The Lure of Angling

Henry David Thoreau, the great American author and naturalist, once said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” 

Perhaps Thoreau was referring to the solitude and challenge that attracts nearly 30 million people to the sport of fishing each year in America. For many, a day of angling is a time of introspective thought and reflection. For others, well, it’s simply a day of fishing.

Whatever your pursuit, the angling opportunities for those of us living the good life in 435 Southland are excellent. From small community lakes to expansive river impoundments, the options provide a wide variety of species–and techniques for catching them. You don’t need to travel far to wet a line in Kansas City. Bass, trout, crappie, walleye, catfish, bluegill and even the elusive musky can be caught with relative ease. Many of the best waters for fishing are owned by city, county or state governments; be sure to check regulations. A state fishing license is typically required, and for species such as trout, a special permit may be needed as well.

Largemouth Bass

The most popular species that anglers pursue is undoubtedly the largemouth bass. With state records in Kansas and Missouri topping 10 pounds, this hard-fighting game fish will test your reel’s drag. The largemouth bass is known for its high-flying acrobatic jumps and line-stripping runs for deeper water. 

The largemouth is a predator, which can often be found in shallow water–tight to the available cover in an ambush position. The most effective lures are typically plastic worms and spinnerbaits. 

Largemouth bass can be found in nearly every body of water in the Midwest. However, for trophy bass, there are a few hot spots you should consider. First and foremost (and closest) would be La Cygne Lake.

“La Cygne is without a doubt the best place to catch big bass,” says Paul Marsh, an associate at the Bass Pro Shops Olathe, Kan., location. “The lake generates power and subsequently reintroduces warm water into the lake providing a year-round growing season for the fish. It’s definitely worth the trip.”

Located approximately 40 miles south of Overland Park, the lake has produced some giant largemouth in the 10-pound range. There are lots of fish over 5 pounds, and it’s the best bet for success if you’re on a limited schedule.

If you’re willing to spend a little more time in pursuit of a big largemouth, try Table Rock or Bull Shoals lakes in southern Missouri. These White River impoundments are recognized on a national level as bass factories. Both lakes have quantity and quality.

If you don’t want to leave the metro, try Lake Olathe in Johnson County, Kan., or Lake Jacomo in Jackson County, Mo. And, remember, small private lakes and farm ponds often produce the biggest fish with the least amount of effort. Ask around–you might be surprised at the hidden treasures you will find close to home.

Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth bass is less popular and harder to find, but if you’re willing to float and fish, you’ll be rewarded. Smallmouth typically like moving water, and Missouri float streams such as the Niangua and Gasconade rivers are excellent places to start. 

The preferred diet of the “smallie” is the crawdad. Use brown or reddish colored crankbaits, jigs or grubs to entice a bite. When floating, remember that the fish will typically be in an ambush position on the downstream side of log jams, snags and eddies. Cast upstream, let the bait pass the fish and hold on. Smallmouth are notorious for putting up a good fight.

If you prefer to fish for smallmouth in lakes, try Lake of the Ozarks on the Missouri side and Milford Lake in Kansas. Both produce nice numbers of large fish.


The rainbow trout is the most common target for trout fisherman. However, the brown trout grows much larger and is usually at the top of the list for those seeking the thrill of a lifetime.

Good news. Both rainbow and brown trout are common in southern Missouri’s White River. In fact, the tail waters of Table Rock Lake dam, which make up what is called Lake Taneycomo, are some of the best trout waters in the world. In 1997, the Missouri Department of Conservation designated the upper 3.5 miles of the lake a trophy area, assigning rules to protect rainbows so they have time to grow to trophy size. Brown trout lake-wide are protected until they reach 20 inches in length. The fishing is great no matter whether you fish by boat or from the bank.

“A 2- to-4-pound line is a must when using almost any kind of trout bait or lures,” says Phil Lilley, proprietor of Lilley’s Landing on Lake Taneycomo. “A good ultra-light rod and reel are the best. The rod should be 5- to-7-feet long with medium to light action.”

However, Lilley says that above all else, patience will pay off.

“Trout typically don’t strike hard,” he says. “They tend to pick at their food like a little kid eating spinach. I’ve witnessed rainbows taking a piece of worm in their mouths only to blow them out. Or they will take the tip of the worm and shake their head violently, tearing it off the hook.”

The White River waters below Bull Shoals dam have produced world-record brown trout. If you’re after a giant brown, that’s the place to go. 

Another good option for trout can be found right here in the heart of Johnson County. The state of Kansas stocks rainbow trout in the spring and fall at Heritage Park and Shawnee Mission Park lakes. 


The walleye can probably best be described as a night stalker. Close to home, Longview Lake and Hillsdale have both produced nice numbers of this toothy game fish. Walleye relate to structure, so look for them to inhabit bottom structure or rocky points. In the spring, look for big females spawning off the face of the dams.


There’s really only one place to go to catch this elusive fish. That would be the Pomme de Terre, a 7,800-acre lake in central Missouri. Nicknamed the “fish of 10,000 casts,” many an angler has tried without success to land one of Pomme’s giants. Late September is considered the optimum time to give it a shot. Musky measuring close to 4 feet in length and estimated to weight more than 35 pounds inhabit the waters of Pomme de Terre. Good luck.

Panfish & Catfish

Crappie and bluegill are perhaps the easiest fish to catch and often the most fun. Nearly every pond, community lake and reservoir has a population. Both species will eat just about anything, and you’ll find good action fishing from the bank. Live nightcrawlers or small jigs and spinners will produce results. 

Catfish can be found hugging the bottom of most waters in our area. Channel cat and bullhead can be caught with rod and reel. Fish for them on the bottom using a stout pole.

A day on the water fishing is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Angling offers a chance to experience the great outdoors and provides a better understanding of the fragile ecosystem in which we live.

Schedule some time for fishing this year. We encourage catch and release. After all, like Thoreau said, it’s not really the fish we are after.