Top Spots for Great Plains Fishing in 2012
February 22, 2012
"There are always fish to catch," says Nebraska Game and Parks Biologist Daryl Bauer. And I fully agree. Read on to see proof.
Valentine NWR, NE
"Cut holes, and lots of them," said Bauer. "If you're not catching fish, move." At the refuge it is no different. Start your day with a Swedish pimple tipped with a waxworm for the chance at big panfish, largemouth bass and northern pike. Pelican, Dewey and Hackberry lakes will be strong again, but I would never pass on Clear Lake, either.
For a second option, look at Swan Lake in South Dakota. Schools of yellow perch can be found by using minnows and jigs.
Lastly, stay close to the Omaha metro at Summit Lake, where big bluegills are available on the multitude of both shallow and deep underwater structure throughout the lake.
Glen Elder, KS
"There are some big crappies at Glen Elder," said perennial ice-angler Monte Mares. "Last year, we were trying to jig our waxworms in 10 feet of water, but rarely did our jig make it to that depth before we got a bite." Also, Mares added, "fish were schooled under snow piles trying to stay out of the sun, and there were a lot of them." However, if ice isn't on Glen Elder, fish the shallow coves using the same lures under bobbers for crappies trying to spawn.
Second, look at Bittern Lake in South Dakota, where you'll be fishing for quality, not quantity. Look for trophy walleye, northern pike and yellow perch under the ice at this destination that was mostly snow-covered in 2011.
For a third choice, fish Kansas' best reservoir largemouth fishery, La Cygne, in open water while the rest of the world is still frozen.
Devils Lake, ND
"Devils is a walleye factory," North Dakota Game and Fish Biologist Scott Gangl said. "We're seeing a ton of fish in the 14- to 20-inch range," said Gangl, "and they grow very fast on a diet of plankton and freshwater shrimp."
"Fish mid-lake humps and submerged roadbeds," said guide Jason Feldner. "Put out tip-ups with fatheads while also hole-bouncing using spoons until you find the spot on the spot."
For a second option, look south at the I-80 lake system in Nebraska. Bluegills are popular fish both through the ice and on soft water, and can be caught on the dozens of lakes within a stone's throw of the interstate.
Lastly, while all of South Dakota has seen tremendous reproduction of its northern pike population, said Gangl, Lake Sakakawea is a great place to start. "Right before ice-out, these fish are drawn into the shallow areas and creeks and can be very active."
Mid-Sized Lakes, KS
In 2011, there were 39 lakes and ponds throughout the state that had higher density ratings than Kansas' most popular largemouth destination, La Cygne. Translation: go small for both big numbers and a chance for big bass in Kansas, especially this month, by viewing these fish surveys, and mapping your next bass fishing trip. And even though there are still some cool days this time of year, don't slow your presentation down until the fish convince you it's necessary.
For another option, look at Nebraska's Lake Ogallala rainbow trout fishery. I'm nearly tired of seeing the umpteen photos of nice trout caught with light spinning tackle or on the fly at this lake.
Third, travel south to 144-acre Kingman Lake in south central Kansas for some early-season pike action.
A look at the top spots for Great Plains fishing for May, June, July and August can be found on page two
Goose Lake, NE
While numbers of both northern pike and largemouth bass can be caught at this southeastern sandhill lake throughout the entire summer, fish this clear-water lake before its aquatic vegetation takes over by mid-June. Use spinnerbaits and look no further than cattail and bulrush edges for toothy critters and lunkers, running these options just beneath the surface. Chartreuse or white are always solid colors, but don't sleep on black in this super-clear water for the chance at largemouth above 20 inches and pike exceeding 40.
A second choice is the Missouri River system above and below Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota/Nebraska border. With record flooding in 2010, reproduction has been tremendous. Channel catfishing could be spectacular.
My last selection is Heart Butte Reservoir in North Dakota. With a good population of eater-sized walleyes after a strong 2009 year-class, this spot will start the open-water walleye season very nicely.
Sebelius Reservoir, KS
While Sebelius Reservoir is a perennial favorite for crappie fishermen, this multi-species fishery is fantastic for a number of bites this time of year. "Fish the windblown areas for saugeyes and walleyes," said angler Brian Robinson, "with some of the best areas being breaks and shallow water with access to much deeper water." Jig/plastic combos and crankbaits are productive during this time, he added, as is live bait.
For those interested strictly in crappies, Robinson suggested multiple techniques. "You can fish near the buoys with jig or minnow/bobber combinations or search for bigger crappies by trolling crankbaits." But don't be surprised if you happen to run into a saugeye or wiper while using this deadly technique.
Stay in Kansas for my No. 1a choice: Norton. Saugeyes, and lots of saugeyes, can be found in the 15- to 18-inch range.
However, if one ever desired to leave Kansas to fish, look at Nebraska's Elwood Reservoir. "Target wipers near the dam at Elwood by night fishing with floating lights," added Robinson. "Using the existing forage, shad or alewives, will work, but also consider catching these predators near the lights using nightcrawlers, minnows, crankbait imitations or topwater lures near the shore."
Or fish during the daytime at Elwood, said angler Doug Steinke. "Anyone with a spinnerbait or a jig who can find points and keep these lures above the submerged trees can find perch, pike and largemouth in this gin-clear water."
Custer State Park, SD
With four mountain lakes and multiple streams, Custer State Park offers several options for the most experienced — or inexperienced — of trout anglers. Rainbows, brooks and browns can be found and caught on the fly or with light spinning tackle, including a small Mepps No. 1. And make sure you bring hiking boots to get you off the beaten path for your own private portion of a South Dakota stream or two.
Either bank or boat fish this month at Lake Darling in North Dakota. Walleye can be caught on a variety of techniques, including using 'crawlers or leaches or even pulling Shad Raps.
In addition, Mares spoke kindly of South Dakota. "This state is amazing for walleyes right now," said Mares. "This time of year, look for fish in the 18- to 22-inch range on Oahe, near Pierre."
Milford Reservoir, KS
"There is a great August bite on Milford every year," said angler Randy Meeriam, "For white bass and wipers, we vertical jig, drift and cast to catch our fish, and numbers can total into the hundreds on each trip we make."
While Meeriam's experience obviously aids these trips, he also relies on age-old techniques to find fish. "This year, about 60 percent of the time we were chasing baitfish," he said. "The rest of the time we were fishing points and drop-offs with slabs and shad-colored Kastmasters. And the hotter and more middle of the day it was, the better."
This month, one could also wiper fish at Nebraska's Calamus Reservoir. "Chug-bugs, Pop-Rs, swimbaits and jigs," said Bauer, "can land you into some serious wiper action this time of year at this mid-sized reservoir."
Or, for a third option, go back to Devils Lake for some open water walleye action. "You can anchor on humps and slip-bobber for fish, pull spinners on roadbeds or weed edges, or cast crankbaits on windblown shorelines and sharp drop-offs," said guide Feldner.
Discover the top spots for Great Plains fishing for September, October, November and December on page three
Red River, ND
"September channel catfishing on the Red River is often like catfishing in the spring up here," said fishing guide Brad Durick. "The fish are stocking up in the spring, readying for spawn, and they're stocking up this time of year preparing for winter."
If water is low, catch these fish in holes and drop-offs. If the water is high, as it has been the last couple of years, look for backwater pockets and shallow water near drop-offs. "But don't underestimate a catfish's ability to fight current," added Durick. "We caught some excellent catfish last year fighting current the entire time."
Catch these fish with traditional cut baits, including goldeyes or suckers, and also try to match the hatch throughout the year much like you would for any other game species. "This time of year, we start switching our baits to frogs," said Durick.
For another locale, "Look for rocks, current and clear water at Nebraska's Johnson Lake for smallies, experimenting at different depths with crankbaits and jig/plastic combinations," said angler Brian Robinson. "Quickly cranking back baits such as Bandit's 100 series and Rapala's DT series is a good way to cover lots of water and find the active fish."
And for a third, stay in Nebraska to fish the Tri-County Canal for trophy flatheads in late August and early September. Wait for the sun to set and find deep holes near shallow water using live baits, including goldfish, drum and bluegills.
Merritt Reservoir, NE
"I like fishing for big fish," said Bauer, "and in the fall there's no place better in this region than Merritt." While numbers might evade you in this popular fishing destination, the chance of a big fish will not. Muskies, northern pike, walleyes, smallmouth bass and channel catfish are for the taking at this 2,900-acre reservoir. "A reason why these fish are sometimes difficult to catch is the amount of natural prey in the water," said Bauer, "but targeting these big fish by going naturally-colored with your lure selections will help."
Second, go deep into the trees at Lake Mac for a tutorial on graduate level walleye fishing. Tough fishing is present, as are big fish before winter
Third, travel to the South Dakota/Nebraska border and snag a paddlefish on the Missouri River.
Roy Lake, SD
"It never fails," said resort owner Jan Pitzl, "fish are on the feed here for the few who fish the lake in October and early November." Smallmouth, walleye and northern pike are the fish of choice, on both chubs and artificial options.
At Roy, which gives you a vast number of cover options, including bulrush, submergent and emergent timber and contour changes, finding fish is a matter of searching for a pattern. Another option is to keep topwater plugs or floating soft plastics near these cover options for multi-species action, including walleyes.
In addition, while Glen Elder gets the brunt of the smallmouth attention in the state, don't overlook Wilson Reservoir, whose density of smallies was nearly as high in last year's KDWP fish surveys as trophy fishery Glen Elder.
Lastly, catch a state-record fish at the Garrison Tailraces in North Dakota. Trout, walleye, salmon, sauger, channel catfish and other species have a constant food source coming out of the dam, and it always seems to produce big fish throughout the year, including this month.
Waubay Lake, SD
"Great ice-fishing is everywhere in South Dakota," said Mares, "and will especially be this year because of weather last winter." A particularly good lake should be Waubay. "Unless you had a snowmobile," Mares added, "you weren't fishing this lake last year." For a sleeper pick, look no further than this lake for excellent yellow perch and walleye fishing through the ice.
For a second option, fish for crappies at Nebraska's Branched Oak Reservoir. Find the submerged timber near the dam and you'll find fish.
Finally, go somewhere new and fish Belle Fourche Reservoir for walleyes in the western part of the state to end out your year.
And then get ready to do it all over again in 2013.