The Great Plains states of Nebraska and Kansas each offer tremendous bass fishing opportunities, and fishery divisions are making the most of each state’s bass hotspots. Anglers have ample opportunities to target both smallmouth and largemouth bass populations in both states.
Across this region, smallmouth bass populations are starting to turn heads, notably on several Kansas reservoirs and Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy.
There are also more obscure bass fishing opportunities in both states that typically require more research and exploration. Both states provide accurate online resources for researching fishing opportunities, particularly on small pond and pit lakes that often fly under the radar. Some of this regions best largemouth bass fishing can be found on tiny lakes that are either community lakes or borrow pits, notable examples include the Omaha city lakes and the I-80 Interstate Lakes of Nebraska along with small gems like Kansas’s McPherson or Nebo lakes.
Lake McConaughy is currently renowned as a top tier walleye fishery. Wipers and white bass have also attracted a lot of attention, but Big Mac has also quietly developed into one of Nebraska’s best smallmouth bass fisheries. Dave Tunink, of Nebraska Game and Parks, points to McConaughy as Nebraska’s best smallmouth bass fishery for this upcoming 2017 season. High water in recent years has aided in recruitment, and the south shore on the west end of this reservoir has great smallmouth bass habitat in the form of rock and boulders. Anglers often find numbers of smallmouth bass up to 18 inches.
Other reservoirs that historically provide good smallmouth bass fishing include Elwood Reservoir, Johnson Reservoir, Red Willow Reservoir and Merritt Reservoir along with the Tri-County canal system that stretches from Kearney to North Platte. Nebraska guide Steve Lytle believes Red Willow in particular is a reservoir to keep an eye on. In 2010, the water was lowered over 30 feet to repair the dam. The water came back in 2013, flooding a lot of terrestrial vegetation that had grown along the shoreline. This flooded vegetation has helped largemouth bass, in particular, and Lytle is finding large numbers of bass that should increase in size each season.
Good smallmouth bass fishing can be found on Lewis and Clark Reservoir and the Missouri River stretch from below Fort Randall Dam to the area above the Niobrara Delta. There is also a population of smallmouth bass from the Gavins Point Dam down to Sioux City, where the channelization begins. While this stretch of river is not specifically managed for bass, there is a strong self sustaining population of smallmouth bass along with some overlooked largemouth bass that bass anglers often target.
The sandhill lakes near Valentine are consistently regarded as some of Nebraska’s best largemouth bass fisheries. There have been several improvements on ramps and roads in recent years. These shallow dish-bowl lakes grow a healthy and robust largemouth population.
According to Dave Tunink, Duck Lake and West Long Lake are historically two of the best lakes for largemouth bass, but Pelican, Hackberry and Dewey Lake are also notable. When fishing sandhill lakes, take note of the species stocked in a particular lake because many of these lakes also have northern pike, which will necessitate a steel or titanium leader. Tunink noted that the spring is prime time to target bass on these lakes because these shallow lakes often become more difficult to fish when the vegetation comes up.
Nebraska also has many up and coming largemouth bass fisheries as a result of a great working relationship between the Nebraska Game and Parks and the local Natural Resource Districts that work together to renovate and build new lakes and wetland complexes for flood control. New strategies include leaving standing timber for fish habitat and planting brush piles or shaping the bottom of the lake for more fish structure.
Tunink is excited about the potential for many of these new lake projects and points out Maple Creek and Kramper Lake as two new fisheries to keep an eye on for upcoming seasons. Maple Creek is 154 acres, while Kramper Lake is 200 acres. These lakes were created with largemouth bass habitat in mind and should contribute tremendously to the Nebraska bass fishing scene in the upcoming years.
Another newly renovated lake is Lake Yankton on the Nebraska/South Dakota border. This new lake has a very high population of largemouth bass that are only a few years old at this point but is an excellent opportunity for kids or for anglers looking to catch a lot of fish. Yankton Lake.
Some of the very best largemouth bass fishing in Nebraska for big fish often occurs on small lakes that are less than 200 acres. Burchard Lake, at only 150 acres, historically produced some very high-quality bass. Summit Lake near Tekamah is another 200-acre lake that has held some good bass. But there are hundreds of similar small lakes scattered across eastern Nebraska. Along I-80, there are many state managed lakes collectively regarded as the Interstate Lakes. These lakes vary in size but were created during the construction of I-80 for gravel and fill. Many of these Interstate Lakes have good bass fishing. Nebraska’s state-record largemouth, which topped 10 pounds, was caught from a small gravel pit.
Both Omaha and Lincoln also have several small community lakes like Wehrspann Lake, Zorinsky Lake and Branched Oak Lake. These lakes see a tremendous amount of pressure but can still provide an easy to access quality largemouth bass fishing opportunity for many people. Get the lowdown for small lakes in Nebraska each season by visiting the Nebraska Game and Parks website, www.outdoornebraska.gov.
A relatively new development in the Kansas bass fishing scene is the success of the smallmouth bass populations in many of the larger reservoirs. Over the past 10 years, smallmouth bass have provided some great opportunities for Kansas bass anglers. Many of the state’s larger reservoirs contain ideal smallmouth bass habitat that includes boulders and rock and less than ideal largemouth bass habitat due to water fluctuations, lack of vegetation and siltation.
Like the state of Nebraska, however, Kansas also boasts several small community lakes, pits and dugout ponds that can provide big time largemouth bass fishing on really small water. In fact, historically some of the best largemouth bass fishing in Kansas can often take place on very small ponds that often require an angler to use a kayak or belly boat.
According to Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries program specialist David Breth, Coffey County Lake remains one of the best bass fisheries in the state.
This power plant lake has notoriously clear water that bodes well for smallmouth bass populations. Located near Burlington, this unique lake has strict limits on predatory fish to suppress the high population of gizzard shad. This cooling lake is home to large populations of smallmouth bass up to 18 inches and also includes a stable population of largemouth bass.
Smallmouths can often be found relating to rock and riprap and along points and ledges. Cast jigs tipped with white soft plastic grub bodies or fluke tails to catch, not only smallmouth bass, but also largemouth bass, white bass and wipers. This lake is open year round because of the warm water discharge but is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas and may be closed because of high winds. Life jackets are required to be worn when fishing Coffey County Lake.
Kansas guide Brian Ondrejka noted that, while Coffey County Lake is a popular winter fishery due to the warm water discharge, don’t overlook the summer fishing opportunities.
“The south side of Coffey County Lake away from the discharge offers cooler water temperatures during the summer and anglers can catch a lot of fish long after the crowds leave,” explained Ondrejka.
Ondrejka advised summer anglers to target bass by fishing the open weed edges and pockets.
“We often find the biggest bass during the summer on Coffey County Lake buried in these thick weeds, but we often get the fish to bite by working the edges with Chatter Baits or spinnerbaits,” added Ondrejka.
Kansas’s largest reservoir at 16,000 acres, Milford Lake has historically boasted one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in the state. Home of the state-record smallmouth bass at 6.88 pounds caught in 2010, this lake still holds great potential for top end fish, according to David Breth. Smallmouth bass populations have dropped off over the past few years, but this fishery remains a solid bet for anglers looking to target bigger fish.
Focus for smallmouths near the dam or on the lower end of the reservoir where there is rock on the main lake. Jigs and soft plastics along with Ned rigs work well. Topwater baits can also work surprisingly well early and late in the day.
Look for largemouth bass in the pockets and the northern end of the lake where there is cover. Milford Lake also has some spotted bass, particularly around the marina docks.
Fisheries program specialist David Breth points to Melvern Lake, located south of Topeka, as a fishery that is coming on strong. This body of water is unique in that it holds strong populations of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and spotted bass … bass fishing’s trifecta. This lake currently holds a lot of 2- to 3-pound bass that are getting bigger each year. Smallmouth bass can often be found along the rocks near the dam and marina or along riprap areas. Anglers can often find all three bass species set up within the coves or relating to points and other deep structure. Anglers often cast jerkbaits along shallow riprap or jig worms off deeper rock points to catch smallmouths.
Ondrejka believes Melvern Lake is one of the best bass lakes in Kansas right now because of the booming smallmouth bass population. Ondrejka reported that smallmouth bass up to the 5-pound mark are possible.
“Melvern is somewhat unique from some other Kansas reservoirs because the water is fairly clear because of zebra mussels. I typically use braid when fishing both tube jigs and Ned rigs but really feel it is important to use a four- to six-foot leader of fluorocarbon in this clear water when targeting smallmouths. Melvern Lake really does offer both numbers of fish along with size,” added Ondrejka.
El Dorado Lake in Butler County is another top Kansas pick for quality smallmouth bass, with fish up to 5 pounds possible. La Cygne Reservoir is another power plant lake that has historically produced many the biggest largemouth bass in the state.
Like Nebraska, some of the best fishing for largemouth bass in Kansas is on small lakes that are fewer than 200 acres in size. McPherson Lake is a small water near Canton that traditionally produces some really nice bass. Nebo Lake is another tiny 38-acre lake that offers a lot of brush and cover for large mouths. Other top bass lakes include Butler Lake in Butler County. A great resource to research small water opportunities is the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website, www.ksoutdoors.com.
We’ve highlighted some of the many great fishing spots available to anglers across the southern Great Plains states. Now it’s time for you to explore one of these waters or another bass hotspot near you.