Overlooked For Bass?

Overlooked For Bass?

Is it possible that some Nebraska waters are better bass hotspots than our anglers give them credit for being? The author thinks so, and he offers this information to back up his claim.

Would you believe that it took only four casts for North Platte's John Shackleford to connect with this 6-pounder at Chester Island WMA?
Photo courtesy of John Shackleford.

Nebraska bass fishermen have long felt a little shortchanged when it comes to large lakes and reservoirs that harbor lots of largemouth bass. The state's not blessed with many big reservoirs such as those found in other states that serve up great bass fishing.

We may not have the big lakes that generate a lot of publicity, but we Cornhusker fans of the largemouth find that the hundreds of farm ponds and sandpit lakes scattered throughout our state tend to offset our lack of big-name bass waters.

While private land encloses the vast majority of these small waters, scores of small watershed ponds and numerous sandpit lakes are publicly accessible and offer the angler a good chance at catching bass -- and, yes, even trophy bass!

Chris Stutz of Hazard has found a lot of good bass fishing not far from his home. "Over the past few years I have fished the sandpit lakes such as those at Kearney, Odessa, Elm Creek, Wood River and Grand Island exits on I-80," he said. "One of my favorites is the Bufflehead Wildlife Management Area at the Kearney exit, because I work in Kearney, and I can run out there and get in a few casts on my lunch hour.

"The fishing wasn't all that great in the lake last year, because of low water due to drought. It was good in 2003 when I caught three or four Master Angler bass (a minimum of 5 pounds or 20 inches) out of the lake. When the word got around there were some nice bass being caught, the fishing pressure increased and success dropped.

"The great part about fishing these small lakes is the fact that if fishing success drops on one, you can find another that is pretty good. I caught five or six more trophy bass in 2003 from other lakes."

The sandpit lakes along I-80 stretch all the way from Grand Island to Chappell. Most are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and range in size from 4 acres in four pits at Chester Island WMA at Brady to 80 acres in three lakes at the Grand Island interchange.

Many other fishermen have caught trophy bass from the lakes. Steve Heil of Ayr was among them; he beached a 21-incher at the Windmill State Recreation Area. Also, Scott Thomas of North Platte fooled a 21-incher from the West Hershey WMA lake, and Russ Van Lengen of Grand Island caught a 22-inch largemouth at the Darr WMA lake.

John Shackelford of North Platte caught a 6-pound largemouth on a topwater lure at the Chester Island WMA. He still can't believe it.

"I was in another area close to Chester Island, so I thought I might as well try it too," he recalled. "I walked in and made a couple or three casts along a log sticking out from the shore. On my next cast I saw a bass right up near the surface alongside the log. My surface lure was quite a distance beyond the log, so I cranked a little faster, and as I did, something exploded on my lure.

"I landed what I believed to be a Master Angler largemouth (5 pounds or better) and took off for town to get in weighed and measured. It was 21 inches long and weighed 6 pounds -- not bad for four casts!"

The southeast has scores of farm ponds or watershed lakes, and a good many of them are public waters. Keith Hurley of Lincoln is a district fisheries biologist who monitors many of them. According to him, the smaller ones vary in size from 2 to 75 acres.

"The small ponds are very important to the fishery in the southeast," he said. "The public waters do, of course, get quite a bit of fishing pressure, but they produce good numbers of bass as well as some trophies.

"Some of the more productive ones, under 100 acres, include Prairie View lake near Bennington, Wolf-Wildcat No. 12 near Virginia, Killdeer near Martell, Merganser near Kramer, Mayberry near Burchard, Iron Horse Trail Lake near Dubois, Verdon Lake near Verdon and Swan Creek 5A near Tobias.

"Czechland Lake, northwest of Prague, is a fairly large watershed lake (85 acres). It's owned by the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District. It's popular and productive for bass as well as bluegill, catfish and crappie."

David Walker Jr. of Yutan fishes Czechland on a regular basis for bass as well as catfish. He scored well on both back in June of 2003 on the lake.

"I caught a 24-inch bass one evening while fishing for catfish with cut bait," he said. "I use the bait regularly for channel cats, so I was surprised when a big bass took it. The best part of that story is that I caught a 33-inch channel that weighed 15 pounds the same night on the bait.

"I've had the best luck on bass on that lake from April to mid-June," Walker said. "There are several spots on the lake where there are sunken trees and other structure that hold fish. I know where at least a half-dozen of them are and locating them has paid off -- both for bass and crappie.

"I would have to say my favorite bass bait is the crawler fished with a slip-sinker and a Size 6 hook. I also have pretty good luck on spinnerbaits, Rapalas and Rat-L-Traps."

Gerald Jonas of Wahoo fishes Czechland and agrees that it's a good bass lake. "My biggest bass to date came from nearby Timberpoint Lake near Brainard however," he said. "It's a 28-acre lake owned by the Lower Platte South NRD. I don't look for the fishing to be much for the next couple of years, however because the lake was renovated last fall and will be restocked this year."

Hurley said that the small lakes have varying regulations. "A couple lakes, such as Redtail near Dwight, have good bass fishing, and we think it is partially due to the fact that it is a walk-in lake, as is Mayberry northeast of Burchard and Pawnee Prairie.

"Some have special limits: Recharge Lake is a 49-acre impoundment west of York, and the minimum-length limit on bass is 21 inches; others with the same regulation include Swan Creek 5-A, near Tobias, and Verdon SRA, just west of the town."

Some lakes are totally catch-and-release for bass: Wildwood, near Agnew; the five lakes at the Louisville State Recreation Area; Prairie View Lake, Lakes Nos. 3 and 4 at Two Rivers SRA, and Memphis Lake SRA.

The northeast doesn't have many small ponds or reservoirs in public domain, but Jeff Schuckman, district fisheries supervisor at Norfolk, says that there are enough to give fishermen a choice.

"The bass fishermen here have at least a half-dozen pretty good places to choose from when they go after bass on the small lakes," he said. "Chalkrock Lake WMA is a good bass lake, as are Buckskin Hills, Pibel Lake SRA, Grove Lake, Maskenthine and Lake Erickson, as well as lakes 7 and 8 at the Fremont SRA. I also have to throw in Summit Lake, even though it's larger than 100 acres (190); it was renovated a couple of years ago, and the bass have really showed some good growth. I look for some of them to hit 15 to 16 inches this year."

The Sandhills of Nebraska have numerous bass lakes. Most of the lakes in this vast ranchland are natural; many are on private land. Joel Klammer, the district fisheries supervisor, says that a few small ones open to the public are good, as are a few artificial ones.

"Cub Creek Lake near Springview is one of the better manmade lakes in the district," he offered. "Hull Lake in Boyd County is worth some fishing time for bass as are Keller Park Ponds 1 and 2, Tower Lake, Bessey Fish Pond on the Halsey National Forest and Melham Park Lake at Broken Bow.

"There are a few small Sandhill lakes under 100 acres in public domain in the district," Klammer said. "West Long and Duck lakes on the Valentine Refuge are good bass lakes. Cottonwood Lake south of Merriman has a reasonably good bass population."

Bass fishermen in Nebraska's Panhandle are really on the short end of the stick when it comes to lakes. Fort Robinson State Park has about 10 ponds and a lake (Ice House) and Grabel ponds and Carter P. Johnson Lake (15 acres) that hold bass. Chadron City Reservoir (totaling 20 acres) serves up a few big bass each year, as does the Chappell Interstate Lake. The Bridgeport SRA has five sandpit lakes. Buffalo Creek WMA near Melbeta has bass, as does the Morrill Sandpits, south of Morrill, Terry's Pit at Terrytown, and Walgren Lake SRA east of Hay Springs.

For details on the public waters, check the 2005 edition of the Nebraska Fishing Guide. It is available at permit vendors, or by calling (402) 471-0641.

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