The shorelines of Lake Shawnee will once again be awash with anglers after the Shawnee County Parks and Recreation department unloads an estimated 7,000 pounds of rainbow trout at noon Oct. 28 from the east boat ramp.
The 416-acre, man-made lake will be closed to fishing from that time until 6 a.m. Nov. 4 to allow the fish time to disperse. Boating will still be allowed on the lake during that time.
The trout will once again be stocked by Crystal Lake Fisheries, of Ava, Mo., according to Mike McLaughlin, Shawnee County Parks & Rec communications and public information supervisor, and adult anglers must have a trout permit to catch trout, in addition to a regular fishing license.
“It’s a great thing,” said local fishing guide Clyde Holscher, of Topeka. “I think it’s pretty self-sustaining. I think it’s great for Topeka and Shawnee County and surrounding areas, and it’s always a fun deal.”
Holscher lives near the lake, and though guiding isn’t allowed, he still enjoys fishing it recreationally during trout season with Fresh Water Fishing Hall-of-Famer Ned Kehde, a longtime outdoors writer from Lawrence. Holscher said The Dock, a gas station and bait shop located at 2838 S.E. 29th on the west side of the lake, offers a great array of trout lures and terminal tackle for anglers looking for gear.
The trout program was started in 1979 by Ted Ensley, the former Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Commission secretary, according to the SCPR website. Ensley said that game warden Bill Burlew came to him in 1978 with the idea for the program.
“He and I got to talking one day and he said, ‘Well, I think this kind of a program would go good here,’ and I kinda looked at him and I said, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” Ensley said. “But anyway, we had that conversation over the period of a couple of weeks or whatever and I said, ‘I’m going to bring that to the board of the county commission,’ and they said yes, so that was the genesis of the program.”
Despite his hesitation, the program was an immediate success and has continued to be that way ever since, he said.
“I’ve often watched and thought about it over the years,” Ensley said. “I’ve often wondered why, almost immediately, was it such a successful program? Is it because they can catch the fish? Is it because trout is not native to our area here and it’s something special they can tell their friends about and catch nice-sized fish right in the middle of town, so to speak?
“I think it’s a lot of those factors, but that’s just one of them. And they are a great eating fish and easy to clean and do all those kinds of things. A grandpa can bring his grandson or granddaughters out to go fishing, and it was real handy and easy to get to.”
Ensley has played a big part in the development of the lake. Prior to his work as secretary of the KDWP, Ensley served as director of Shawnee County Parks and Recreation for 31 years before retiring from the post in 1992.
One of the most notable features of Lake Shawnee, the Ted Ensley Gardens, was named in his honor upon his retirement.
When he first got involved with the county in 1961 after graduating from Kansas State University, Ensley said the water was difficult to access because of plant overgrowth and it didn’t have all of the great amenities it has now, such as the heated docks and the camp grounds.
“A guy told me a while back he went in the service in 1958 or 1959, something like that,” Ensley said. “He used to live pretty close and they’d go out there and go fishing and he’d always have to take their machete with him, him and his dad. When he came back in about ‘63 and wanted to go out there and go fishing, he said, ‘Well dad, I’ll go get the machete,’ and he said ‘You don’t need to get that anymore.’ ”
Ensley said he believes the lake has blossomed into a magnet to attract new people to visit Topeka. It’s been a great asset to the community, he said. Earlier this year, Expedia even named the lake the top place to visit in Kansas.
“The trail around the lake was really something, too. At the time, people would go to the county commission meeting and give them holy hell saying nobody would ever use it. Yeah, right,” he said. “They had to buy a little snowplow to put on the trail to keep the snow off in the winter time because people wanted to use it.”
He also added that he’d like to see more improvements made in the future, if funds allow.
“I sure would like to see an aquatic center on the east side of the lake,” Ensley said. “I think they shut the pool down, I’m not sure that pool was open this last summer. It sure would be nice to have something like that on the east side of town. The Tinman Circle would be an ideal place to put something like that.”
However, there is some work on the area that is already scheduled to be done. The Shawnee County Commission last week approved an $8.6 million project to widen S.E. 29th to five lanes near the lake, according to a Topeka Capital-Journal article by reporter Tim Hrenchir, and earmarked $888,000 to build an adjoining pedestrian/bicycle trail. The trail is 12 feet wide and would run parallel to S.E. 29th on its north side from the turnpike overpass east to S.E. West Edge Road, then continue east on the south side of S.E. 29th until connecting with the Lake Shawnee Trail near S.E. 29th and Aquarius.