Milford Lake Fishing: Complete Angler’s Guide

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At roughly 16,000 acres, Milford Lake is not only the largest lake in Kansas but also one of the state’s best fishing spots.

While its size could be intimidating, Milford Lake (a.k.a. Milford Reservoir) gives anglers plenty of opportunities to catch many of the Sunflower State’s favorite gamefish species in one spot.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the common fish species found at in the reservoir, including tips to help you catch them and make your trip the best possible. 

Let’s get started! 

Milford Lake Bass Fishing

The most popular fish to chase at Milford Reservoir are black bass, which at Milford includes both largemouth and smallmouth bass.

While it’s certainly possible to catch both species in the same area using the same technique or lure, you can increase your odds of catching your target species by paying attention to their unique behaviors. So let’s talk about the best locations and methods to catch them.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouths are more tolerant than smallies of murky water. The water at Milford Lake tends to be less clear as you go north, especially when the Republican River is running high.

You’ll primarily find largemouths around structure such as vegetation, brush piles, and along rip rap banks. 

Largemouth prefer to stay out of the current, so if they’re releasing water from the dam, fish an area breaking the current, such as a point, a cove, or around one of the bridges.

The time of year will determine where to fish.

During the spring, when bass are spawning, largemouth will be close to the shore. Largemouth bass prefer a gravel surface on the bottom in relatively shallow water to make their nests.

During the summer, largemouth bass seek shade and cooler water.

They often hang out around deeper structures, often around the thermocline, which can be anywhere from 5-25 feet deep.

Largemouths also hang out in shady areas, even fairly shallow, where a tree or dock blocks the direct sun.

In the fall, largemouth will follow the baitfish back shallow to feed heavily before returning to deeper waters for the winter.

Milford doesn’t have many docks, so you’re best bet is to find a shadow cast by a tree or other vegetation. 

Some of the best lures for largies are spinnerbaits, crankbaits, Senko stick baits, flukes, and chatterbaits.

Because the water is generally clear, natural colors work best here, so stick with green pumpkin, white, and translucent colors. 

Smallmouth Bass

Anglers will find more smallmouths where the water is the clearest. This is generally the southern end of the lake by the dam.

While smallies can be caught off of brush piles, I’ve found they prefer rocks. So locating rock piles or rip rap banks will tend to yield more smallmouth bites, especially if the wind or dam generates a little current.

Smallmouth bass have a similar spawning pattern as largemouths, but you might find them spawning in a little deeper water.

Downsizing your lures for smallmouth is essential. Mepps or Rooster Tail spinners instead of larger spinnerbaits tend to work well. 3-4″ flukes or swimbaits will generate bites in late spring or early summer.

These aggressive fish still prefer natural colors.

Catch More Bass

Check out the best bass fishing lakes in Kansas, including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass hotspots.

Now, brush up on tactics in our simple how-to guide to bass fishing.

Milford Lake Crappie Fishing

While bass fishing might be the most popular on Milford Reservoir, it’s one of Kansas’s best crappie fishing lakes. Black and white crappie inhabit these waters, and catching both in the same spot is very common. 

Black crappies often show a preference for structure where the water is clearer, while white crappies can thrive in stained water, but the differences are small enough that you’ll find them in similar spots and catch them on the same tactics.

In the spring, you’ll find crappies moving shallow to spawn around rocks or shallow brush piles. During the summer, they move to deeper water, often 15-25 feet. Search for them around brush piles or suspended near other structure or depth changes.

Minnows and jigs are the best crappie baits on Milford Lake. The crappie jigs can be plastic, hair, or feather, as long as they are about the size of a minnow. Using primarily natural colors with a touch of pink or chartreuse will get you more bites.

I prefer to use ultra-light fishing gear when crappie fishing because it allows the small jig to act naturally, and it’s just fun to catch fish on a light line, such as a 4lb test.

The best places to begin searching for crappie on Milford Lake are Curtis, Farnum, Kemp, and Rush Creeks. I recommend finding the creek channels and locating brush piles or standing timber nearby.

More: Learn the simplest and most effective crappie fishing methods and tackle.

Milford Lake Catfish Fishing

Due to its immense size, Milford Reservoir hides some of the biggest catfish in the state, which is why it ranks high as one of the best places to go catfishing in Kansas

Catfish spend most of their time near depth changes. However, they’ll move onto shallow flats in the spring to feed and spawn.

It’s usually best to cover the depth change in an area. So if you have multiple rods, cast your baits to differing depths. If you only have a single rod, fish it shallow for a while, then gradually move your bait deeper until you find where the catfish are spending most of their time.

It’s always wise to follow the bait fish. Gizzard shad are the primary food source for catfish in Milford Lake, so finding a big school of shad likely means you’re not far from finding the bigger predator fish.

Blue and channel catfish are the two most common species you’ll catch in this impoundment. They tend to hit similar baits, but I vary my approach when targeting smaller channel cats. 

Channel Catfish

Because channel cats are typically smaller than blues, using smaller baits and gear is advised. However, don’t go too small because there’s always a chance of a blue cat picking up your bait since they are often caught side-by-side.

The best channel catfish baits are nightcrawlers, stinkbait, chicken liver, and small chunks of cut bait on a 5/0 or 6/0 hook.

Blue Catfish

When targeting blues, I prefer to use larger baits and hooks. Shad, whole or cut in half, work really well. Live sunfish are another bait I like to use for targeting big blue catfish.

If you’re getting a lot of bites but nothing is committing to it, try downsizing your hook and bait size because you might just be in a mess of small blues or channel cats.

Flathead Catfish

Besides the channels and blues, Milford Lake does have a modest number of flathead catfish. What they may lake in numbers they can make up for in massive size.

Flathead catfish are the best hunters among these popular catfish species, and fishing with a live bait like a bluegill is likely your best chance of tangling with a giant. You may simply hook one while fishing for blues.

Catch More Catfish

Read our catfishing tips and techniques.

Milford Reservoir Walleye Fishing

Kansas anglers would be foolish to overlook fishing for toothy critters at Milford Lake, as it consistently ranks as one of the best places to catch walleye in the Sunflower State.

Rocky flats and points are where walleye spend most of their time, which is why the area near Milford Dam is one of the best places to cast a line for walleye. 

Walleye are very sensitive to light, so fishing in the late evening or early morning hours is best because they will be much more shallow and on the hunt for their next meal.

When they spawn in the spring, walleye will move onto very shallow rocky areas, another reason to fish near the dam for the tasty toothy fish.

There are several ways to catch walleye.

Fishing soft plastic swimbaits is one popular method. Other great options include using live minnows on a bobber or trolling deep-diving crankbaits. 

All three techniques are very effective when done at the right time, as well as many other walleye techniques and lures. Choosing natural colors with a touch of chartreuse or pink often works very well.

More: Want to go more in-depth? Check out our easy to follow walleye fishing guide, with techniques and tips to catch one of the best eating freshwater fish in America.

White Bass and Wiper Fishing at Milford Lake

Some of my favorite fish to catch are the hard-fighting white bass and hybrid striped bass (wipers), and Milford Reservoir is full of them. 

White bass, or sand bass, as I call them, are schooling native fish. Their cousins, the hybrid striped bass or “wiper,” are introduced fish. However, they’re often caught out of the same school and look similar.

The quickest way to tell them apart is by the broken lines of a hybrid, while a white bass doesn’t have broken lines.

Thanks to their striped bass genes, wipers also get much larger than white bass. A wiper can exceed 10 pounds, while a white bass rarely reaches 3 pounds. 

I generally use the same techniques to catch them. My favorite is to troll during the summer using crankbaits or spoons.

However, I also love that they’ll run up the creeks to spawn during the early season, and you can cast swimbaits or other lures to catch them.

Their primary food source is small shad, so anything shiny such as chrome-colored crankbaits or spinners works well. However, also try throwing green pumpkin or other natural colors, as those are sometimes the top strike producer.

I’ve also caught these species on jigs and topwater lures.

Once you set the hook on one, quickly reel it in and cast back to the same spot. There are likely more of these schooling fish nearby.

More: Read all of my favorite lures and tactics in our white bass fishing how-to guide.

Bluegill and Sunfish Fishing

Bluegill and related species such as green sunfish and redear sunfish are the type of fish that every kid loves to catch because the action is usually fast. Or if they’re my daughter, they just like to play with the worms and name each fish they just caught.

Sunfish are so popular because they’re easy to catch and often found near the shore. You also don’t need any complicated heavy-duty setup.

I recommend using ultra-light gear just because they’re enjoyable to catch on light equipment, but as long as the hook is small enough to get in their mouth, you should be good.

I’ve caught bluegill and sunfish on jigs, minnows, small crankbaits, and spinners. But the most effective bait is worms.

Clip a bobber to your line with a small hook, some weight, and a worm, then catch these feisty little fish. 

They spend most of their time hiding together in brush piles, vegetation, and rocks in shallow water, so once you catch one, there’s likely more nearby.

More: Bluegill and other sunfish can save the day when other fish just won’t cooperate. Read our favorite simple techniques to make sure your sunfish fishing is a success.

Planning Your Trip

Making the most of your trip to Milford Lake means you should be prepared and know what to expect. 

That’s what this section will help you with now that you know how to catch the most common fish in the impoundment.

Where is Milford Lake?

The reservoir is on the Republican River is near the city of Junction City as well as the Fort Riley U.S. Army installation and Milford Nature Center & Fish Hatchery. Manhattan sits just a bit farther east.

Figure driving a bit over an hour heading west out I-70 from Topeka or about two hours driving north from Wichita.

Public Boat Ramps

You can launch from many boat ramps if you plan to bring your boat. You can take your pick of public ramps around the lake, most of which are paved ramps and parking lots.

The northwest section of the lake has two launches, the Clay County Park boat ramp and the Quimby Creek boat ramp.

The northeast section of the lake also has two boat ramps, at Fort Riley Marina and Timber Creek South.

The mid-section of the lake has four boat ramps, the Farnum Creek boat ramp and the Whiting Street boat ramp on the east side, the Rolling Hills boat ramp on the south side, and the School Creek boat ramp on the west side of the lake.

The Curtis Creek boat ramp is the only ramp on the southwest section of the lake.

The lake’s southeast section has three boat ramps: the East Rolling Hills boat ramp, the Milford State Park North boat ramp, and the Milford State Park South boat ramp.

Bank Access

If you don’t own a boat, don’t worry; there are still plenty of spots to fish, with over 160 miles of shoreline. However, not all of it is fishable. 

That said, many public use areas are available to take advantage of while visiting Milford Lake. 

The Rolling Hills Public Use Area and Milford State Park are on opposite sides of the dam at the southern end of the lake. 

Curtis Creek Public Use Area, School Creek Public Use Area, and Clayview Public Use Area are all on the west side of the lake, giving anglers ample opportunities to catch fish from the bank. 

Timber Creek Public Use Area, Milford Recreation Area, and Farnum Creek Public Use Area are on the east side of the lake.

Where to Stay

There are several campgrounds to stay at around Milford Lake to serve you during those multi-day fishing trips. 

The two best public campgrounds are Milford State Park and the Corps-Engineers Campground Curtis.

There also are private resorts offering a variety of lodging types and other amenities.

If you’d prefer a standard hotel or need supplies or restaurants, there are options in the Junction City area or a bit farther away in Manhattan. To the north on the lake, Milford and Wakefield are small communities but may have what you need.

Fishing Regulations

Be aware that the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has special rules for the harvest of certain species, including blue catfish, walleye and wipers. These may change over time, so be sure to look up regulations before fishing.