Fly Fishing the Milford Tailwater

The state of Kansas isn’t known for its moving waters, nor is it known for spectacular smallmouth bass fishing, but that’s exactly what we found on the Republican River below Milford Reservoir. Both dead-drifting and swinging streamers in a rocky and clear River were effective methods for John, my coworker, and me. Reminiscent of streamer fishing on one of Colorado’s mighty rivers, like the Colorado or the Eagle, we found a kind of fishing that’s remarkably dissimilar to what most people envision fly-fishing in Kansas to be.

Arriving at the parking lot in the South Outlet Park, the first unusual thing we noticed about this river was the rocky and sandy stream bottom. What’s even more remarkable is that we could see the stream bottom, thanks to the clear-flowing water. We began by fishing a section of riffles, which was the fastest flowing section of water in the entirety of the length of the river we fished. I began by fishing a chartreuse and white clouser I had tied for the annual white bass run in the spring. Swinging it across and downstream of me proved to be pretty successful, as I had several bites. But when I finally connected with a fish, I was in for one heck of a fight. The several drag-peeling runs this fish went on made me worried I had snagged a carp in the tail, but this fish was much too fast and light to be one. Finally working it in with my 7-weight, I pulled in a nice sized wiper. But in the same stretch of current, John caught a few smallmouth bass, which was much more surprising to me. The bronzeback has long been my favorite fish to catch with a fly rod, because I’ve always associated them with the remote wilderness of northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, so the prospect of being able to connect with these fish in such a river as the Republican was enamoring. Without much more luck, we decided to drive down the river a little ways, in search of sandbars and solitude. We parked at the head of a deer-hunters’ access road and walked down a dry and sandy creek bed. Just where the ephemeral and unnamed stream meets the Republican, we immediately began catching fish. I caught a shortnose gar that inevitably forced me to tie on a less torn up fly, and John caught another smallmouth bass. Since tying on a new fly was imminent, I went with my best crawdad imitation I had, a brown wooly bugger with legs I had tied with the same species of fish in mind for a recent trip to Minnesota. We waded out to the middle of the river and began casting into the deepest holes we could find, which happened to be along the rocky shore on the southside of the river. I happened to be immediately successful dead-drifting this fly, and using my fly line as an indicator, hooking into a nice size smallmouth, probably about a pound and a half. With much more success, John and I waded upstream, catching fish along the way, all the way up to the lot we had originally parked at. 

I’ve long made it a point to be taught something of value every time I venture into the outdoors, and this trip taught me something about expectations. On this incredibly hot August day, the prospect of going outside was admittedly not so much a prospect as it was a fear of mine. Expectations were admittedly pretty low, but the cold and running water being forced out of the 60 foot deep Reservoir and the brown bass that pulls harder than a Jeep’s winch, made this endeavor beyond “worth” the hour and a half’s drive and Kansas’ scalding humidity. The glimmering cottonwood leaves and ease in connecting to this river was “worth” it. It’s often remarkable to me how easy it is to find adventure in our state, if even so much as a little effort is put in. This fishing trip was no exception to me. Natural beauty abounds in Central Kansas, whether it is in the form of the Flint Hills or the native tree growth along the Republican River, but nonetheless, everytime I venture into the area my expectations are exceeded. 

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