Fact and legend from generations ago both speak of Waconda Springs, a mineral spring between the small towns of Glen Elder and Cawker City.


Fact and legend from generations ago both speak of Waconda Springs, a mineral spring between the small towns of Glen Elder and Cawker City.

Now somewhere beneath the waters of Waconda Lake, this spring was a ceremonial gathering spot for most Indian tribes who knew it as the “Great Spirit Spring,” and later a health resort for the white man, all of whom believed in the magical healing powers of water from the spring.

The first weekend of May, Joyce and I traveled to Waconda Lake as part of the Outdoor Writers of Kansas group to sample some of the lakes sizzling walleye and crappie fishing, as well as some of the area’s hospitality. Our first impression was a dandy evening meal of fried crappie, homemade potato salad and all the trimmings at the historic Hopewell Church in the state park, prepared for us by the Waconda Lake Association. Afterward, we met Mike Cooper, general contractor and Ranger Boat Pro Staff member from Beloit who was to be our walleye guide for Monday.

Monday dawned as calm as it gets here in Kansas and we boarded Coop’s amazing Ranger boat — which cost half as much as my house — and headed out toward some of his walleye honey holes. Waconda Lake walleye fishing is on the rise big time.

Many Kansas lakes have a 15-inch keeper length for walleye, but Waconda is two years into a four-year program which extended its walleye keeper length to 18 inches. This year, those three measly inches are resulting in fewer keepers but fantastic walleye fishing with literally tons of fish between 14 and 17 inches.

We were fishing with whole night crawlers slightly threaded onto colored jig heads, and drifting them over natural bottom structure like sudden breaks and ridges on the lake floor. We’d only had rigs in the water a short time, when Mike told Joyce “The next time you reel in, I’m going to give you a class on” ... then his voice trailed off as Joyce hauled back on her rod and promptly hooked and landed a dandy 15-inch walleye.

She looked at him to finish his sentence, but he just muttered, “Never mind; I see you don’t need a class in hooking walleye!”

That set the trend that continued all day, as she out-fished us two-to-one. Mike thinks his ratio is one keeper walleye for every fifty landed, but I think we beat his ratio as we ended the day keeping four fish, all over 20 inches, and we caught between 50 and 70.

In fact, Joyce became so used to unhooking and releasing fish that were just under the length limit that at one point after she had just landed her first keeper, Mike and I both nearly tackled her from opposite ends of the boat as she methodically, without thinking dangled the 21-inch walleye over the side preparing to throw it back! That would quite possibly have landed her a seat in the back of the pickup for the ride home.

The walleye fishing at Waconda Lake should be incredible the next few years, as all those “barely too short” fish (known as “shorts” in fisherman-speak) become keepers. We nearly wore the paint off Mike’s measuring stick in one afternoon.

The lake itself was amazingly clean, clear and blue, with wonderfully colored limestone bluffs along the southern shore. It was hard to imagine that during the 1993 flood, the very water where we sat was 33-feet deeper, and completely covered the entire state park, marina and boat docks. It’s almost like the waters of the “Great Spirit Spring” are still at work, healing first the lake after the flood, and now Joyce and I as we spent a most relaxing day enjoying some of Waconda Lake’s bounty.

And then there was our guide, Mike “Coop” Cooper who kept us catching walleye all day long, and also kept us entertained with stories about, … well he kept us entertained. After the boat was loaded and the fish were cleaned, he offered us his hand in friendship and thanked us for allowing him to take us fishing. ... Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve Gilliland is a syndicated outdoors columnist, and can be contacted by e-mail at stevegilliland@idkcom.net.