now he had a “deep end” and the “riffles” below.

A couple times after spending the day plowing the field across the river, Grandpa would stop the tractor in the riffles and we’d strip down to our underwear and cool off in the river before going back up to the farm house for supper.  We would often sein for bait and float some crawdads down the riffles and slowly reel back in.  Caught some nice fish that way.  And the quietness of those surroundings were, indeed, relaxing.

Uncle Ned became a doctor after he came back from World War II.  Several years later, he came down with Lupus which was fairly unknown at that time.  He spent a couple weeks in the Mayo Clinic for testing and treatment.  He actually was the one to diagnose his illness.

He taught me lots of tips to catching the big catfish.  Yes, we used what he called #12 hooks — giant beasts that would barely fit in the palm of your hand.  He was very scientific about this, too.  Before using those hooks, he would soak them in a mild acid solution to take the shine off them.  He also taught me not to bother setting lines during the days around a full moon — too much moonlight and the turtles and gar would steal the bait.

We used large carp or goldfish for bait, hooking them under the backbone.  To place limb lines most effectively, we would row up and down the river — me rowing and him probing the bottom of the river with a long stick looking for places the big catfish wallowed-out “nests” in the mud.  When we found those, we’d look for the nearest limb from which to hang a line.  Bait placement was key, too — about one foot off the bottom.

One Sunday afternoon, Ned and I were doing some limb line maintenance when we spotted what might have been “Old George”.  A huge catfish was nosing the surface of the water.  While I slowly rowed/drifted up to that fish, Ned put his arm down under the water and I watched in astonishment as he slowly ran his hand up the back of that fish.  When he got to the back of its head, he “walked” his outstretched palm twice across its head.  (Now hold out your hands away from you, stretch your fingers out and touch thumbs.  That’s about how wide across the back of its head that fish was.)  Then he spooked and took a dive.  I know that sounds like a “fish tale”, but it’s the honest-to-God’s truth.

The summer of 1962 was our most prolific fishing summer.  We caught flatheads ranging from 51 lbs, 48, 43, several in the 30 lb range and many other “smaller” ones.  We had a trotline stretched from bank-to-bank below the riffles where the water was about thigh-deep.  We were actually throwing back fish weighing 3-5 lbs because we had too many bigger ones.  Simply amazing!  (I have a picture of me with the 51-lb flathead, but I can’t get my scanner to work.)

In 1963, we got skunked.  Couldn’t catch a cold on that river that year.  Then, Ned passed away in 1964.

Ned and Dale Snelling who was the Marion County Lake Superintendent for many years, used to trap beaver on the Cottonwood.  For many years, I had a beaver skin rug that measured a little more than 3 feet in diameter that Ned made for me.

Thanks for the ride down memory lane.”


Casts and Blasts from the Cottonwood River

Central Kansas’ Cottonwood River is long and beauty and fishing tradition.

A few more details from last weekend’s time along the Cottonwood River, in Marion County.  YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY THAT RAN ON SUNDAY’S OUTDOORS PAGE.

– The section of the river being fished by Alex Case and his collection of about 20 college chums, local friends and family members is between Marion and Florence, and flows through private properties so it’s not legally accessible to the public. Case has had permission to fish the land which has been in his family for decades.

– Though there are plenty of stories of flatheads to 65 pounds from that section of river decades ago, in 25 springs of setting lines on the Cottonwood, Case and his crew have probably never topped about 35 pounds. Probably the largest flatheads on the Cottonwood come from the section of river just north of Marion Reservoir. Growing fat on gizzard shad and other fish in the lake, catfish pushing 60 pounds aren’t too uncommon upstream. Many believe most major lakes in Kansas are supporting numerous flatheads of more than 75 pounds.

– The Cottonwood River flows into the Neosho, which for the state’s first 100 or more years was known as the best catfish river in Kansas.

– Case and his friends have spent the past two weekends camping in a small meadow yards from the Cottonwood. For most years they camped at a campground at Marion Reservoir, but decided to move their camp when Corps of Engineers regulations changed and put more restrictions on where they used to camp.

Griffin King, left, helps Jarrett Johnson and Mark Johnson carry a load of catfish to a wire fish box in the Cottonwood River. All the fish were cleaned after the annual

– Normal procedure is to bait lines just before dark, then run them at about midnight, and again early the next morning. Case likes to run them after about 8 a.m. because some catfish feed during the first hour or so of daylight.

– All of the sets were in one pool a few hundred yards long, and included about 15 bank or limblines and one trotline with about a dozen hooks. Anglers waded the pool while setting the lines, and seldom found water that was too deep to wade easily.

– Memorial Day weekend has long been known as a great time for running lines on Kansas rivers, as the big flatheads are on the move for their annual spawn.

– Yesterday, May 25, Case and friends baited the same lines, but didn’t check them until the next morning when they found five channel cat from about eight to 12 pounds.

Ben Riedel, right, and John Aldrich add to the mass breakfast on the first morning of the annual campout/fishing trip.

– As well as the lines set on the river, some campers spent some time fishing on Marion Reservoir. The camp also regularly enjoys nighttime horseshoe games played by the light of lanterns and headlights.. Meals are usually cooked over the campfire, and served in huge portions.

Casts and Blasts about Marion’s Turkey Vultures.

A turkey vulture glides over downtown Marion, getting ready to spend the night on the town’s water tower or nearby trees.

A few items that didn’t make it into Saturday’s front page story about the up to 200 turkey vultures that often roost near downtown Marion. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL STORY ON KANSAS .COM.

– They’re vultures, not buzzards, and there is a difference though both species of birds mostly eat carrion. Vultures are actually closely related to storks.

– Most of the birds seen around Marion’s water tower these days are probably year-old birds, not yet mature enough to nest. Most adults are probably scattered across the countryside raising vultlets, or whatever the young are called.

– Like all migratory birds, turkey vultures are protected by federal laws and can’t legally be shot or killed. There would also be that little problem with firing a firearm in the city limits of Marion.

– A flock of vultures is called a venue, and a group circling in the air are a kettle…not that I could ever imagine cooking a vulture in a kettle.

– Vultures have been on Earth for an estimated 40 million years, which is about how long grazing animals (a.k.a. vulture food) have also roamed the planet.

– Some Kansas birders jokingly refer to road kills as “TV dinners,” referencing that they’ll probably be eaten by Turkey Vultures.

Biologists think vultures are probably attracted to Marion’s water tower because its height makes it easier for the birds to soar away in the morning.

– Though their beaks are strong and very sharp, turkey vultures often use vomiting as a means of protection. (Had it happen to a relative one time…he assured me it was not pleasant.)

– Adult turkey vultures have few predators, though they are sometimes struck by vehicles when they flush beside roadways or the occasionally hit utility lines. Another problem is if they are eating the remains of an animal killed by a human hunter ,and ingest a lead bullet or shotgun pellet. Either can be fatal because of lead poisoning.

Boaters Beware, some local lakes have hazardous conditions

Wichita maybe enjoying a wet spring, but beware if you’re heading to a local lake. Water conditions are low enough in many places to make for hazardous boating.

Still 6.6 feet below normal, Cheney Reservoir has more challenges than normal. El Dorado Reservoir  could be flat-out dangerous.

“Even with the rain, we’ve come up a whopping 4/10ths of a foot this spring so we’re still about 4.4 feet low. It’s been a while since we’ve been this low this time of the year,” said Craig Johnson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist for El Dorado. “There are places where you can be a couple of hundred yards off shore and still only be in ankle-deep water. There are a lot of trees (near the surface) where I don’t remember seeing them in the past.”

Shane Eustice, who regularly boats and guides anglers at El Dorado, fears the timing for such low water could accentuate the problems.

“A lot of people are really going to be anxious this weekend to finally get out, and they’re just going to jump in their boat and go,” he said. “I’m afraid someone  could really get hurt.”

Johnson told of someone who bought a new boat last Wednesday, then wrecked the lower part of the motor in a shallow area the next day at El Dorado. He’s surprised it hasn’t happened more often.

“I see a lot of people going fast in their bass boats, ripping across some of these (hazardous) areas,” he added. “They either know the lake really well, or they’ve just been really lucky.”

Eustice and Johnson say boaters should be careful around all points of land that jut out into the water. Often the water is only inches deep. It’s sometimes the same where old roadbeds go into the lake. Easily boated over a year ago, many areas now could struggle to float a canoe.

Both lake experts said the water several hundred yards off Bluestem and El Dorado Point areas will probably be too shallow for safe boating. Eustice spoke of a sizable island about 400 yards off Bluestem Point that’s so low many boaters may not see it. Even if they do, water on both sides of the island is probably too shallow for most boats.

“You just have to respect every point you go around,” he said. “People just won’t believe you may be 600 yards from shore and still not be in safe water.”

Other potential dangers are where timber was left standing along original river and creek banks when the lake was filled. Through the years many of the long-dead trees broke at various heights. Eustice said hidden trees that once let boaters pass over with no concerns could now lead to a damaged boat, or worse if people are thrown from boats that hit the obstacles at high rates of speed.

At Cheney Reservoir, fisheries biologist Jeff Koch said boaters don’t need to worry about striking flooded timber, but some of the areas close to shore could be too shallow for safe boating. “You just have to plan on staying several hundred yards off shore on the main lake, and if you get closer, do it slowly,” Koch said. “It’s way too shallow up north, but I can’t think of anything in the middle of the lake that could be a problem.”

Simply getting a boat launched on to Cheney could be the biggest problem. Koch said the only operational ramp is in the state park on the east side of the reservoir.

Two boat ramps, the west ramp in the Boulder Bluff area and another east of Shady Creek Marina, are closed at El Dorado. Johnson said boaters should show caution around some courtesy docks because of shallow water conditions.


Crappie Time!

NIce crappie are spawning in the shallows at most central Kansas lakes.

It’s here. After probably a half-dozen half-hearted starts and stops because of weather fronts, it appears the 2013 crappie spawn is running full-speed in central Kansas.

Craig Johnson, Wildlife and Parks biologist for El Dorado Reservoir called this morning to say he saw a lot of anglers, catching a lot of fish, at the lake on Monday. Johnson, an avid angler, said most traditionally popular areas held fishermen.

Up at Marion Reservoir last evening, Alex Case said he probably saw about 60 anglers spread out along the lake’s dam, catching nice-sized crappie and white bass. Arriving late, Case said he kept a half-dozen nice crappie and released more than that number of white bass.

Bob Roberts, of Salina, traveled to Milford Reservoir with a friend just to check out the fishing conditions. Fishing from shore they caught most of a five gallon bucket of nice crappie. Roberts has heard it’s been some of the best spawn crappie fishing the lake has seen in a while. He also reports that the spawn has finally started in earnest at Glen Elder Reservoir. (Any making the trip to Glen need to remember their 20 crappie limit this year.)

Further north, former KU All-American Wayne Simien, Jr. caught a dozen nice crappie from the shore at Clinton this morning and predicts he may be a tad late for work again tomorrow morning.

Of course the great action is the result of steady weather and the water finally warming into the 60s. No clue how long the fishing will stay hot, but it’s never more than the next cold front away from turning off.



Nebraska turkeys not as friendly as the people

We went, …we called, …we saw…and my 33 seasons of experience, and  $300 worth of decoys and calls, got kicked around by a bunch of birds with penny-sized brains.

Only in the turkey woods.

A rainbow over the South Loup River was the consolation prize after a failed afternoon of turkey hunting. Photo by Ed Schulte.

Last weekend longtime friend Ed Schulte and I headed to his boyhood home amid the cornfields, pastures and meandering South Loup River of central Nebraska.  No stranger to the Merriam’s/Rio Grande hybrid turkeys of the Nebraska and Dakota prairies, I was confident.

We’re talking hit the baseball off the top of the tee with three swings confident.

I was to take care of the calling and equipment, while Ed took care of lodging and hunting grounds. That meant staying with Ed’s relatives, Don and Diana Axmann.

With a feed and seed business, and a lifelong resident of the area, Don had us set to hunt three great properties along the South Loup. When we showed interest in another place, Don’s quick call got access there, too. That’s the way we were treated, both by Ed’s large family, friends of the family and complete strangers.

The people were as refreshing as the weather was blustery on two of our four days.

The first evening we just scouted properties, located several groups of gobbling toms at sunset and I got to know the Axmann’s. Judging by the dominance of red and Husker memorabilia in his basement, it was quickly obvious that Don was addicted to anything Nebraska football. Quiet on the outside, his dry since of humor  is appreciable.

Diana reminded me of her sister, Ed’s wife, Ronda – friendly, talkative, positive, perpetually happy, and very talented in the kitchen.

Goal #1 was to call in a tom for Ed, who’d only ambushed turkeys in the past. With plenty of mouth, slate and box calls along, and a pair of ultra-realistic, decoys, I figured no problems.

Hunters plan, turkeys laugh.

And really, the first day went well enough.

The morning’s hunt never had a chance thanks to a guitar string-tight barbed wire fence that probably dissuaded enthusiastic toms from coming our way. It happens when you’re hunting an area for the first time

No biggie. That afternoon I lured in a nice tom that came in at a bad angle and was probably within the fringe of shotgun range. Figuring he’d come on in and give Ed a shot, I held off the trigger. The tom simply turned and slowly strutted away. Coward.

Ed Schulte and the prairie tom that played by the rules, and came to calls and decoys.

Towards evening, Ed got to see a nice tom come to calls and decoys. He made the shot, which left us a day-and-a-half to get me at least one  bird.

We had two hunts at some of the prettiest prairie turkey habitat I’ve ever seen. Amid the mile-long stretch of timber along the South Loup was a 20 acre or so plot of alfalfa totally hidden from any roads. About 20 turkeys, including at least five longbeards, were in the field when we checked it. Farm trails seemed perfect travel routes to and from the field for turkeys in the area.

The first afternoon at the spot we set-up along the edge of one of those trails and had a hen in our decoys within 10 minutes, but the toms in the area showed up late and didn’t want to play. We moved our blind to where they’d been that evening.

The next morning, our last of the hunt, the air was filled with gobbles when the birds were scattered amid three roosting places. When they hit the ground, though, – silence.

We had two henlesss longbeards pass along the field oblivious to the decoys and calls. A mixed flock of about two dozen hens and toms showed no reaction, not even  yelp, gobble or strut to my calls, an hour later. Even four lone jakes, probably the most gullible creatures in hunting, totally ignored calls and decoys that had fooled so many birds, through so many seasons.

I did a made move-and-call dash through the woodlands during the final minutes of the hunt. Nada, but tt least I went down swinging.

We wondered if it was the weather, or hunting pressure we didn’t know about, or just turkeys being turkeys that day and flipping me the feather.

No problem, really. The beards and spurs will be a bit longer next spring, Ed and I know two properties better and still have at least two more to explore.

Hopefully next year the turkeys of central Nebraska won’t again be so  rude.

The people and the country won’t let us down.

Go Huskers!



K-State fishing team wins prestigious tournament

K-State Fishing Team member Lance Maldonado shows the 1st place trophy he and partner Nate Kozlowski won in Alabama last weekend.

K-State’s bass fishing duo of Nathan Kozlowski and Lance Maldonado took first place last Saturday at the prestegious FLW College Central Conference qualifier at Pickwick Lake, on the Tennessee River in Alabama.
The college  juniors and  longtime friends from Junction City have fished together  since they were about five years old, and beat out a field of 50 boats, many from colleges much closer to Pickwick Lake. Teams finishing second through fifth place were all from nearby Kentucky.

A FLW release said two teams from Wichita State’s fishing team participated, finishing in the bottom half of the event.

Kozlowski made the 24 hour round-trip drive the previous weekend to pre-fish the lake. Maldonado joined him on the return trip to Alabama last Friday.
“It was 12 hours down, six hours of fishing and 12 hours back,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said they weighed in five bass that totaled 17 lbs., 8 oz by fishing eddy areas around big boulders in the tailrace fishery. Having fished Kansas’ Milford Reservoir countless times in their lives, he said they were ready for the mixed-bag angling that included smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass. The anglers boated 30 to 40 bass, total.

Ironically, they must return to Pickwick for another FLW event in about 10 days.

This is the second big win for the K-State Fishing Team in two years.
In April, 2012, Ryan Patterson, of Garden Plain won the FLW College Fishing National Championship on South Carolina’s Lake Murray. With his partner ruled ineligible, Patterson had to defeat 24 two-man college teams for the victory that gained him national media attention, including a mention in Sports Illustrated.


Casts and Blasts, Quivira’s management plans


You read below for a few more details.

Mike Oldham, the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge manager.

- Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said a total of 45-50 people attended their three public meetings in Stafford, Wichita and Great Bend last week.

-Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas director, commented in Wichita that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife  staff  promoting the meetings didn’t do an adequate job of notifying the public. I also expressed concern that The Wichita Eagle didn’t appear to have been notified. Fish and Wildlife personel at Wichita’s gathering said they followed normal procedures.

- After the three meetings, Oldham indicated he’d heard only from hunters more interested in keeping the North Lake region open to  public hunting, than keeping other portions of the refuge open for hunting when whooping cranes are present. Under a current proposal, the refuge could remove the North Lake area from places open to public hunting.

As a trade, some areas previously closed to public hunting could be opened, thus allowing hunting when whoopers are present because they’re seldom in the proposed new areas. Oldham said the wetlands habitat within those units has been improved recently.

Several years ago, sportsmen at early planning meetings expressed a desire to keep the refuge open to hunting when whooping cranes are present. Since, U.S. Fish and Wildlife planners have been working to  implement a plan for such desires.

- Oldham said federal regulations limit how much of Quivira can be opened to public hunting at about 40 percent.

My personal perspective -

- It appears that Oldham and other Fish and Wildlife staff members are indeed trying to include public desires into the 15 year management plan, though the good of the wildlife on the 22,000 acre refuge will come first…as it should be.

- Because of the small turnout at the meetings, it appears that a vocal minority may have the opportunity to help set the refuge’s future.

- It’s good to see consideration be given to the wildlife viewing quality at Quivira. In my opinion, it’s the top viewing/wildlife photography destination in Kansas, by far. On a good November afternoon I can shoot 300-700 frames of deer, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and, if I’m fortunate, whooping cranes.