Clinton Lake Fishing: Complete Angler’s Guide

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Great fishing and many adventures await at Clinton Lake, which sits on the outskirts of Lawrence. With several public use areas and the Clinton State Park, there is something to do for the entire family!

Some of the best fishing in Kansas is in this impoundment, which covers 7,000 acres with 85 miles of shoreline. Below you’ll discover what species call this reservoir home and a few location-specific tips on how to catch them.

Let’s get started.

Clinton Lake Bass Fishing

Clinton Reservoir, as it’s also known, has you covered whether you like smallmouth or largemouth bass fishing.

Generally, you’ll catch the two black bass species in different locations using different techniques. So we will be discussing them separately, but understand that there is some overlap between the two species.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallies prefer clear, moving water and deep rock piles. You may often find smallmouths in schools in these locations, so if you catch one, there’s likely another nearby.

When targeting bronzebacks, it’s best to stay on the eastern side of the lake, around the dam and main lake points along drop-offs. Outside of the spawning season, I rarely catch smallmouth super shallow along the shore; that’s typically largemouth territory.

Downsizing natural-colored lures and using a drop-shot or wacky rig get me the most bites. Some of my favorite lures for smallmouth are swimbaits, Rooster Tails, and compact-bladed jigs.

Largemouth Bass

Largies tolerate dirtier water (though this lake is relatively clear) and prefer brush piles and vegetation in shallow water.

During the summer heat, largemouth bass will school up and suspend in deeper water, but I catch most of my largemouth in less than 10 feet of water.

At Clinton Lake, anglers catch most of their largemouth in the western portion of the reservoir, especially on the main lake points and in the creek arms.

Look for a flat with a creek channel or drop-off nearby, and don’t be afraid to toss your lure into a brush pile in these areas; that’s often where the bigguns are hiding.

There’s no secret lure to catch bass here. Grab a swim jig, spinnerbait, or crankbait to cover water, or slow down with your favorite soft-plastic presentation. I recommend a wacky rig or Ned rig.

Catch More Bass

First, find the top bass fishing lakes across Kansas.

Next, learn how to catch more of them. We cover a bunch of the best tactics, lures, and other tips in our simple bass fishing how-to guide.

Clinton Lake Crappie Fishing

Known as one of Kansas’s best crappie fishing destinations, Clinton Reservoir won’t disappoint with 9-13-inch crappie—the perfect size to fill a stringer with for dinner.

Panfish anglers catch crappies year-round here, but the spring is when they’re most accessible to bank anglers as they spawn in the shallows. They’re also pretty aggressive during this time, so you can quickly catch a lot of them.

Crappies are often found in brush piles or around other structure around 20-30 feet deep the rest of the year.

I love using plastic crappie jigs to catch them, but live minnows are the best natural bait. Crankbaits and small spinners will also trigger a bite from crappie.

Catch More Crappie

Following the tips above should help you get on the crappies at Clinton. But if you want to up your game, be sure to check out our simple guide to crappie fishing techniques and tips.

Catfish Fishing

Clinton Lake offers some of the best catfishing in Kansas, but be sure to read the fishing regulations because special laws apply to this lake to ensure it continues to produce excellent catfishing.

Blue and channel catfish are the two species to target here. Both are often caught side-by-side, but you can adjust your baits to target one species over the other. 

The bigger blue catfish prefer cut shad or large baits, while channel cats devour nightcrawlers, chicken liver, and stink bait.

The best locations to catch both species of catfish are wind-blown flats, where baitfish are, and depth changes such as creek channels or deep holes, which they use to move from one location to another.

Catch More Catfish

Find a bunch of baits and rigging details to improve your catfish fishing success.

Walleye Fishing

Walleye are one of my favorite fish on the menu, especially when I’m reeling them in.

Clinton Lake has a healthy walleye population, but it’s best to fish for them during low-light hours. The early morning, before the sun has risen, or late evening, after the sun has set, are prime walleye fishing times because the bright sunlight hurts their big eyes.

Walleye spawn along rocky shorelines during the spring, which makes them much easier for bank anglers to catch. Minnows, jigs, and swimbaits are some of the best baits and lures to use during this time of the year. 

The rest of the year, walleye and their cousins, saugeye and sauger, move out deep and patrol along creek channels and other depth changes. It’s best to troll with crankbaits or crawler harnesses or try jigging for them. 

Walleyes love pink, chartreuse, and natural shades, so using lures in these colors will give you the best results.

Catch More Walleye

Find all kinds of tips and techniques, from top lures to best baits, in our easy how-to guide to walleye fishing.

White Bass & Wiper Fishing

White bass (or sand bass) are easily among the most underrated fish. They’re aggressive, fight hard, and swim in large schools, so you get lots of bites once you’ve found them.

Hybrids or wipers, which are a striped bass-white bass cross, are also a part of these schools and are just as fun to catch. They also can get bigger than the purebred white bass.

During the spring, both species move shallow to spawn. They’re found in creeks and on the rocky shorelines, eager to bite bank anglers’ lures. They will demolish any lure or bait that looks like a shad, so spinners, jigs, and minnows are high on my favorite list.

You’ll find these fish patrolling in open water, near depth changes, or creek channels the rest of the year. This is when I love to troll for them. I’ll tie on a spoon or shiny crankbait and idle around until I find a school of fish. 

Be sure to hold onto your fishing rod because it will jerk it out of your hands if you’re not paying attention.

Catch More White Bass

Clinton Lake is among my picks for the best white bass fishing anywhere in Kansas.

Check out my full guide to white bass fishing to learn more of my tips.

Planning Your Trip

Clinton Lake is where you can easily spend a weekend or week filled with fishing, swimming, disc golfing, hiking, golfing, horseback riding, and camping. It’s a great place to bring your family or sneak away for solitude.

Boat Ramps

Anglers and boaters have plenty of options for boat launches scattered around the lake. 

The Clinton Lake NW kayak boat ramp is in the northwest part of the lake. It’s not a proper boat ramp as it’s a portage area (you must carry your kayak to the water), so it’s ideal for kayaks and other light vessels.

The Clinton Marina and East 800 Rd boat ramps are on the northeast section of the reservoir, and both are four-lane concrete ramps.

The Coon Creek boat launch is mid-lake on the north side. It’s a two-lane concrete ramp.

Rock Creek and Clinton Lake boat ramps #4, #5, #6, and #7 are all mid-lake on the south side. Ramps 5, 6, and 7 are six-lane concrete ramps, while 4 and Rock Creek are two-lane concrete ramps.

Bank Access

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the lake and keeps the entire shoreline open to public access. However, the bank is rarely easy to navigate, so I recommend using one of the public use areas listed below.

Where to Stay

One of the biggest draws to the lake is the number of places to stay. Whether you want to camp or stay in a hotel, Clinton Lake has you covered. 

Campgrounds & Accommodations

  • Bloomington Public Use area has multiple campgrounds along the southern portion of the lake.
  • Clinton State Park has multiple campgrounds along the northern portion of the reservoir.
  • Rock Haven Park Equestrian Campground is on the southeastern portion of the impoundment.
  • Woodridge Public Use Area allows primitive camping in areas on the west side of the lake.

If you’d prefer to go a little less rustic, there are several hotels in and around Lawrence, an easy drive from Clinton Lake.