A pro KC angler shares summer fishing tips

Photography by Shawn Brackbill.

As the sun rises over the lake’s glassy surface, Jason Atkins prepares to cast his line. For Atkins, this tranquil scene is one that’s all too familiar.

Ever since he was a child, Atkins has been passionate about fishing. “My parents have a picture of me in my crib with a fishing pole,” he says. “I’ve always been stoked to go fishing.”

Atkins now holds two International Game Fish Association world records in the sport: one for a longnose gar, which he snagged at Truman Lake, and the other for a flathead catfish from the “muddy” Missouri River. The ironic (and, as some would argue, fateful) part of it all is that both of his record fish were the exact same length: one hundred and thirty-one centimeters. He’s also caught a seven-and-a-half-foot shark off the coast in Florida.

If there’s a water monster out there, Atkins is determined to catch it.

Atkins’ love for fishing and hunting has also led him to explore his culinary side by cooking the game he hunts. He showcases it all on his Instagram account, @maneatswild, where you’ll see his venison cheesesteak sandwiches, trout tacos and morel mushroom flatbreads. 

Atkins, who also founded tackle company Atko in 2017, is serving up some of his best fishing tips for anyone looking to cast a reel and relax this summer.

Photography by Shawn Brackbill
Get a Permit

To fish on publicly stocked waters in Kansas and Missouri, you need a fishing license. There are a few age exceptions, and some states, like Missouri, have free fishing days where you can fish without a license. Permit prices differ depending on state, residency and what type of license you need, but they typically range from $15 to $25 per person per season. Get more info at ksoutdoors.com for Kansas fishing and mdc.mo.gov for Missouri fishing.

Know the Rules

Fishing has rules, and not following them could lead to a talking-to from the game warden and a pricey ticket. We covered the fishing license. Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of catching and releasing.

While some wild fish are safe to take home, other varieties have specific rules, like how many fish you can keep or what points of the year are open season, meaning you can keep the fish. “Others are endangered,” Atkins says. “For example, if you catch a sturgeon, you’ve gotta get it back in the water ASAP and make sure it’s happy. The best bet is, until you are good at identifying fish, throw everything back.” The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks both make guides that have all the info you need, which you can find on their websites or pick up at many local grocery and hardware stores.

Grab Some Gear

“Starting out, you don’t need to have high-dollar, super cool Bass Pro gear,” Atkins says. “Until you start doing it more and more, you’re not going to really know what you like to use.” Borrow a fishing pole from a friend or family member, or see if you can find a gently used one at the thrift store. For bait, start with live worms, which are available at most tackle and bait shops and attract fish with their natural smell and movement. (Psst: You can also find Akto gear at Forty Woods Bait N’ Tackle in Blue Springs.)

Find a Spot

Some would argue that finding a spot to fish is one of the most adventurous and enjoyable parts of the hobby. (Many serious anglers won’t even share their favorite spots in hopes that they can keep their havens secret.)

Atkins says there’s no need to venture out to the backwoods to scope out a great fishing spot. Some of the best ones might be in your own neighborhood. Atkins loves fishing the Missouri River that runs right through downtown, which is where he snagged the world-record flathead catfish from.

Atkins recommends downloading the app onX, which shows users where all public land is—i.e., land that’s fair game to fish in. You don’t need a boat to fish, which Atkins stands by; he actually sold his boat a few years ago and has caught some of his most impressive game by bank fishing, or fishing from land.

If you’re looking to target specific fish or just have no idea where to start, Atkins also suggests reaching out to your state’s wildlife department. “They do surveys of all the waterways and have a good idea of what populations exist,” he says. “You can say ‘I want to catch a catfish, where is a good place nearby me?’ and they’ll give you great suggestions.” 

Cast a Reel

Once you’ve secured some gear and have a fishing hole in mind, go for it! Remember: The joy of fishing isn’t necessarily in the catch but rather the sense of calm and community that comes with it. 

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