Hillsdale Lake is a beautiful reservoir 45 miles southwest of Kansas City, Kansas. This 4,580-acre impoundment is home to loads of family activities, from swimming, hiking, and, my favorite, fishing.
Don’t worry if you’re an introvert looking for some solitude; plenty can be had here at one of Kansas’ best fishing lakes, whether fishing from the shore or a boat.
As you continue reading, you’ll pick up a few fishing tips for the most popular species found in the reservoir.
Hillsdale Lake’s Top Game Fish
Here’s a look at each of the most popular fish species you’ll find at Hillsdale Lake, along with some tips about where, when, and how to catch them.
Bass Fishing at Hillsdale Lake
The largemouth bass is a favorite of many anglers throughout the lake, also known as Hillsdale Reservoir. However, I wouldn’t expect to catch the next state record here because the bass here typically grow to about 4 pounds.
The best places to catch bass depend on the time of year you’re fishing.
In the spring, think shallow, as the bass will be spawning.
During the summer, bass are found both deep and shallow, often at different times of the same day, so it’s often best to find depth changes and fish around them to locate a few fish.
In the fall, bass will follow bait fish back shallow and feed like crazy to store energy for winter, when they head back to deeper water.
That said, the Tontzville Road bridge is a great place to start, no matter the time of year. It acts like a funnel and concentrates large numbers of both game and forage fish in a small area.
The W 231st St and Waverly Rd bridges in upper creek arms are good spawning areas and great locations to fish when the dam is releasing water and creating current throughout the lake.
The main lake points are also excellent places to try most times of the year since they provide shallow water with quick access to deep water.
Choosing the best lure depends on the weather. One day it’s best to use a crankbait along rip-rap banks; the next, a wacky-rigged Senko is the most effective lure.
I recommend having a variety of lures to choose from, including spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs, and soft plastics.
Catch More Bass
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Hillsdale Lake Crappie Fishing
If Hillsdale Reservoir is known for one thing, it’s crappie fishing. We’ve rated this impoundment one of the best crappie fishing lakes in Kansas for a good reason.
Crappies as big as 13 inches are caught regularly in good numbers. You won’t have a problem filling a stringer with eater-sized crappie at Hillsdale Lake.
The best places to fish, once again, depend on the time of the year. For most of the year, you will find crappies in deeper brush piles. Deep can mean anywhere from 10-30 feet.
In the spring, however, crappies are easily caught from the shore around brush and rock as they spawn because they move into the shallows. This is one of my favorite times to go crappie fishing since the action is generally non-stop.
All the bridges that cross the lake are great places to start crappie fishing, but some of my favorite spots are the coves off the main lake points.
My favorite lures are crappie jigs, small spinners, and small crankbaits.
The water clarity is the primary determining factor for my color selection. I go with bright colors, such as chartreuse or dark colors, in dirty water. When fishing in somewhat stained water, I use more natural colors such as green pumpkin, or I tie on something white. In clear water, I go with translucent and bright pink or orange.
Sometimes you’ll have to play around with the colors. The same is true with the action you give your lure to determine if the fish want the bait moving or sitting still.
If you’re struggling to get a bite, live minnows work very well for crappie.
Catch More Crappie
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Hillsdale Lake Catfish Fishing
Many anglers overlook catfishing in Hillsdale Reservoir because it’s not known for producing giant blue or channel catfish like those found in the Missouri River.
However, it’s still a great place to catch a few for dinner.
Nothing beats cut bait for blue cats, while chicken liver and prepared stink baits work well for channel cats. Nightcrawlers, live bluegill, and minnows also work as catfish baits.
Remember, these are opportunistic feeders, so they have a broad diet.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know I will say the bridges are one of the best spots to go catfishing since bait fish congregate at these areas. Bridge crossings also provide access to deep and shallow water nearby.
When the lake floods, catfishing with worms along the shore is a great place to begin; otherwise, I look for creek channels near flats when catfishing.
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Hillsdale Lake Walleye Fishing
The elusive walleye can be found in Hillsdale Reservoir, tipping the scale at 9 pounds. These toothy fish are often touted as the best-tasting freshwater fish, and I’m inclined to agree, though crappie are right there too.
It’s best to fish for walleye in low-light conditions because their big eyes are incredibly sensitive to sunlight. So I recommend fishing before the sun comes up or after it has set; otherwise, walleye move to deep water and become very inactive.
There are several ways to catch these predator fish. One of the most common is trolling using crankbaits or crawler harnesses.
You can also cast for walleye using a soft plastic swimbait that mimics a small shad or other bait fish.
Bright colors such as chartreuse and bright pink mixed with a bit of flash work very well for walleye, and of course, natural colors are the best option at other times.
I’ve caught a lot of walleye using minnows, so don’t overlook using live bait if you’re struggling to get a bite.
As with most fish, walleye spawn in the spring. They are early spawners compared to other fish but are generally found in similar areas, such as shallow rip-rap stretches.
I know I sound like a broken record, but this means the three bridges are great places to start your search for walleye.
The rest of the year, they stay deep during the day and move onto shallow flats to feed at night, so finding a flat along a creek channel will be your best bet.
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White Bass Fishing at Hillsdale Lake
I don’t know why more people don’t fish for white bass, a.k.a. sand bass. I think they’re one of the hardest-fighting fish, pound for pound, and they’re tasty.
These aggressive fish aren’t difficult to catch, and when you find one, there are typically many more in the area since they travel in large schools.
For much of the year, my favorite way to catch white bass is by trolling. I use chrome or silver crankbaits and spoons while idling around the creek channels.
Hold tightly to your fishing rod because they will jerk it out of your hands if you’re not paying attention.
While trolling might be my favorite, I never turn down casting for sandies. I love using spinners and swimbaits, but nothing beats a topwater bite if I see a school of white bass busting the surface.
White bass move up the creeks and rivers in the spring to spawn. This is the best time of the year to catch them from the bank.
As the water warms, they return to the open water and creek channels, which means trolling is often the best way to catch them in the summer.
As fall sets in, they’ll follow the shad back to shallow flats, so fishing from the shore again becomes more of an option.
Catch More White Bass
I created this simple guide to white bass fishing to help you catch more of one of my all-time favorite gamefish.
Planning Your Trip
As I mentioned, Hillsdale Lake is a place for the whole family. While the fishing is some of the best in the Sunflower State, there are plenty of other activities to do.
Some of the popular options include hiking, horseback riding, swimming, recreational boating, and camping at Hillsdale State Park.
It’s also conveniently located for many Kansans, whether you live in Overland Park or Topeka. It won’t take long to reach Hillsdale Lake, but you’ll feel like you’re a world away. And the fishing can be fantastic.
Below are the best places to launch a boat or fish from the shore and a good place to stay the night on your next fishing adventure.
When you bring your boat, you’ll have many ramp options to launch it, no matter where you want to fish at the lake.
The Antioch boat ramp is in the middle of the northwest branch of the lake. In comparison, the Cedar Cove boat ramp is on the northeast branch of the lake, on the west side. Hillsdale Point boat ramp sits in between them.
The Marysville boat ramp is on the east side of the eastern section of the lake, near the Hillsdale State Park Equestrian camp. The Jayhawk Marina is on the southwest portion of the lake near the dam and allows boaters to use the boat launch ramp.
The Hillsdale State Park boat ramp is also in the southwestern portion of the lake but a bit further north of the Jayhawk Marina.
Because the lake is a Corps of Engineers lake, you can access all the shoreline; however, some terrain makes it challenging to fish in places.
The State Park gives visitors lots of bank access to the southwest part of the lake, while several other public access areas allow people to fish or swim along the shore.
Windsurfer Beach on the southeast portion is a popular swimming destination, while Antioch Marsh on the east side of the northwest part is more secluded and better suited for fishing.
Where to Stay
The best place to stay is at Hillsdale State Park. You’ll find tent and RV camping along the lake shore.
There are several things for the whole family to do at the campground, which is why it’s a popular destination during the summer months.
If camping isn’t your style, you must drive 15-20 miles to find a hotel. The closest I could find is the Hampton Inn by Hilton to the north in Gardner.