Ice Fishing For Striped Bass

Ice fishing is a rare phenomenon at most of the reservoirs on the southern plains. And when an ice angler's quarry is a striped bass and he catches one that broaches 25 pounds, Mike Cook of Wichita, Kansas, says it's something to get excited about.

Perhaps the farthest south that ice anglers can consistently chase stripers that weigh more than 30 pounds occurs at Cheney Lake, Kansas, where Cook guides year-round for a variety of species. Cheney lies about 20 miles west of Wichita, and its topography conforms to that of a flatland reservoir.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation opened Cheney in 1965. During the past 38 years, it has been adversely affected by heavy doses of siltation, making its massive mudflats even flatter by filling in the Ninnescah River and secondary feeder creek channels. Despite all the silt, some areas of the lake are still accented by some stumps, humps, drop-offs, and remnants of the river and creek channels.

According to Cook, safe ice at Cheney often is a short-lived affair, rarely lasting more than three weeks, and some years it can persevere for only a week--especially during the exceedingly warm winters of the past 10 years. Even during cold winters, Cheney's ice rarely exceeds 6 inches.

Of course, some intrepid and perhaps unwise anglers will stretch the ice season by traipsing across the traditionally soft Kansas ice that's often less than 3 inches thick but this isn't recommended.

Most ice anglers traditionally ply the upper third of Cheney, where the ice often is thickest. In fact, Cook says that he has never tested the ice fishing in the vicinity of the dam, and before he ventures across the frozen lake, he waits until the ice is 4 inches thick.

When ice anglers ply the upper reaches of Cheney, they often fish near the mouths of Fisherman's and Ruebke coves. The depth of water in these two areas is seldom deeper than 5 feet, and Cook says silt has obliterated the small feeder creek channels that once meandered out of these coves and joined the main river channel. What's more, only a trace remains of the original North Fork of the Ninnescah River.

At the upper reaches of Cheney, ice anglers aren't searching for and probing deep-water sanctuaries where the stripers might linger for a spell. Instead, they're waiting for the pelagic striper to roam by.

As anglers wait for an under-the-ice donnybrook with a striper of significant proportions, they occasionally while away the time by catching some white bass or a wiper that might weigh more than 14 pounds. Cook says that stripers, white bass, and wipers wander across the mudflats in search of schools of gizzard shad.

Most ice anglers at Cheney drill a hole for their sonar unit, and around that hole, they drill a series of holes. They constantly monitor their sonar, waiting for the arrival of a pelagic striper.

Cook says that he initially drills three holes, positioned in the pattern of an equilateral triangle, and rather than employing a sonar, he places an underwater camera in one of the holes to monitor the arrival of his quarry.

Even though Cheney is an extremely turbid reservoir during most of the year, its water clarity improves to about 4 feet as soon as ice forms and stops the wind from riling the water. Thus, during the ice-fishing season, Cook says his camera works well.

Upon spotting a striper on the camera, Cook attempts to entice and catch it by working two holes of the equilateral triangle that are about five feet a part with two 6-foot medium-power spinning rods matched with medium-size spinning reels spooled with 6-pound-test line. Other anglers, however, use short medium-power baitcasting outfits spooled with 12-pound line. These casting rods normally have a fast tip and a powerful butt section.

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Cook's spinning outfit sports a 1/2-ounce Kastmaster spoon in chrome, chrome and chartreuse, or chrome and blue. Another popular spoon is a Little Cleo. A 1/2-ounce spoon is most popular, but some ice anglers at Cheney opt for 1/4- and 3/8-ounce spoons.

Cook removes the spoon's treble hook and replaces it with a #1 Tru-Turn Bleeding Bait shank hook. Since Cook releases all the fish he catches, he also pinches the barb on the single hook.

Cook works the spoon by dropping it within 2 inches of the bottom. Then he quickly lifts it a foot off the bottom and allows it fall to the starting position. Then he holds it motionless for a spell. As he executes this lift-drop-hold presentation, he watches the reaction of the striper. If the striper approaches the spoon but won't engulf it, Cook subtly twitches the spoon as it is suspended 2 inches off the bottom.

Cook says that Kansas ice anglers don't tip their spoons with fish eyes or cutbait, but he thought it might be a good ploy, saying that the amino acids that are secreted from the fish flesh might coax a reluctant striper to attack the spoon.

From Cook's experience, the shallow-water fishing around Ruebke and Fisherman's coves normally falls off around midmorning, and it remains lackluster until late afternoon.

During midday, Cook moves down lake to probe areas as deep as 18 to 20 feet. He likes to fish on the south point of Graber Inlet, where the point falls into the river channel. He has also found some fruitful ice fishing around the north point of Wenzel Inlet, where a submerged secondary feeder creek joins the main river channel.

Across they years, Cook has observed that for some unfathomable reason, windy days are more fruitful for catching stripers under the ice than calm days.

During those winters when Cheney is iceless or its stripers become difficult to find and catch, anglers on the southern plains can travel several hours to the northwest of Cheney and test the waters of Wilson Lake, which lies seven miles north of I-70 and about 47 miles west of Salina, Kansas.

In comparison to Cheney's 9,537 acres of water, Wilson's 9,100 acres is significantly clearer and deeper. Moreover, its striper population is larger, and many of the specimens are bigger than those that roam Cheney. Since Wilson lies above the 39th parallel and Cheney lies below the 38th parallel, Wilson's winter weather is traditionally colder, its ice is thicker, and its ice-fishing season often lasts longer than Cheney's.

During last winter's ice-fishing season, Jack Hoskinson, a striper guide at Wilson, reported that hundreds of stripers were caught on January 25 and 26. Most of them ranged in weight from 4 to 15 pounds, and one weighed 25 pounds.

Before that 2-day bonanza, Hoskinson reported that ice anglers caught a 15- and 17-pounder in the Gravel Hill area of the lake on January 19. Besides those two brutes, anglers tangled with scores of 6- to 8-pounders, as well as a goodly number of white bass and white perch.

On January 21, Hoskinson warned anglers that a spell of warm weather had made the ice too precarious from him to traipse across. But he predicted that an approaching cold front would thicken the ice in the Gravel Hill area to 4 inches, and that prediction was on the mark.

Last winter, a 1/4-ounce white-and-chartreuse bucktail jig lured the most fish on Wilson, but in winter's past, a jigging spoon has been as effective as the bucktail jig.

For more information about ice fishing at Cheney and Wilson lakes contact Mike Cook , 316-945-0511, email:; or Jack Hoskinson, 785-658-3811, email:

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