Bet On Cornhusker Bass

If you're looking for Nebraska's best bass action this month, you're likely to find it at these venues! (March 2007)

Seward angler Monte Mares awed his neighbors -- and his angling buddies -- when he caught this near-8-pounder at a Seward County farm pond.

Photo courtesy of Monte Mares.

It's March, and Nebraska bass fishermen are beginning to test the waters of the state in hopes that the fishing this year will be as rewarding as it has been over the past two or three years. In 2005, 465 trophy largemouths were entered in the Nebraska Game Commission's Master Angler Award program; in 2004, 444 awards were issued, and in 2003, 530 in total.

It's long been established that, over the years, the farm ponds and sandpit lakes in the state have produced the majority of the big bass. Any doubter has only to consult the Master Angler records.

Columbus' Joe Citta Jr. is president of the Nebraska B.A.S.S. Federation, which is made up of 36 local clubs strung out from Omaha to North Platte. Citta has been a member of the state association since 1978 and president for more than 20 years.

"Nebraska doesn't have much water that can host a large bass tournament," he acknowledged. "Merritt Reservoir and the Missouri River above Lewis and Clark Lake are about the only ones that offer enough room for our state tournament. However, the individual clubs throughout the state hold club contests on the little reservoirs such as Elwood, Burchard, Stagecoach, Buckskin Hills, Summit and Walnut Creek, as well as some of the sandpit lakes along Interstate 80. The state club also works with local clubs on youth projects, building brushpiles or other structures that will add to the bass habitats."

A member of the capital city's Blade Runner Bass Club, Dave Barnholdt reported that club members fish some of the Salt Valley Lakes in the Lincoln area such as Stagecoach, Wildwood and Wagon Train. "We make a trip or two each year up to the Missouri River above Lewis and Clark, where we catch smallmouth as well as largemouth," he said. "We also hit Zorinsky and Wehrspann in the Omaha area as well as Summit and Burchard lakes. We quite often run our tournaments a little different, because of catch-and-release. We card every fish over 12 1/2 inches in length that we catch, and the angler catching the top five wins it.

"Historically, I think Wildwood is the best little lake in this area. It fell on hard times a few years back, but it has been renovated and restocked now, and should be serving up some nice bass within the next couple of years."

The Lincoln angler's favorite lures include the jig-and-pig, the Brush Hog, crankbaits and tube lures.

Rodney Brase spends quite a bit of his bass-fishing time at the sandpit lakes along the Platte Valley. "I fish the sandpit lakes at the Fremont State Recreation area once in a while and have caught a few nice ones there despite the high use these sandpit lakes get," he said. "Summit Lake is back producing a lot of bass after it was renovated two or three years ago. They aren't real big yet, but there are good numbers that are over the 15-inch size limit."

Brase, a director of the state federation and a member of the Douglas County Bass Club, reports that club members also like to fish Walnut Creek, as well as the Missouri River from Sioux City to Yankton and from Niobrara to the South Dakota Border. "My biggest bass came from a sandpit lake," said the Omaha resident. "It weighed 6.6 and I caught it on a Rat-L-trap in mid-October. I use a variety of lures, but I do prefer small (3/16-inch-head) tube lures (in black) and small crankbaits for fishing the river. I also use buzzbaits quite a bit on the sandpit lakes."

Brase fishes almost exclusively with a baitcasting outfit loaded with 10- to 12-pound-test line.

Phil Sullivan, a federation director and member of the Lincoln County Bassmasters Club at North Platte, regards Merritt Reservoir as his favorite for largemouth bass.

"The water level is down quite a bit in Merritt, but it's still the best for bass within a reasonable driving distance for me," he said. "I fish Boardman Bay, the Powderhorn and Farmers Pond areas on the lake. My largest bass to date was a 7.8. My favorite lures are the floating worms, Brush Hogs and a purple jig-and-pig.

"In addition to Merritt, I have a couple of ranch ponds near Ogallala that are pretty good, and also fish some of the Interstate 80 sandpit lakes, such as the one at the Hershey Interchange."

Elmer Brauer of Bridgeport loves to fish for bass, but in his view, bass fishing is far from great in Nebraska's Panhandle. "I fish the sandpit lakes at the Bridgeport State Recreation Area as well as Box Butte and Oliver reservoirs and Lake Minatare," he said. "The water table has been down pretty bad in the latter lakes, but you can still catch a decent bass or two if you work at it.

Brauer, 71, reported that his largest bass was a 24-incher weighing 7 pounds, 13 ounces that he caught at the middle Bridgeport Lake on a spinnerbait in March 2005. "I don't fish the Bridgeport pits much in July and August; there's just too much traffic on the area and too much fishing pressure," he said.

A review of the Master Angler awards serves up a profile of the venues from which big bass have been taken. However, other waters enable bass anglers to catch good numbers of fish that don't make the award minimum of 5 pounds or 20 inches in length. Some of those include the lakes on the Valentine Refuge such as Pelican, Clear, Hackberry, Duck and Dewey.

Looking at the top public waters for bass in 2006 in each of the Game Commission's six districts in the state, fisheries managers made this call: Panhandle -- Smith Lake and Box Butte Reservoir; North-Central -- Valentine National Wildlife Refuge lakes and Cozad, Tower, Cub Creek, Cottonwood, Home Valley, Frye and Shell lakes, as well as Merritt Reservoir, which also serves up some smallmouths; Northeast -- Summit, Maskenthine, Grove and Yankton lakes, as well as the Missouri River and Lewis and Clark Lake for smallmouths.

In the southwest it's Rock Creek, Hershey and Wellfleet lakes for largemouths and Lake McConaughy and the NPPD Canal Below Lake Maloney for smallmouths; South-Central Cottonmill, Darr-I-80, Sandy Channel, Mormon Island West, Coot Shallows I-80, and Willow Island I-80 for largemouths. Johnson Lake and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District's canal system offer pretty good smallmouth action. Southeast -- Wehrspann, Zorinsky, Burchard, Verdon, Olive Creek, Czechland, Iron Horse Trail and Wagon Train lakes. In addition, anglers report fair to good bass fishing at Merganser, East Twin, Hedgefield, Wagon Train, Branch

Oak and Pawnee -- all Salt Valley lakes.

Many of the lakes and small reservoirs in eastern Nebraska have restrictive bag and size limits. Some examples include Zorinsky, Wehrspann, Olive Creek, Stagecoach, Wagon Train, Yankee Hill, Burchard and Verdon lakes have a 21-inch minimum size limit. Lakes such as Louisville, Bennington, Two Rivers lakes No. 3 and No. 4, Holmes, Memphis, Wildwood and others are total catch-and-release lakes on largemouth bass.

Justin Gibson of Alliance says he fishes just about every piece of bass water in the Panhandle.

"Chadron City Reservoir has been good to me and has hooked me up with some big largemouths," he said. "Last year I beached a 6-8 on that small reservoir using a plastic crawdad.

"Box Butte Reservoir offers pretty good bass fishing. I haven't caught many big ones there, but there are good numbers of 15- to 18-inchers. I also fish the Bridgeport pits as well as Walgren and Smith lakes. Island Lake on the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Oshkosh was renovated and restocked in 2005, thus, it will likely be a couple of years before we see the bass fishing take off again."

Gibson said April, May and June are his best months for bass. "Once it gets hot, weeds become a problem on some of the good bass spots such as Walgren, Smith and Island," he said.

The Alliance angler said he fishes almost exclusively with a bait-casting outfit and most often Texas-rigs soft plastic lures.

"My favorite is an 8-inch lizard, and I like the pumpkinseed color the best," he said.

Kendall Meyer of Ogallala used a spinnerbait to fool a 6-pound, 12-ounce largemouth in June while fishing Clear Lake on the Valentine Refuge.

"I fish the lakes in the Sandhills from a float tube," Meyer said. "I usually plan a three-or four-day trip to lakes such as Pelican, Dewey and Duck on the Valentine Refuge or up to Smith, which is south of Rushville, about the second week in May. Weather and time permitting, I'll likely hit them again about the first week in June. After that the weeds can be a bit of a problem. I can usually maneuver through the cattails and bulrushes in the shallows, but the surface weeds can be a challenge to fish because they can become so thick it's hard to find an open spot to throw a lure into.

"I really enjoy fishing out of a tube, but it does have some disadvantages," said the 65-year-old retired school teacher. "Wind always seems to be a factor on the lakes. If it's blowing out of the south I fish the south shore; north, the north shore. You don't want to fish with the wind. Some of the lakes such as Pelican and Smith are fairly large and if the wind catches you it can be a long hike back to your launch site.

"Box Butte is a good bass spot too, but I never catch any much over the 3-pound mark," Meyer said. "I like to use a variety of tackle. Sometimes I even use a fly rod. If I'm fishing lakes that have both bass and northerns in them, it can get pretty hairy if you put the steel to a northern in the 5-pound-plus category on the fly rod."

Checking on a few of the anglers catching trophy bass reveals they used a wide choice of lures, fished a variety of lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

The top five public waters for trophy bass last year in Nebraska included Burchard and Louisville lakes, along with Maskenthine Reservoir. They accounted for nine awards each. The others included Dewey Lake on the Valentine Refuge, seven, and Stagecoach, seven. From that point on other public lakes, ponds and reservoir served up anywhere from one to six. It's hard to ignore the fact that anglers reported taking 270 from private ponds and 40 from sandpit lakes.

In 2005, Blake Walter of Dannebrog started things off with an 8-pounder he caught from a private impoundment on Feb. 28 while using a Swedish Pimple spoon. Scott Dietrich of Alliance nailed a 6-pound, 7-ounce fish at Smith Lake in March while fishing a live chub. Monte Maris of Seward used a Mepps spinner to fool a 7-pound, 14-ounce fish on April 30. He was fishing a farm pond in Seward County. Steve Lytle of McCook cast a jig-and-plastic-craw into a Sandpit lake near home and connected with a 22-incher on May 2. Cody Onnen of Wayne used a bluegill to hook a 7-pound, 3-ounce fish at Buckskin Hills Lake near Newcastle in June.

In July, Taylor McHenry of Tecumseh was fishing Burchard Lake using a night crawler when a 21-incher weighing 5-pound, 2-ounce fish inhaled it. Danny Collins of North Platte was throwing a spinnerbait at Cottonmill Lake near Kearney on August 6 when he hooked and landed a 22-incher. In September a Moss Moose lure thrown by Jim Kittel of Kearney put a 21-incher in his diary. He was fishing a private impoundment. Jason Janise of Norfolk threw a crankbait into Maskenthine Reservoir on Oct. 11 and it came back with a 22-incher on it. Allen Naprstek of Valparaiso was fishing a plastic worm at Wildwood on Nov. 23 when a 24-inch largemouth accepted it.

December and January appear to be the leanest month for largemouths. In 2005 there were no trophy bass reported in December. One has to go back to the records in 2004 to find a December-caught bass. Matt Bruntz of Gothenberg caught a 21-incher at Box Butte using a minnow for bait on the 27th. January was just as lean for the bass chasers. Undoubtedly a cover of ice on many bass waters cut down on the catch, and on number of fishermen. Gary Eckmann of Bloomfield connected with a 22-incher on Jan. 23, 2004, while using a minnow for bait on a local farm pond.

If anyone tries to pinpoint some of the best bass lures used to catch the "big ones" plastics -- worms, craws, lizards, salamanders, grubs and frogs -- are most often mentioned. Some of the artificials used sound rather exotic -- how about the Swedish Pimple, Glass Clown Rapala, Green Crawdad, Black and Blue lizard, No. 3XPS Lazer Eye Extreme, Trick Stick, 3-inch Stik-O, Gun Fish Lure, Yum Dinger, Terminator, Weedless Wildeye, Gene Larew Hawg Craw, Lake Fork Ring Fry, Lytle's Secret Tailspin, and Heddon Super Spook?

A writer knows that some anglers don't tell it all when reporting the lures they catch the bass on. Some just say "night crawler"; others speak of a "worm," "mouse," "diver," "lure," "live bait," "topwater lure," "fake worm," "minnow" -- even a "hot dog."

Daryl Bauer, lakes and reservoir fisheries manager for the NGPC in Lincoln had these words on 2007 bass for Great Plains Game & Fish: "We are still suffering from drought in much of the state, but the fishing is still pretty good. Some of the lakes that were renovated and restocked in the past few years look very promising to us.

"Wildwood is coming back and the bass are now measuring around 12 inches or a little better. Summit is a good one, and is producing good numbers of bass in the 15- to 18-inch range. Wagon Train and Olive Creek should offer some good action this year. Frye Lake is coming on, and will likely offer some good fishing this year. Island Lake on the Crescent Refuge needs a couple of years for the bass to grow up."

Check th

e 2007 Nebraska fishing guide for details on regulations and a guide to public waters.

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