MILFORD, Kan. -- It didn't take long for Mike Harris to determine that the wipers were biting.
Moments after he pulled up to one of his favorite spots on Milford Lake, the screen of his fish finder was speckled with big marks.
When Harris's son, Zach, dropped a line baited with a shad into that ball of activity, he immediately felt the tell-tale strike of a big wiper.
"What took you so long?" Harris joked.
One minute. That's all it took for Harris and his sons, Zach and Brennan, to get into the big wipers that have brought Milford fame.
The hybrid, a cross between white bass and stripers, put up a characteristic fight, stripping out line and bending the rod sharply. But it was fighting a losing battle.
Soon, Zach had the fish to the surface and dad scooped it up with a landing net.
"That one will go 5 or 6 pounds," said Harris, who owns Acorns Resort on the 16,000-acre reservoir and also has a guide business. "But he fought like he was bigger than that.
"That's the thing about these wipers. They don't give up."
For Harris, chasing the big gamefish has become a passion.
He looks forward to the days when he can cast a big topwater lure into a school of surfacing wipers and watch one of the gamefish hit with voracity.
And when the wipers aren't hitting on top? Well, Harris has learned to go to a productive Plan B.
He starts by netting shad, then keeps them alive in an aerated tank on his boat. He uses his fish finder to locate the wipers, then drops several baited lines to the bottom.
The I-Pilot on his trolling motor allows him to keep his boat over the fish, then he and his fishing partners keep their eyes on the rods.
There's usually no mistaking a hit.
"They just bury that rod," Harris said.
They did that plenty on a recent weeknight. After Harris had used his throw net to collect a healthy school of 2-inch shad, he baited his lines. The wipers apparently liked what they saw.
Not long after Zach had reeled in the first wiper of the night, all three rods went down. The Harrises were busy fighting the fish and trying to keep the lines from crossing. All three wipers ended up in the boat, where they were photoed and then released.
By the time an approaching storm chased them off the water, the Harris boys had caught and released 23 wipers, most of them in the 4- to 6-pound range. For dad, it was another reminder that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
"A year ago, I never would have imagined that I would be catching wipers like this," he said. "I fished with big topwater lures or swimbaits and I caught a lot of fish that way.
"But this year, the topwater bite has been erratic. The people who were catching fish consistently were using live shad.
"So I decided I'd have to learn to fish that way. I got a throw net, a big tank for my boat and rod holders."
It has paid off. Harris and his partners have had many evenings when they have caught and released more than 20 wipers. On the 10-pound test line that Harris uses on his spinning rods, that amounts to some frenzied fights.
One thing is certain: Milford offers plenty of wipers to fish for. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Park and Tourism has been stocking the reservoir since 1990, and it has become one of the state's top wiper fisheries.
"The wipers did well here right from the start," said John Reinke of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, who manages the reservoir. "Milford has plenty of food -- a good shad population -- and it has the type of habitat wipers like. It has shallow flats and it also has deep water.
"There are a lot of 4- to 6-pound fish, but fishermen will also catch wipers up to 12, 13 pounds."
Let's talk Kansas wipers (and we're not referring to those devices on your windshield)
WHAT IS IT? A wiper is a cross between a white bass and a striper.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL? Fisheries biologists talk about "hybrid vigor." In the common man's terms, that means when you cross two aggressive beings, you get a monster. The wiper is one of the fightingest fish on the planet. Throw a topwater lure into an area where wipers are chasing shad to the surface, and you won't just get a hit. You'll get attacked.
WHY KANSAS? In many Kansas reservoirs, the hybrid is at the top of the food chain. It can gobble up an impressive number of shad in a single feeding spree, and Kansas reservoirs have plenty of shad.
WHY KANSAS, PART II? Fishermen can thank the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for the impressive wiper numbers at some reservoirs. The fish don't spawn, so populations are maintained by stocking. In early days, Kansas had to trade with other states to get wipers. But now the Milford Hatchery is a leader in the production of the hybrids.
HOW BIG DO THEY GET? The Kansas state record is 25 pounds, caught in 2010 in the Perry Reservoir outlet. It was taken on a topwater Zara Spook. That fish isn't far off the world record of 27 pounds, 5 ounces.
WHERE CAN I CATCH THEM? Milford Reservoir has long been known for its trophy wiper fishing. September is the benchmark month for fishing. As the water cools, the wipers become active and chase shad to the surface. Other Kansas reservoirs such as Sebelius, Kirwin, Webster, El Dorado and Cheney all have good populations of the gamefish.
WHAT BAITS WORK BEST? Large topwater lures produce the most exciting strikes. Fishermen at Milford use large Chug Bugs to lure fish, especially in September. But swimbaits, large jigs, and live shad also work.
HOW DO I FIND THEM? One of the most reliable ways is to follow the gulls. When the birds are diving down to feed on surfacing shad, it's a good bet that wipers are lurking below, pushing those baitfish to the top.
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