The Great Plains region of the country has some incredible fishing opportunities and we are going to pick some of the top “must-experience” fisheries in the region for this upcoming season that typically turn on during the month of May.
Some choices are obvious, perennial favorites that are “no-brain” picks while other highlighted fisheries are more obscure, under-the-radar locations. Our choices are not comprehensive. Surely we left out several great opportunities, but this will at least provide you with a good starting point, and may alert you to fisheries you were unaware of or didn’t realize were peaking now or in the near future.
DEVILS LAKE, NORTH DAKOTA
(Walleye, Northern Pike And White Bass)
North Dakota is home to some of the most noteworthy fishing in the region. While there are several great fishing opportunities scattered across the state, a few really stood out this past season and are poised to repeat. For multi-species action for lunker northern pike and nice walleye, not to mention drag-burning white bass, Devils Lake in the central part of the state is special. Every angler owes it to him- or herself to fish this lake in May, casting crankbaits and/or swimbaits up into shallow water. Hundred fish days for a boat consisting of two to three anglers is possible and at the end of the day, your hands are so cut up from teeth and fins, that some anglers resort to using super glue to cover all the cuts.
According to Kyle Blanchfield, from Woodland Resort, the pattern for all species is essentially the same, find shallow bays that warm up quicker than the deeper main lake basins and follow the wind. Shorelines where wind pushes the warmer surface temperature against the shore turn on. Good shorelines may include sand, gravel and some rock, or the attraction could be flooded cattails, reeds or flooded timber. Typically, predators will stack up along these shorelines and walleyes can often be found mixed in with pike and white bass. Anglers might keep the boat in 6 to 8 feet of water and cast in towards shore, depending on the profile of the shoreline.
Great lure options include #5 and #7 Rapala Shad Raps, #5 Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads, #7 Rapala Countdowns and #7 Salmo Friskies for crankbaits. Soft plastic swimbaits are also very effective, with many anglers using both the Northland Tackle Mimic Minnows along with the Trigger X paddle-tails. Great colors include chartreuse or perch patterns along with traditional white, chrome, blue, rainbow, and firetiger color schemes.
MISSOURI RIVER, NORTH DAKOTA
Another torrid bite that occurred last season in North Dakota and looks to continue is the bite below the Garrison Dam Tailrace on the Missouri River.
When we look at the Missouri River fishery below the Garrison Dam, the river widens to the upper reaches of Lake Oahe just below the community of Bismarck. The entire system is a walleye mecca with several boat ramps located up and down the reservoir and river. Typically, hotspots develop from the tailrace all the way down the Missouri River system into Lake Oahe during the month of May.
The biggest factor that can affect the river fishing during the month of May is water visibility. Heavy runoff can muddy or cloud up the water, which drastically reduces fishing success. When the water clears up enough where you can see your prop, the fish typically turn on.
In regards to presentation, particularly in the river, jigs and crankbaits dominate the scene. According to Andy Bachmeier, who manages the fishing shop at Scheels All Sports in Bismarck, soft plastics have begun to replace live bait and that has been one of the hottest trends happening on the Missouri River. Anglers are using several types of soft plastic grub or paddle-tail bodies, with both Gulp! and Trigger X being the most popular. Anglers will also long-line stickbaits like Rapala Husky Jerks and Salmo Stings early in the season. As May warms up, shad-profiled crankbaits like Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads and Rapala Shad Raps become effective.
LAKE FRANCIS CASE, SOUTH DAKOTA
(Walleye, Smallmouth Bass)
Lake Francis Case has long been a popular reservoir that had a reputation for producing staggering numbers of eater walleyes, but last season anglers reported that the staggering number of fish became even more staggering and the size improved dramatically compared to recent years. This system also seems to produce a few walleyes each spring that are in that gigantic 14- to 15-pound range as well, typically near the dam.
On this reservoir, finding walleyes often means traditional tactics and techniques. A popular area includes the stretch of reservoir near the community of Chamberlain. Anglers often jig or troll crankbaits with lead-core line along channel edges, embankments, riprap and points. Hit structure until fish are found. Another popular tactic includes pitching jigs and minnows up onto the bluff walls. According to guide and motel owner Gary Allen, fishing often picks up in March and gets really hot through May.
Hot crankbaits include Rapala Jointed Shad Raps, Rapala Husky Jerks, Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads and Reef Runners. Productive rigging and jigging options include bottom- bouncers and spinner rigs, jigs tipped with soft plastic tails or minnows and some live bait rigs. Don’t neglect some tremendous smallmouth bass fishing. Anglers often find smallmouths in shallow water near riprap areas and bluff walls or rocky points. Casting spinnerbaits, tubes or topwaters is extremely effective and the bass are usually overlooked.
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