Council Grove Wildlife Area News

Area News

Want Current Lake Condition Information?  It’s Just a Click Away!

It can be argued that technology is not always a good thing.  But for outdoor recreationists wanting to know current information about Council Grove Lake, technology can be good because the information is available and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by visiting the internet on your computer or smart phone.

For those interested in learning more about current or historic lake levels, precipitation amounts, lake inflow, or lake releases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a convenient web site providing this information.  Whether you are an angler interested in lake conditions to determine if it might be right for pursuing your favorite species of fish, or are a boater or camper wondering how lake conditions have been impacted by recent drought or rains, the website can be a valuable trip planning tool.  To access this information simply visit:

http://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/COUN.lakepage.html

Council Grove Lake – 2014 Fishing Outlook

District Fisheries Biologist, Craig Johnson, has provided the following information to assist anglers when planning upcoming fishing trips.  Information is provided based upon his annual population sampling.  

White crappie- Good Fish sampling efforts during October 2013 produced the second highest crappie catch of the last 5 years.  Thirty-two percent (32%) of the crappie sampled exceeded 10-inches in length with 5% being 12 to 15-inches in length.  Crappie production was down the last two years during the drought conditions and currently there are few small crappie coming up to take the place of the larger fish.  In the short term, anglers should be happy with the numbers and sizes available during 2014 but a successful spawn with good recruitment will be needed in the near future to ensure good angling in coming years.

Saugeye- Fair Anglers experienced excellent saugeye fishing during 2013 as the population reached an all time high for the reservoir during the October 2012 sample.  As expected, angler harvest was high during this productive fishing period.  The 2013 gillnet sample showed a decrease in saugeye density from 2012 to 2013 to levels more commonly seen at the reservoir.  Anglers should expect fair to good fishing during 2014 with high percentages of harvestable fish.  All of the fish sampled during 2013 exceeded the 15-inch minimum length limit with the largest fish measuring 26 ½ inches. 

White bass- Fair White bass densities have increased over the last three years, but fishing will remain Fair during 2014.  Half of the white bass sampled during October 2013 were between 6 and 9-inches.  The other half was 12 to 15-inches in length so anglers will have to sort through fish for the larger ones.  Body conditions were good for all the sampled white bass meaning that they are getting plenty to eat.  The numbers of available white bass will provide good fishing action but anglers will likely be slightly disappointed in the overall size of the white bass this year. 

Wiper- Good Wiper were first stocked in to Council Grove Reservoir in 2008.  Fish exceeded the 18-inch minimum length limit by the fall of 2010.  Growth of this species has been good.  The last stocking of wiper occurred in 2012 and no wiper were requested for stocking in 2013 or 2014.  Catch rate on wiper increased during October 2013.  Sampled wipers ranged in length from 12-inches to over 21 ½ inches.  Forty-two percent (42%) of the sampled wipers exceeded the 18-inch minimum length limit.  Anglers should expect good wiper fishing during 2014 with the chance at fish over 20 inches.

Channel catfish- Fair Channel catfish density decreased to the lowest of the last five years during the 2013 sample but the lake will continue to offer fair to good channel catfish opportunities.  Anglers fishing in the Neosho and Munkers creek arms during inflow events will continue to experience very good cat action when the catfish concentrate to feed in the moving water. 

Anglers and Boaters Reminded to Take Precautions to Control Aquatic Nuisance Species!

Unfortunately more Kansas waters were recently added to the growing list of those threatened by aquatic nuisance species (ANS).  ANS waters are defined as those containing Asian carp, white perch, or zebra mussels.  In 2013, zebra mussels were found in Clinton and Glen Elder Reservoirs, and in Wabaunsee Lake and Lake Shawnee.

Why are these species a problem?  ANS often become dominant within an area.  They can out-compete native species for food or space and can reduce biological diversity or the assemblage of plants and animals within our native habitats.  Ultimately, ANS species such as zebra mussels, asian carp, and white perch, threaten to alter aquatic habitats, of which our wildlife species depend, including those species sought by anglers in Kansas!

Regulations have recently been enacted to prevent the spread of ANS.  Boaters and anglers are reminded to follow these regulations while visiting Kansas waters.

  1.  Livewells and bilges must be drained and drain plugs removed from all vessels being removed from waters of the state before transport on a public highway. 
  2. No person may possess ANY live fish upon departure from any designated ANS body of water. 
  3. Live baitfish may be caught and used as live bait only within the common drainage where caught.  However, bluegill and green sunfish collected from non-designated ANS waters may be possessed or used as live bait anywhere in the state.  Live baitfish shall not be transported and used above any upstream dam or barrier that prohibits the normal passage of fish. 

For a list of ANS designated waters please refer to the 2014 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary (page 30) or visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism website at www.ksoutdoors.com and click on “Fishing”, then “Aquatic Nuisance Species”.  Other ANS designated waters near Council Grove Reservoir include Marion, Milford, Melvern, El Dorado, and John Redmond Reservoirs, Coffey County Lake, Chase State Fishing Lake, Council Grove City Lake, and Lake Wabaunsee.  Streams and rivers below these Kansas lakes are also designated ANS waters. 

To protect our aquatic habitats, follow these simple steps at every lake, wetland, and river, every time: 

CLEAN: Inspect all equipment for anything attached (plants, animals, and mud) andremoveanything that is found. 

DRAIN: Empty all water from equipment (livewell, bilge, bait bucket, etc.) before using at a different location. 

DRY:Dry all equipment for a minimum of 5 days before using it again. If you need to use it sooner, wash with hot (140 degree) water. 

Water Level Planning at Council Grove Lake: 

Why let out so much water?  Why leave the lake so full?  Why are they releasing water now?

Questions such as these are often asked of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) personnel working at Council Grove Lake.  Answers to such questions are often more complex than many might think.  Water level management planning utilizes the education and experience of many different natural resource professionals including water planners, engineers, park managers, fisheries biologists, and wildlife biologists.  To add to the complexity, they are charged with trying to meet the needs of a tremendously diverse group of resource consumers including landowners, agricultural interests, industry, and municipalities, in addition to an equally diverse group of resource users including recreationists of all types.

The construction of Council Grove Lake was first authorized by the United States Congress in 1950.  Completed in 1964, the project developed a lake comprised of approximately 40 miles of shoreline, and 3,320 surface acres of water.  The lake was constructed to provide flood control, to enhance water supply, to improve water quality, to provide fish and wildlife habitat, and to provide public recreation.  With all of those intended functions, it is a challenge to try to meet the needs of all lake users all of the time.

Flood control functions often take precedence in times of abundant precipitation.  At such times, the COE is charged with managing Council Grove Lake not as a separate entity, but rather as a part or piece of an entire watershed system comprised of many other lakes, and millions of acres of land within several states.  Decisions made to retain or release water at Council Grove Lake may not always appear rational if simply considering local conditions.  COE engineers and area managers must not only consider local conditions when establishing lake levels and water release rates and duration, but those of a much larger area including other lakes, lands, and property downstream.

At many federal reservoirs, including Council Grove Lake, the impacts of age are becoming more apparent.  Silt deposition in the lake threatens water supplies and other lake functions.  Increasing human populations and diminishing water supplies are a significant concern to water planners, rural water districts, and municipalities.  Water uses to maintain a human population, agriculture, and industry are expected to increase.  Existing water supplies within Council Grove Lake serve communities such as Emporia and others in Lyon County, or have the ability to serve others such as Council Grove.  Current lake level plans already have “built in” conditions designed to protect the water supply purpose of the lake.  These conditions don’t allow elevated water releases beyond a lower lake level threshold.

Water quality functions are also considered when developing water level management plans at Council Grove Lake.  Sediments are often allowed to settle to the lake bottom after being carried into the lake from flows within area creeks and rivers.  By doing so, sediments and other impairments are “captured” within the lake basin and prevented from being released into the Neosho River below the lake dam.  Downstream water quality is then often enhanced.  Additional downstream water quality needs are also considered by water releases designed to allow a minimum stream flow.  This flow is designed to provide an adequate water supply for downstream use and improve water quality to sustain aquatic and terrestrial wildlife downstream.  Water quality impairments and land losses created from eroding stream banks are of yet another concern.  Release rates and duration can affect stream bank erosion and are considered when developing water release plans.  Responsibility to enhance the quality of water within Council Grove Lake, and thus the waters released from it, ultimately lies with all public and private lake users and land managers.

Lake level management for the benefit of fish and wildlife species alone can be a difficult task.  Because nature is so complex, any action or change in habitat cannot be equally beneficial or harmful to all living things.  Each time the lake level changes, or water is released, some species of fish and wildlife will benefit, others may not be impacted, while others may be harmed.  Fisheries biologists and wildlife biologists are then often tasked with trying to meet the needs of the majority of species, of those most valued by the public, of species of greatest environmental influence, or those most threatened with extinction.  Lake level planning for the benefit of fish and wildlife species at Council Grove Lake currently places significant management emphasis upon species such as crappie and saugeye.  Lake level plans consider year round needs of such fish species by managing lake levels and water releases to enhance spawning and brood habitat and enhance recruitment by minimizing losses during high flow events.  Although the lake does provide habitat for many migratory birds, including waterfowl, current vegetation characteristics and soil types along the lake edge, as well as water level restrictions set forth to insure water supply needs, inhibit KDWPT’s ability to enhance shoreline habitats for the benefit of many such species.  To add yet another dimension of complexity, KDWPT biologists are now tasked with evaluating the impacts of zebra mussels upon other fish and wildlife species and whether water level management can serve as a tool to manage invasive species populations.

The recreational function of Council Grove Lake enhances the quality of life of area residents and visitors and significantly boosts the area economy.  As such, this function is also considered when developing lake level plans.  The desires of campers, hunters, anglers, boaters, canoeists, marina operators, and others are considered when formulating plans.  Area management staff must always be mindful of impacts to these users and the impacts of water level management actions upon the infrastructure that is necessary, and in place, to provide these users with opportunities to pursue a favored pastime.

Lake level management decisions do not often come easy.  Those responsible for such decisions do so knowing those actions may well be controversial.  Is it possible to make everyone happy all the time?  Consider again all of the intended purposes of Council Grove Lake and all of those depending upon it for necessity and recreation.  Then tell me…is it possible?

Annual Youth Spring Turkey Hunt a Success (AGAIN)!

The Council Grove 14th Annual Spring Turkey Hunt was conducted on Saturday, April 5.  This years’ hunt sought to accommodate area youth ages 11-16.  A cool spring morning did not hamper 10 eager area youngsters the morning of the hunt.  By days’ end, all of the participants were fortunate to see or hear wild turkeys.  Eight of the participants harvested a turkey while others enjoyed encounters with their quarry but were unable to harvest.  For those fortunate to harvest, the event was memorable, because each of them harvested their first wild turkey.

The primary goal of this hunt was to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities for area youngsters, and to bring together individuals with an interest in spring turkey hunting.  This event was designed to pair young hunters with knowledgeable and experienced adult volunteers, in an effort to initiate or further entrench participants into the enjoyable spring pastime of wild turkey hunting.

All participants enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to receive hands-on hunting instruction, turkey hunting gear, and meals.  The hunters truly appreciated the efforts of all involved and volunteers were rewarded with many thanks.

Area Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism staff would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their assistance with another successful event:

Organizations:  The National Wild Turkey Federation, The Flint Hills Chapter of Quail & Upland Wildlife Federation, The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, The U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers, JD Taxidermy of Alta Vista, KS, and The Council Grove Chapter of Ducks Unlimited.     

Individuals:  Randy Benteman, Marvin Peterson, Spencer Tomb, Allan Cashman, Mark Hawkins, Mike Wells, Phillip Buttrey, Jim Evans, Tyson Powell, Josh Ehrlich, Dean McDaniel, Trent Siegle, and Chris Robidou. 

Special thanks must also be extended to numerous landowners for their generosity in allowing youth to hunt turkeys on their property and to hunt donors Dale Burnett, Jason & Dara Fillmore, and Kurt Ronnekamp.  

Volunteers interested in helping with next years’ hunt can contact: Brent Konen– Council Grove Wildlife Area Manager, #620/767-5900.

Woodland Habitat Enhancement Work Continues:

Recent visitors to woodlands within the Council Grove Wildlife Area (CGWA) may have noticed some changes, and more are to come. Whether exploring area woodland habitats in pursuit of a November rutting buck, a spring gobbler, or perhaps morels for the frying pan, guests may have noticed some peculiar markings on area trees. More specifically, trees marked with a ring of blue paint are becoming increasingly more common. No, the paint is not the work of vandals, does not mark the location of a favorite tree stand, or even indicate a diseased tree within the stand. Rather, it is an initial step in management work designed to enhance wildlife habitat in woodland dominated areas of CGWA.

Beginning in 2010, nearing the completion of a successful plan to increase and enhance grassland habitats on the wildlife area, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) staff developed a new plan to begin work within the most prevalent habitat type on the 2,000 acre property; woodlands. Utilizing the expertise of District Forester, Thad Rhodes with the Kansas Forest Service (KFS), KDWPT has initiated annual projects to utilize timber stand improvement (TSI) principles to enhance woodland characteristics for the benefit of wildlife. TSI work on CGWA has been designed to promote burr oak (primarily), walnut, and hickory stature and nut production by removing nearby competing and less desirable trees. Trees of these species are often less common than other species such as locust, elm, ash, hackberry, maple, and boxelder, and can provide valuable food and cover sources for area wildlife including game species such as deer, turkey, squirrel, raccoon, and wood ducks.

TSI is a simple, but labor intensive process. Each fall, KFS and KDWPT staff, walk area woods to locate species such as oak. When a management tree has been located, the surrounding tree community is evaluated. To be a healthy and productive tree, the management tree must not be too crowded and it must be able to successfully compete for moisture, nutrients, and sunlight. Site evaluations review woodland characteristics such as tree species, density, height, health, canopy coverage, and underlying soils. Specific focus at CGWA is directed to analyze the tree canopy or upper level of leaves. If the management tree currently receives little sunlight, or may be at risk of shading in the future from faster growing neighboring trees, then neighboring trees are marked for removal. Marking simply involves painting a blue ring around each tree to be removed from the stand. By removing less desirable trees, the management tree (burr oak in our case) does not have to compete as much for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients and should improve in overall health and in its ability to produce wildlife food and cover.

After the stand is marked, crews initiate removal work by simply using chainsaws to girdle the marked trees. Girdling involves cutting through the outer layer of the tree to interrupt its ability to transport nutrients and moisture from the roots to the canopy. Workers encircle each tree with a cut of 2-3 inches and then inject herbicide into the cut to kill the tree. In most cases the tree remains standing after treatment. The tree does not have to be cut to the ground to remove it from the stand and to meet the goal of reducing competition for the benefit of our management tree. In some cases herbicide may not be used to allow species such as elm and mulberry to resprout from the base. Young succulent growth from the base of these trees can be attractive food for wildlife such as deer.

By leaving the tree standing we accomplish several objectives. First and foremost we are better able to insure the safety of the work crew. By not falling trees we can work in a safer environment and can save time so more acres can be treated each year. In addition, standing dead trees can provide habitat for cavity nesting species such as woodpeckers, squirrels, and wood ducks. Later, as those trees decay they shed branches and begin to dry, reducing weight, so when they do fall, they are less likely to damage adjacent desirable trees. Fallen decaying trees then often enhance habitats on the woodland floor by providing soil nutrients, by providing attractive habitats for an array of insects which can be important food sources for other wildlife, and by providing concealment for wildlife. Woodlands with a "messy" understory appearance are often preferred habitats for species such as turkey, deer, and raccoon, while "messy" woodland edges can be attractive habitat for quail. Decaying vegetation on the woodland floor can also be a popular location to search for edible mushrooms including morels.

By "opening up" the woodland stand to encourage more sunlight, additional habitat benefits may also be realized by encouraging another generation of desirable trees to sprout from remaining seed, and by promoting sun-loving vegetation that is different than surrounding vegetation found on the shady woodland floor. Woodlands that not only have diverse tree species, but diverse understory vegetation often provide better wildlife habitat, particularly for many game species.

TSI work completed in 2011 included 3 woodland tracts totaling 42 acres near the wildlife area office and north of the Neosho River. In early 2012, similar work was completed within 2 tracts totaling nearly 70 acres north of the Neosho River and near the north end of Short Creek, and along 2.7 miles of woodlands adjacent to most area creeks and rivers. In late 2012 nearly 150 acres were completed along Munkers Creek. More TSI work is planned in 2013 and will likely include additional woodlands along Short and Slough Creeks to include evaluating nearly 205 acres. Woodlands along western tributaries of Council Grove Lake will then be targeted in 2014 and beyond.

So, you may now see that peculiar blue paint within area woodlands indicates management work completed, and this work is designed to enhance woodland characteristics, ultimately enhancing habitat for wildlife, and the recreation experience for our visitors.