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Kansas Bowfisherman Arrows State-Record Smallmouth Buffalo

Thayne Miller had been searching for a record-sized buffalo ever since he lost a big one years ago
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ks record smallmouth buffalo

Thayne Miller with the new Kansas state-record smallmouth buffalo. Courtesy of Thayne Miller

On the night of April 27 on Kansas’ Clinton Reservoir, Thayne Miller knew he’d stuck a good one. Miller, who was bowfishing with a friend at the time, arrowed a smallmouth buffalo that weighed nearly 65 pounds. The fish was accepted as a new state record on June 7, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks reports.   

This replaces the previous record, which weighed 51 pounds and was taken in 1979 from a farm pond in Douglas County. It’s unclear if that fish was caught on a rod and reel because KDWP doesn’t maintain separate records for different methods of take. The agency recognizes record fish taken with bows, rods and reels, and even trotlines. (KDWP also has a mandatory 30-day waiting period for all record applications, which is why the state record is only just now being announced.)   

Arrowing a State-Record Smallmouth Buffalo

Miller, 30, works as a pipefitter in Topeka. He’s also a dedicated archer with 20 years of experience, and he runs a custom-rigged bowfishing skiff featuring an open deck and light bars. This was the boat that he and his buddy Brad Martin trailered to Clinton Reservoir, which spans 7,000 acres and sits 25 miles east of Topeka near Lawrence. They launched around sunset on April 27 and kicked off an action-packed night of spring bowfishing.

“We had a lot of misses,” Miller tells Outdoor Life. “We’d gotten a couple carp though, and I was just easing my Grizzly Tracker boat along with an electric motor when I spotted a big fish. Its back was breaking the surface in about two feet of water.”

He drew his bow (an Oneida, fitted with a Muzzy bowfishing reel and a Hercules Long Barb arrow) and released. Miller made a good hit, and the fish took off through the shallows.

With his reel in free spool (Miller says he always shoots this way), the braided line flew off the reel. Somehow it wrapped around one of the two knobs on his reel handle and broke it, but he was able to land the fish anyways after a brief battle lasting only a minute or two.

“I didn’t even know it [had broken] until later,” Miller explains. “But the other reel handle was okay, so I unwrapped the line that was tangled around the reel and then I reeled the fish close. That’s when we gaffed it and hauled it into the boat.”

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The record fish had an official weight of 64.75 pounds. Courtesy of Thayne Miller

Miller says he could tell right away that the fish had record potential, but he thought it was a grass carp when he first pulled it over the gunnel.

“I was excited when I [realized] it was a smallmouth buffalo,” he says. “I’ve wanted a state record for that species ever since I lost another big one that I shot with my bow years ago on Perry Lake. That lost buffalo made me into a serious bowfisherman, and I respect these fish. They’re really a cool species.”

Native to the Lake Michigan drainage and the larger Mississippi River basin, smallmouth buffalo are a type of suckerfish that can be found throughout eastern Kansas. They typically spawn in April through early June, when they move into the shallows and are more easily targeted with a bow. (Miller’s fish was a female with eggs.)

As soon as they boated the heavy fish, Miller and Martin called it a night and headed to the boat ramp. They stopped at a gas station on their way home to pack the fish in ice. The following morning Miller took the fish to a Topeka meat processing plant where it was weighed on a certified scale. Several witnesses watched as the scale registered 64 pounds, 12 ounces. The smallmouth buffalo measured 45 1/4 inches long with a 35-inch girth.

Next, he took the fish to a local KDWP office, where it was inspected by fisheries biologist Nick Kramer. With the species confirmed, Miller filled out the state-record application and waited for it to be certified.

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He now plans to have a replica mount made of the fish, and says he hopes it encourages more bowfishermen to get on the water in search of the next record.

“This is all about the fish, not me,” Miller says humbly. “I’m just a guy who happened to be there and get a chance at a great fish. She was an old fish, and I hope one day this record is broken. I’d love to see that next record fish taken by an archer.”