Great Plains 2011 Fishing Calendar

Great Plains 2011 Fishing Calendar

Here's everything a Great Plains angler needs to know to be in the right place at the right time.

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If you want fishing variety, the Great Plains has it. You can catch everything from trout to pike to panfish and walleye. There are places where you can go and catch a nice mess of fish for the dinner table and locations where you stand a good chance of catching a trophy for the wall.

With so many choices it's hard to decide exactly where to go. Hopefully, this calendar will give you some insights for planning your fishing excursions for 2011.

JANUARY
Valentine National Refuge Lakes, Nebraska Smorgasbord
"The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Lakes would head my list of Nebraska's top ice-fishing destinations," said Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Fisheries Outreach Program Manager Daryl Bauer. "Pelican, Dewey, Clear, Watts, Hackberry, West Long, and Duck lakes all offer excellent ice fishing." Depending on the lake, you can catch giant northerns, thick largemouth bass, jumbo yellow perch and bluegills bigger than your hand.

Special regulations on the refuge prohibit taking pike longer than 28 inches and all muskies and bass caught on Watts Lake must be released. No live minnows can be used. Combustion motors are prohibited, so anglers must hike into the lakes, but the trek can be worth it. The lakes receive a modest amount of pressure, so light line and tiny baits are required to fool the biggest panfish. The only amenities in the area are the town of Valentine, Neb., 25 miles north of the refuge.

Contact: The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge at www.fws.gov/valetine/

A Good Option
When ice conditions permit, Perry Reservoir in northeast Kansas produces some good crappie and white bass fishing.

FEBRUARY
Glen Elder Crappies
"The white crappie population has been really coming back on Glen Elder because of the higher water," shared Fisheries Biologist Tommie Beyer. Ice anglers concentrate on the west end of this 12,586-acre impoundment, which offers safe ice and current that attracts shad. Specks there average 10 to 12 inches and papermouths stretching 15 to 16 inches are common. Minnows are a hands-down favorite. Ice fishing can be good on the main lake, too, but there is little shelter and ice conditions can be iffy. Brush piles placed by the KDWP are marked with buoys and can concentrate winter crappies. A succession of good hatches means that the fishing should remain good on Glen Elder for years to come.

Contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at (620) 672-5911 for more information.

A Good Option
Trout in Kansas? Yep! Try Willow Lake at Tuttle Creek State Park. Consistent ice conditions make it a bonanza for stocked trout.

MARCH
Webster Reservoir Crappies
The ice goes off Kansas' reservoirs sometime in March. When it does, crappies begin moving into the shallows. Excellent water levels last year produced a bumper crop of young-of-the-year white crappie in Webster Reservoir. Several other strong year classes should produce some hot fishing come March.

"Webster has been refilling over the last two years, and the higher levels have jump-started the fishery," said Fisheries Biologist Steve Price. "The fish were pretty decent size last year, and it should get even better." With regard to density rating for black crappie 8 inches and above, Webster was rated the No. 1 reservoir (20.88) in the state.

Male crappies move into the shallows first. They're aggressive and readily suck in minnows suspended below a bobber or on a jig. The 3,780-acre Webster Reservoir is located eight miles west of Stockton off U.S. 24. Try the north and south shore fish attractors, the breakwaters on the north and south sides, along the dam, Rock Point Cove and Old Marina Cove.

Contact the KDWP Hays office at (785) 628-8614.

A Good Option
Kansas' 5,000-acre Kirwin Reservoir's crappie population is on the verge of exploding. After another year of good spawning success, crappie numbers should be booming.

APRIL
Lake McConaughy Walleyes
Walleyes in Nebraska's 36,000-acre Lake McConaughy begin to converge near the riprap along the dam in late March and into April. The best fishing is at night when the 'eyes move into the shallows. Anglers cast from shore or troll along the face of the dam. With everyone trying to fish the same area, it requires some patience. The rewards are walleyes in the 5- to 8-pound range and egg-laden hens pushing 15 pounds.

Stickbaits are the lure of choice. Try shallow- to medium-divers in a variety of colors and sizes. Clown is usually a good color. Make sure your hooks are extra sharp to stick light-biting fish. Often the strike is nothing more than a tick. Trollers glide along using bow-mounted trolling motors.

A Good Option
Ice-out on South Dakota's Deerfield Lake is prime time to tap its cornucopia of trout. Troll with spoons or use live bait.

MAY
Sheridan Lake Trout
At one time the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks gave up on trout in 383-acre Sheridan Lake. It seemed that as fast as they planted them, giant pike gobbled them up. Anglers discovered the big pike bonanza and, once their numbers were brought under control, the SDGFP planted trout again. And, man, have they taken hold.

A great time to sample Sheridan Lake's trout bonanza is during the state's Free Fishing Weekend in May. The trout are still in the shallows then, feeding heavily. There are a bunch of 10- to 14-inch stockers, but there are also holdover rainbows, too, that top 18 inches. Casting spinners is productive, as is trolling with spoons, fishing live bait under a bobber or flinging a fly. It's a great time to take the kids fishing.

Contact Hill City Chamber of Commerce at PO Box 253, 23935 Hwy 385, Hill City, SD 57745-0253; (800) 888-1798, 605-574-2368; or www.hillcitysd.com

A Good Option
Bass in Omaha metro-area lakes turn on in May. Try Prairie View, Zorinsky and Wehrspann lakes and sandpit lakes located next to Interstate 80.

JUNE
Waubay Lake Walleye and Perch
12,841-acre North Waubay Lake is actually a chain of 10 lak

es in northeast South Dakota that can be difficult to distinguish from each other. "Waubay Lake is another relatively new fishery," said biologist Brian Blackwell. Unheard of amounts of precipitation inundated the lakes back in the 1990s filling them to capacity and then some. The water covered roads, timber and farms and jump-started the fishery.

Waubay Lake has probably been one of the most consistent perch producers over the past 10 years," said Blackwell. "The lake has a 10-fish limit on perch and they'll average 10 inches. It has an abundant walleye population. There are now no size limit on walleye and the regular state limit of four fish with one over 20 inches applies." Hotspots for walleyes are south of the Grenville access, School Bus Point, breaks around Helwig Island and around Duck Island. Jigging and trolling with crawler harnesses both score.

Contact Sportsmart in Grenville, South Dakota at (605) 486-4641.

A Good Option
Nebraska's Lake Sutherland's walleye population is booming right now. Drifting or trolling with crawler harnesses will produce plenty of 15- to 18-inchers.

JULY
Lake Oahe Smallmouths
Most anglers, especially locals, fish South Dakota's Lake Oahe for walleye or salmon. That was Burt Harris's intention, but when the walleyes and salmon aren't biting, the smallmouth bass will. "The smallmouth bass fishing was incredible in July," said Harris. "All we did was look for rocky points and then cast white or chartreuse tube jigs. The majority of fish were between 15 and 20 inches. They really saved the day and we had a blast."

Good access points on Oahe can be found at Spring Creek and Cow Creek. Just fish the points north and south of the access in up to 20 feet of water. If jigs aren't producing, try covering water with crankbaits. Other hotspots include Shaw Creek, Blackhawk Creek, Jones Bay and Nystrom's Bay.

A Good Option
The Black Hills of South Dakota have many quality trout streams. Castle Creek is one that fishes well. Try slapping hopper patterns along the many fish hides.

AUGUST
Platte River Cats
Higher water levels on Lake McConaughy have made fishing the Platte River much easier. Where the river was once flat and inches deep, it's now possible to run a motor without grounding. Then it's a simple matter of finding cuts in the bends of the river channels. Most times that means water 6-feet deep or more. Current breaks, like logjams, points or islands, will help concentrate the cats. Plunking baits in the hole with enough weight to keep it stationary. The catfish love nightcrawlers, chicken livers and commercial catfish baits, but the hands-down favorite is shad sides that can be bought at local bait shops. Thread those on a good-sized hook, position yourself in the shade and wait for the rod to start jumping. It's a great way to spend a dog-day afternoon and acquire the fixin's for a fish fry.

A Good Option
White bass and wipers can save the day at Nebraska's Blanched Oak Reservoir. Keep moving, look for surface activity and cast crankbaits or Beetle Spins.

SEPTEMBER
Harlan County Crappies
Harlan County Reservoir is an up-and-coming crappie fishery that bears watching. As the waters begin to cool in September, the crappies move shallow again and anglers can fill buckets.

"Harlan County Reservoir was extremely low for a number of years," stated South-Central District Fisheries Biologist Brad Eifert. "Now that the waters levels have come back up, the crappies population has exploded. During our recent survey we found a lot of crappies 8 to 9 inches or less. Harlan should provide some decent fishing this year and great fishing in the future.

Like crappies everywhere, Harlan's specks love minnows. Set several rods at various depths and drift until you make contact. If you find a good school, you can then switch to jigs and set about filling your stringer.

A Good Option
Lewis & Clark Lake doesn't get the attention of the reservoirs farther upstream. As waters cool in September, look for the lake to produce good catches of walleye, smallmouths, pike and crappie.

OCTOBER
Sherman Reservoir
Most sportsmen are thinking about hunting by October, but those that don't put their rods away will find some great fall fishing on Sherman Reservoir north of Kearney. At 2,845-acres, Sherman is one of the premier crappie and walleye waters in Nebraska. It sports a special 10-inch minimum size length on crappies and an 18-inch minimum size limit on walleyes. Only one of the walleyes may exceed 22 inches. Big northern pike are an added bonus.

A canal off of the Middle Loup River maintains Sherman Reservoir. It provides a consistent, constant source of water, something most Nebraska waters can't depend on. Two arms, the Dead Horse Creek Arm and the Moon Creek Arm, extend off the east side of Sherman Reservoir. Both are good places to begin your search for crappies. The arms contain many shallow coves, cuts and bays that attract specks as the waters cool. Look for schools of crappie anywhere you can find timber, too. Walleyes can be found in the 15- to 25-foot depths and near the dam as fall progresses.

A Good Option
Nebraska's Merritt Reservoir sees plenty of anglers all summer, but few in the fall. October is prime time for the lake's bounty of predators.

NOVEMBER
Nelson Lake Bass
Even though the November weather might be cold, the bassin' on Nelson Lake will be hot. Nelson Lake is located in west-central North Dakota near the community of Center. This 573-acre lake is a cooling lake. Bass congregate near the outlet where the discharge pumps out water that is usually substantially warmer than the main lake. Because the water temperature is warm all year round, the bass grow 12 months of the year. That's probably why the state-record largemouth is from Nelson Lake. Bass in the 5-pound range are routine.

The warm water attracts baitfish that the bass gorge on. Cast crankbaits or pitch tubes that imitate shad.

A Good Option
It may be chilly, but the crowds will be gone and you'll have the walleyes all to yourself on Angostura Reservoir.

DECEMBER
Devils Lake Walleyes
First ice comes early to North Dakota's Devils Lake. North Dakota Game and Fish Department Fisheries Chief Greg Power said, "It's still our number-one destination for ice fishing. It still has some perch, but it's more of a walleye and pike fishery now. There are lots of predators and good natural reproduction, which tends to keep the perch numbers down."

Power said the predator explosion has paralleled higher water levels that have freshened the lake, flooded vegetation and lowered its salinity. Now the lake's fish populations are maintained solely by natural reproduction. It's been a win-win situation for everything except the perch. There is an abundance of walleyes in the lake right now with several strong year

classes. Walleyes in the 14- to 20-inch size range are very common and there are plenty of 25- to 30-inch trophies. Northern pike are doing equally well and they range from hammer handles to 20-pound leviathans.

For more information on ice-fishing opportunities, amenities and guides, contact www.tourism.devilslakend.com

A Good Option
Look for hot first-ice pike action on Lake Thompson, Lake Whitewood and Lake Preston in South Dakota. The northern run three to 15 pounds.

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