9 Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Kansas

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No matter where you live in the Sunflower State, there’s bound to be great catfishing near you.

Whether you’re chasing the abundant channel cats or looking for the blue or flathead of a lifetime, fishing in one of Kansas’s impoundments or rivers will undoubtedly lead to a great time.

However, we’re after the best catfishing spots in Kansas.

The locations below are known for producing giant cats or a day filled with catching instead of just fishing.

Let’s head to the rivers first.

Best Kansas Rivers for Catfishing

Rivers are always a great place to catch catfish.

Kansas rivers are often loaded with channel and blue catfish, and they are often the best places in the state to find flatheads. So when you get a bite, you might set the hook on a dinner-sized channel catfish or a monstrous blue or flathead.

I look for a current break, eddy, or deep hole when catfishing in any river. A current break can be anything from a large rock to a log jam.

An eddy is where the water swirls around a current break, such as a sandbar or turn in the river.

Catfish use all the spots to hang out and wait on their next meal to float by instead of wasting energy swimming against the current all day and night.

Now that you know a little about river fishing, it’s time to learn which are the best rivers in Kansas for catfishing.

Kansas (Kaw) River

As long as we’ve been keeping records, the Kansas River (or Kaw River to the locals), has been growing true river monsters.

Anglers have pulled blues over 100 pounds from these waters, but you should expect fish in the 5- to 20-pound range on any given day.

The Kansas River starts with the merging of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers near Junction City and flows east to its merging with the Missouri River in Kansas City.

You’ll find all three species of catfish in the Kaw.

Generally, flatheads prefer live bait, such as live bluegill and perch, while blues and channel cats prefer cut Asian carp or shad. If you’re not having luck with those two baits, try switching to chicken liver.

Public access to the river is the main frustration of many bank anglers, but there are parks, trails and boat launches scattered around the communities that offer some bank and boat access.

Spots to check out include public access points in Ogden, Manhattan, Wamego, Topeka, Lawrence, and into suburban Kansas City. 

Some of those spots are good for putting in a canoe or kayak on the river, but be ready to portage at the low-water dams.

Those low-water dams also typically offer some bank fishing. However, some require a long hike, and carrying a 15-pound catfish for a mile or two isn’t fun. 

The river Kansas River flows into the Missouri River is accessible by boat from a launch Kaw Point Park, and that’s where anglers catch most of the giant catfish.

Missouri River

The Missouri River forms Kansas’s northeastern border with Missouri, and it’s home to monster catfish.

I recommend bringing gear that can handle at least a 40-pounder, as hooking a 25-pound or bigger catfish is common enough that you should come prepared.

You need either a Kansas or Missouri fishing license when fishing on a boat in the section of the river that touches both states. You also need to be up to date on both states’ fishing laws, as the regulations of the more restrictive state apply.

Fishing by boat will give you the best chances for success as you can easily reach the hotspots at the mouths of other rivers and creeks that flow into the Missouri River. 

Cut baits are best for blue catfish, and chicken liver tends to get more bites from channel catfish.

I recommend using live bait when targeting flathead catfish, as they’re more predatory than the other two species.

Kaw State Park, mentioned under the Kansas River entry above, is one place to launch your boat for a catfishing trip in the city.

Marais Des Cygnes River

One of the best places to float and fish is the Marais Des Cygnes River, which flows through Eastern Kansas before crossing into Missouri.

There’s lots of public access to the river, and while it doesn’t hold a boatload of big cats, you’ll definitely have an exciting day of fishing with a chance to land a few good ones.

When the river is low, catfish will gather in the holes below the riffles, so be sure to hit these areas with cut shad, stink baits, chicken liver, and earthworms.

When the river is high, the chances of catching a larger fish are better using big chunks of cut bait and live bluegill.

There are a ton of places to bank fish since the river flows through a wildlife area managed by the KDWP and the US Fish & Wildlife Service between U.S. Route 69 and the state border.

However, be sure you’ve read the laws, as some areas in the wildlife refuge are only open at specific times of the year.

Best Lakes for Catfishing in Kansas

Fishing a lake or reservoir is a little different than fishing a river, but many things remain the same. 

The biggest thing to consider is where the baitfish are hanging out. Catfish primarily feed on shad, so when you find a school of shad, there are likely to be some cats below.

With that said, catfish are opportunistic feeders, which means you can use a wide variety of bait to catch them. So don’t worry if you don’t have cut shad; you can still convince a catfish to bite.

Catfish can be caught at any time of day in Kansas’s lakes, but early mornings, evenings, and the dark of night often offer the best bites.

Now let’s discover the best catfishing lakes in Kansas.

Elk City Reservoir

Elk City Lake near Independence, in southeastern Kansas, is home to blues and channel cats. This reservoir is a 4,500-acre impoundment with 50 miles of shoreline. 

Shore anglers have plenty of opportunity to catch a few channel catfish for dinner, and boat anglers have access to the lake via the boat ramp at Elk City State Park

You’re fishing strategies will need to change with the weather conditions. In the spring, catfish will move shallow to feed and prepare to spawn. So fishing is often best around flats or points near sharp depth changes. 

Catfish will relate to standing timber and brush, similar to bass, so finding these areas can often be the difference between going home empty-handed or being covered in fish slime. 

During the summer, catfish use the channels and deep holes in the lake to stay cool and find their next meal.

As fall approaches, they’ll follow the shad to the flats and coves to feed before winter, when they search for the warmest water to ride out the coldest weather.

While channel and blue catfish are the primary whiskered target these days, Elk City Reservoir produced an absolutely gargantuan 123-pound world record flathead catfish in 1998.

Cheney Reservoir

Cheney Lake, several miles north of Cheney and 45 minutes west of Wichita, is a 9,550-acre impoundment with 60 miles of shoreline. Blue catfish and channel catfish are the two primary catfish species here. 

The typical catfishing methods and baits will work best here. This means you’ll need to adjust your approach depending on the season. 

Blue catfish tend to hit cut or live bait best, while channel cats will hit cut bait, chicken liver, or stinkbait.

Boat anglers have lots of options for boat ramps, so no matter which direction the wind is blowing or where you’re honey hole is, you’ll be able to get your boat launched.

A boat will also help you take advantage of other fisheries, including some of the best walleye fishing in Kansas.

If you’re interested in making it a weekend adventure, you’ll be happy to know there are several campgrounds at the lake, including Cheney State Park

Kirwin Reservoir

Located in north-central Kansas, just outside Kirwin, Kirwin Reservoir is home to many channel catfish.

Bank anglers will have access to over 35 miles of shoreline. In comparison, boat anglers will be able to fish all 5,000 acres. 

While channel catfish don’t get as big as blues, they still grow plenty big enough to eat, and I expect you will catch some fish in the 5-10 pound range, perhaps with the occasional catfish larger than 10 pounds. 

Small chunks of cut bait, stinkbait, worms, and chicken liver are all great baits for channel catfish.

Finding the small shad and other bait fish will be your best bet at locating channel cats. They get their name from spending a lot of time in river channels, so one of the first places I always begin my search is in or near a submerged creek or river.

Depending on the wind, I’d start at the mouth of the North Fork Solomon River on the west end and Bow Creek on the south.

Milford Lake

Kansas’s largest lake at 16,200 acres, also known as Milford Reservoir, is home to monster blues and channel cats. While there are special regulations on the lake, it’s still one of Kansas’s most popular fishing destinations. 

Channel catfish are generally caught with worms, stinkbait, and small cut bait. Anglers targeting blue catfish often succeed using large chunks of cut bait and live bait.

Catfish generally follow the gizzard shad in this impoundment, so using these smaller fish as bait is a great idea. 

This lake has a maximum depth of 65 feet, so the catfish have many places to hide and grow big.

Fishing near the deep holes and river channels is where I start, and then depending on the time of year, I might work the ledges or go to the flats and points.

Milford Lake is a multi-species angling destination. For example, it also made our lists for having some of the best walleye and crappie fishing in Kansas.

There are boat ramps and plenty of bank fishing opportunities at Milford State Park, as well as campgrounds to stay at if you so choose.

More: Complete Guide to Milford Lake Fishing

Clinton Lake

Clinton Lake is a 7,000-acre impoundment near Lawrence with 85 miles of shoreline, several boat ramps, and campgrounds.

Blue and channel catfish are the two species to target while fishing at this spot, also known as Clinton Reservoir. Cut shad is the go-to bait for blues, and nightcrawlers and chicken liver are excellent options for channel cats. 

Fishing wind-blown flats near the river channel is always a good idea, as this tends to push the bait fish shallow near the shore.

Fishing flooded areas or rising creeks can pay off in the spring, while much of the summertime action moves to deeper holes.

Be sure to read the fishing regulations for this lake, as there are special length limits on the blues.

There are several parks here, including Clinton State Park.

More: Complete Guide to Clinton Lake Fishing

Glen Elder Reservoir / Waconda Lake

One of Kansas’s largest lakes, Waconda Lake (or Glen Elder Reservoir), covers 12,586 acres when full, with more than 100 miles of shoreline. 

Anglers will have plenty of opportunities to catch blues and channel cats from a boat or the bank when fishing at one of the campgrounds or launching at one of the boat ramps.

Some of the best places to begin fishing are around bridges that cut across creek arms. The mouths of the creeks in general are often good catfishing spots, as this is where the catfish have access to incoming food with deep water and nearby flats or points.

The typical baits work well at Waconda Lake. When you want to catch big blues, use bigger cut bait. If you’re looking to bring home a mess of channel cats, nightcrawlers, chicken liver, and stink baits work well.

Waconda Lake is another of those all-around excellent fishing locations in Kansas, so it’s worth the trip. For example, the reservoir has excellent bass fishing, and is especially known as one of Kansas’s smallmouth hotspots.

Glen Elder State Park will have most of the amenities you’ll need.

Catch More Catfish

We have all the information you need to go catfishing in a simple how-to guide.