Photo by Brent Frazee
Rick Dykstra looks forward to the cool days of September and October when the wipers chase shad to the surface and can be caught on topwater lures.
By Brent Frazee
Fall was in the air…and in the water.
The first cold front of September halted the blistering heat of summer in northeast Kansas. And the wipers were feeling reinvigorated, moving into the shallows of the Milford Reservoir to slash at schools of shad.
John Eklund and Rick Dykstra could see them from a distance. Now it was a race to see if they could get within casting distance before the gamefish went back down again.
“You have to get to them in a hurry,” Eklund said. “You never know how long they will stay up.”
Eklund cut the engine on his boat and let it glide within a long cast of the swirls made by the school of wipers. Without hesitating, he cast a saltwater Chug Bug and began blooping it across the roiled water.
The lure didn’t get far. It disappeared in an instant, and Eklund had a fight on his hands.
The wiper stripped out line and made a powerful run. But it wasn’t long before Eklund had the 5-pound fish in the boat and he was casting for more.
“You can’t take time to mess with them,” he said. “When they’re up, sometimes we’ll just toss them to the bottom of the boat after we unhook them and take another cast.”
Eklund caught another similarly sized fish, then Dykstra had another. And just like that, the surface was calm again.
Welcome to big-game fishing, Kansas style.
Ever since the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism started stocking the white bass-striper hybrid at Milford Reservoir in 1990, the big gamefish have been providing thrills.
At no time of the year is that excitement more evident than in September and October. When the water starts to cool, schools of wipers embark on a mission. They go on a rampage, seemingly out to eat every shad in the reservoir.
“You find the shad, you find the wipers,” Eklund said.
Eklund often uses the electronics on his boat to locate those baitfish. But there’s a method that’s just as effective. When he sees gulls diving on the water, he knows shad are near.
“The shad will get hit from above and below,” Eklund said. “The wipers will push them to the surface and the gulls will dive down on them from above.”
Eklund and Dykstra like to get out either at dawn or at dusk and scan the calm water with binoculars for signs of activity. When they see shad breaking the surface, they take off to get in a few casts before the baitfish and gamefish move on.
It’s a topwater fisherman’s dream. In the fall, the baitfish often move into the shallows and the wipers will pin them against a bank or a stretch of riprap. The hybrids work like a wolfpack, surrounding their prey and attacking with a vengeance.
It isn’t unusual for a wiper to hit so hard that it throws the lure into the air, the engulfs it when it falls back to the surface.
The hybrids are vicious fighters, especially when they’re chasing down food in the cooling water of fall.
“When you catch a 6- or 7-pound wiper in a foot or two of water, it’s something you remember,” Dykstra said.
The most exciting way to catch them is on big topwater lures such as Chug Bugs, Zara Spooks, Whopper Ploppers or buzzbaits. But Eklund and Dykstra also catch them on Chatterbaits and swimbaits.
Main-lake points and indents are the most common places to catch the wipers. But in reality, they can pop up anywhere, provided there are shad.
The 16,000-acre Milford, Kansas’ largest reservoir, is full of shad. It has been high all summer after months of heavy rain and flooding. But that hasn’t had much of an effect on the fishing. Those who have been able to launch a boat report the wipers are still hitting.
And with access to boat ramps improving as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Milford, many fishermen anticipate a good fall.
“We’ve had a tough summer with all the high water,” Dykstra said. “It has kept a lot of fishermen off our reservoirs.”
“But we should see some great fall fishing. We’re already seeing the wipers come up, and the good topwater fishing usually lasts through October.”