On an early spring day that seemed made for fishing, Tom Pebley, of Kansas City, cast his lure into one of the more than 1,000 strip pits that dot Crawford County. The blue Kansas sky above was picture perfect: White clouds dotted it, and a slight breeze rippled the water. Nothing but occasional birdsong interrupted his thoughts. Pebley already had channel catfish on his stringer, but was hoping to add crappie. One of tens of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who come to Southeast Kansas each year, he enjoys the fishing and camping the Mined Land Area offers. “We have nothing like this where we live,” he says. “What you have down here is unique.” Spanning Crawford and Cherokee counties, the Mined Land Area is comprised of 14,500 public acres belonging to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism. It includes 13,000 acres of land and 1,500 acres of water.
Strip pits, as the locals call them, vary in size from one-quarter of an acre to 50 acres, with depths as shallow as a foot and as deep as 60 feet, owe their existence to coal miners. From the 1920s through the mid-1970s, they were carved by steam and electric shovels in search of coal veins. When the shovels were turned off and the miners left, the countryside grew quiet, and the strip pits were left to Mother Nature.
The land is sought out after by hunters, hikers, mushroom and berry pickers, campers, boaters and kayakers.
If you’re looking for a more traditional, lake fishing experience, Crawford County has that as well with Crawford State Fishing and one of the hottest bass fishing lakes in the region, Bone Creek Reservoir.