Hunter Meese sees fishermen towing boats stream out of Kansas City each Friday, making a mad dash for popular destinations such as the Lake of the Ozarks or Truman Lake.
But the way Meese sees it, the fishermen in those vehicles are unknowingly passing some great fishing holes before they even leave the metro area.
“A lot of people figure they have to drive a ways and get out of the city to find good fishing,” says Meese, 25, who lives in Independence and works at Forty Woods Bait and Tackle near Lake Jacomo and Blue Springs Lake.
“They just don’t realize what some of these lakes in the Kansas City area have to offer.”
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
Check out a map of the Kansas City metro area.
The area is splashed with water on both sides of the state line. In Missouri, Jacomo, Blue Springs and Longview lakes and the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area stand out. On the Kansas side, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte County and Kill Creek lakes command attention.
Add the Missouri River that forms the Missouri-Kansas border and small bodies of water that are open to the public — and the subdivision lakes that aren’t — and you have a lot of places to fish.
Take into account that Smithville on the Missouri side and Hillsdale on the Kansas side are just a long cast from the metro area, and it’s easy to see why Kansas City puts out the “Gone Fishin’” sign each summer.
Did someone say “staycation”?
“These aren’t big bodies of water,” says Billie Thompson, a longtime ranger for the Johnson County Park and Recreation District. “But they give our residents the option of not having to drive a long way to find good fishing.
“To some people in Johnson County, places like Shawnee Mission Lake or Kill Creek are Lake of the Ozarks.”
FISHING IN TRAFFIC
Mark Shaffer and Hunter Meese were fighting rush-hour traffic at Blue Springs Lake.
It was Saturday afternoon, and the lake was full of boats. High-performance power boats, runabouts towing water skiers, jet skis, even a few cruisers — all churning the water with their wakes.
Try fishing in that. Shaffer and Meese sat in their fishing boat, weaving in and out of the traffic, trolling crankbaits in hopes of catching hybrids, a cross between white bass and stripers.
“I think this is the most boats I’ve ever seen on this lake,” Shaffer says. “But I don’t think the fish mind too much.
“I think they’re used to all of this activity.”
Almost on cue, Meese felt a jolting strike at the end of his rod as his line cut through the wake of another boat.
He set the hook and felt the frantic pull of a hybrid. The fish stripped out line as it headed for the depths but eventually surrendered, and Meese pulled a 3-pound fish into a waiting landing net.
That fish wasn’t alone. Shaffer landed one moments later, and it wasn’t long before the live well was teeming with fish.
“Blue Springs is known as a boating lake, but a lot of people don’t even know that it has good fishing, too,” Meese says. “Look at what we’re doing today. It’s hot, there are boats everywhere and we’re still catching fish.”
BASS FISHING IN THE ‘BURBS
On a hot June morning, Brandon Murphey was hoping to meet up with the bass he nicknamed Bessie several years ago.
She weighed 9 pounds when Murphey caught her on a spring day three years ago at Shawnee Mission Lake. He released his trophy catch and is convinced that she is still out there, sulking in the depths of the Johnson County lake.
“If she’s still living, she has to weigh more than 10 pounds by now,” says Murphey, 47, who lives in Shawnee. “A lot of people wouldn’t expect to see a fish like that in a small lake like Shawnee Mission.
“This place isn’t that well-known for its bass fishing. But there are some big ones in here.”
Bessie may well be in a class by herself. But Murphey regularly catches bass exceeding the 18-inch minimum size limit. He releases all of the fish he catches. But he relishes the challenge of catching big bass without having to travel to places such as the Lake of the Ozarks or Table Rock.
“It’s exactly six minutes from my driveway to the boat ramp out here,” he says. “This is my home away from home. Sometimes, it seems like this is my home.
“I’ll fish here at least a couple times a week.”
On a steamy June morning, Murphey returned to the 120-acre lake in a park that is an island of nature in the middle of busy Johnson County and resumed his quest for bass. Pulling into a peaceful cove that belied its location, Murphey says, “This is the place where I can pretend that I’m 100 miles away.”
The fishing often resembles that of something you’d find in a wilderness setting instead of in the suburbs. Of course, Murphey has an advantage. Few fishermen know Shawnee Mission like he does. He has fished the lake for 40 of his 47 years and knows where just about every brush pile, rock and log is located.
He visited some of those spots recently and found the bass where he had left them.
Moments after casting a plastic worm into a brush pile, he felt a thump at the end of his line. He set the hook and watched as his line cut through the clear water. A bass shot to the surface and made an acrobatic leap, then landed with a loud belly flop. But it wasn’t long before Murphey had the fish in the boat.
“That one will go 3 and a half, 4 pounds,” he says before tossing the bass back. “A lot of people wouldn’t believe there are bass like that out here, but there are.”
Murphey later caught a bass only slightly smaller and a number of others before heading back to the boat ramp.
“A lot of times, I’ll get out at dawn and fish until 10 [a.m.] then go to work,” Murphey says. “It’s nice to have a place like this so close to home.”
JACKSON COUNTY’S BASS
Some fishermen dream of traveling to famous reservoirs such as the Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock or Bull Shoals to fish for bass.
Not Mark Slocum. He’s content to stay in Jackson County.
He has fished Jacomo, Blue Springs and Longview for years, and he sees little reason to stray far from home to chase better bass fishing.
“I don’t want to put in the drive time or spend the money to go anywhere else,” says Slocum, 66, of Lee’s Summit. “I’m fortunate to live in Jackson County. I’m 10 to 15 minutes from any of these lakes, and they have a lot of bass in them.”
And some big ones. Consider a hot, windy day in June, when Slocum went fishing on Longview and caught a bass weighing 5.62 pounds.
“I went to a flat way off shore, and I hadn’t made five casts when that fish hit,” Slocum says. “Actually, I didn’t even feel the hit. My line just started moving.”
That isn’t the only big one Slocum has caught out of the Jackson County lakes, though. He landed a 7-pounder on Blue Springs Lake three years ago, and he has caught bass exceeding the 5-pound mark at Jacomo.
He and his friend Terry Apple started fishing the local lakes in the late 1970s and were impressed by what they found. They started entering tournaments and did well, and they figured they had little reason to go elsewhere.
“The lakes have some big bass in them, but they’re not easy to catch,” Slocum says. “They spend most of their time off-shore.
“But if you work at it and learn where the structure is, you can catch them.”
FISHING THE DOCKS
John Mason stood out in a crowd on a recent weekday at the Lake Jacomo Marina.
He and about a dozen other fishermen stood on the docks, dropping small jigs into the boat slips that were filled with brush, trying to catch crappies. But Mason was the only one having any luck.
“He always does this,” one fisherman grumbles as he shakes his head. “I haven’t even caught a crappie yet, and he’s filling his basket.”
Mason stands stone-faced, pretending like he didn’t hear that.
When you’re king of the dock, it goes with the territory. Mason, indeed, has the touch when it comes to catching crappies at Lake Jacomo.
He doesn’t even have to go out in a boat to find the fish. He visits the marina almost every weekday and catches fish each time.
His secret? He uses tiny jigs that he makes, fishes with ultra-thin 2-pound test line and slowly swims his offerings over the brush.
With his ultralight equipment, he can feel the slightest tick at the end of his line. That’s when he sets the hook.
Mason, 84, has had plenty of practice. He has fished Lake Jacomo since it opened in the late 1950s. He once used a boat to move from spot to spot to find the crappies. But at his advanced age, his back would tire after only a couple of hours on the water. So he sold his boat, motor and trailer and is content to fish off the dock now.
He takes pride in the fact that he fishes year-round, no matter how cold or hot it gets. Some days the crappies are small, barely big enough to fillet. Other times, they’ll be impressive, up to 15 inches long.
But one thing is constant: Jacomo always produces crappies. Those fish might not be as big as the ones caught at reservoirs such as Truman or the Lake of the Ozarks, but the city fish offer advantages.
“I fished Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock, Bull Shoals, other places before Jacomo came in,” says Mason, who lives in Independence. “But once they built Jacomo, I could stay close to home.”
FISHING THE ‘BURBS
Places to wet a line
Location: 7401 W. Park Road, Blue Springs, Mo.
Size: 970 acres
Fishery: Known for its bass, crappies, bluegills and catfish
Claim to fame: A 108-pound, 8-ounce paddlefish was caught by James Godfrey while he was fishing for bluegills in 1988. That fish, which was landed on 8-pound test line, was a Missouri state record for a while, but has since been exceeded.
BLUE SPRINGS LAKE
Location: 1500 NE Bowlin Road, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Size: 720 acres
Fishery: Blue Springs has an excellent population of channel catfish and offers some big flatheads, too. Hybrids are stocked annually, and the largemouth bass population is steadily improving.
Claim to fame: Blue Springs has quietly built one of the best populations of hybrids, a cross between white bass and stripers, in the state. Fish in the 10- to 12-pound range have been caught at the suburban lake.
Location: 11101 Raytown Road, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Size: 930 acres
Fishery: Longview has an abundance of channel catfish, but most of the fish are small. It is also known for its largemouth bass, walleyes and crappies.
Claim to fame: With regular stockings by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Longview has become one of the best walleye lakes in the state.
JAMES A. REED MEMORIAL WILDLIFE AREA
Location: 12405 SE Ranson Road, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Size: 252 acres
Age: Lake construction began in 1957.
Fishery: Known for its bass, crappies, channel catfish, bluegills and redear sunfish. Two of the lakes also are stocked with trout during the cold-weather months.
Claim to fame: The Reed Area was designed with the bank fisherman in mind. Good cover in the form of brush piles, rocks and logs are within casting distance.
WYANDOTTE COUNTY LAKE
Location: 91st Street and Leavenworth Road in Kansas City, Kan.
Size: 400 acres
Age: The lake was constructed in the 1930s.
Fishery: Good numbers of bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, await fishermen, but most of them are on the small side. Wyandotte also has good fishing for catfish, crappies and hybrids.
Claim to fame: Wyandotte is in the spotlight in early March when trout are stocked and hundreds of fishermen descend on the park to fish for them.
SHAWNEE MISSION PARK LAKE
Location: 7900 Renner Road, Shawnee, Kan.
Size: 120 acres
Age: The park was dedicated in 1964.
Fishery: Shawnee Mission offers surprisingly good bass fishing. It also has good opportunities for channel catfish and hybrids.
Claim to fame: Shawnee Mission is stocked with trout in February and offers good fishing throughout March and early April.
KILL CREEK LAKE
Location: 11670 Homestead Lane, Olathe, Kan.
Size: 30 acres
Fishery: Kill Creek features excellent fishing for channel catfish. It also offers good bass fishing, and chances for crappies and panfish.
Claim to fame: The Kansas state-record rainbow trout, 15.72 pounds, was caught here in February 2014.