Lower Plains bass fishing in Kansas and Nebraska offers some excellent bass angling opportunities in the coming months, and these are some of the best.
By Ryan Miloshewski
Often overshadowed by their neighbor state of Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska have many a water bass fishermen can ply for sizeable largemouths and bronzebacks.
Although there is no Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, or Table Rock, Kansas and Nebraska can stack up against the best in the region when it comes to putting quality bass in the boat.
The Sunflower State has many productive lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and ponds fishermen can target. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is constantly trying to improve habitat, size and quality of their resident black bass.
Lucas Kowaleski, a fisheries biologist with KDWPT, offered some insight on the overall state of Kansas bass fishing. Anglers can expect good to excellent angling opportunities.
Kowaleski noted that, as an agency KDWPT “has many programs geared towards improving the quality of bass fishing across the state.”
The biologist detailed a current KDWPT research project aimed at evaluating stocking of early-spawned largemouth bass.
“The idea behind the project is advanced sized largemouth bass will be large enough at the time of stocking to immediately begin feeding on the abundant forage fish available (e.g., gizzard shad), giving the stocked largemouth bass the best chance for increased growth and survival through first year,” he said. “The early-spawned largemouth bass are produced at a rearing facility at the Meade State Fish Hatchery.” Beginning in 2013, the majority of advanced-sized fish have been stocked in Hillsdale, Clinton, and Melvern reservoirs, but several other waterbodies (including El Dorado, Kanopolis, and Perry) have been stocked as well.
To go along with this project, KDWPT has been adding Georgia Cubes, which are synthetic fish habitats, to numerous statewide waterbodies. The “Georgia Cubes were originally designed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and consist of black corrugated pipe on a PVC frame in the shape of a cube three feet tall, four feet wide, and four feet deep. Kowlaeski clarified: “These structures quickly accumulate periphyton, a complex mix of algae, fungi, and bacteria, which in turn attracts insects and baitfish.”
According to Kowaleski, the Georgia Cubes have numerous advantages compared to traditional added habitat structures like cedar trees or other natural structure.
“They are cost efficient, easy to place, and will last up to three times longer than natural brush piles with no deleterious effects on water quality,” he added. Based on sonar and underwater video images, the KDWPT saw fish holding to the cubes as well as if not better than natural structures.
Where to Fish
Kansas bass anglers are in luck when it comes to places to fish this spring and summer. Reservoirs, ponds, and smaller bodies of water dot the plains, Flint Hills, and metro regions.
When it comes tol largemouth bass, Kowaleski noted his top three places to target the species. The top pick overall is Butler State Fishing Lake in Butler County, he noted.
“You can’t beat it for abundance and population size structure,” he explained. “Proportionally, it has greatest number of largemouth larger than 20 inches in the state.”
Anglers in early spring and summer should target vegetation edges with soft plastics or spinnerbaits lake-wide to set the hook in one of the 20-inch lunkers living in the lake.
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Coming in at number two on his list is La Cygne Reservoir. “La Cygne has a great abundance of largemouths, as well as very good trophy fish potential,” he stated. Kowaleski believes bass greater than 8 pounds are a real potential at La Cygne. This past April, an unnamed tournament angler caught a 10-pound behemoth on his first cast of the day. Big largemouths reside in La Cygne, and anglers should focus on the numerous bluff banks, weedbeds, and long riprap structures it possesses. Kowaleski recommends throwing shad-imitation baits or swimbaits year-round for optimum success.
To round out the top three, Kowaleski puts northwestern Kansas’ Sebelius Reservoir and other smaller bodies of water on his list.
“There is a great abundance of largemouth and very low pressure at Sebelius,” he advised. Low pressure and high fish numbers add up to great potential. Kowaleski’s honorable mention for smaller waterbodies he categorizes as “hidden gems” include Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No. 1, which has the highest catch rate for all waterbodies, a smaller population size structure, and numerous 12- to 15-inch fish. Lake Garnett, Crystal Lake, and Cowley State Fishing Lake are all very good as well.
If anglers want to target smallmouth bass, Kowaleski recommends the bigger reservoirs across the state. Coffey County Lake outside of Emporia is his top pick. With an ample population and size structure, it offers the best shot at a bronzeback over 17 inches. Usual baits like jigs, crankbaits, or Ned rigs thrown into the riprap and over deeper points will produce the best results. El Dorado and Melvern are also top destinations for smallmouth fishing. The guys and gals at K&K Fly Fishers in Overland Park target smallmouths on the rock points in the early summer using crawfish imitation flies. In 2017, many a 5- and 6-pound smallie was landed.
For more information, the KDWPT website (ksoutdoors.com) has an abundance of resources for anglers to prep for successful fishing outings. Downloadable coordinates of GPS locations of fish attractors and artificial fish in select Kansas waterbodies are included.
With annual fishing forecasts for popular sportfish, current fishing reports for many area waterbodies, up to date regulation information, and maps or atlases for all public waterbodies open to fishing, anglers can be as informed as ever.
The Cornhusker State is no slouch when it comes to bass fishing, either. Home to multiple great reservoirs and the Missouri River, largemouth and smallmouth destinations are no secret.
“Nebraska has some very good opportunities for black bass, mostly for largemouth bass,” Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said. “Our best largemouth habitats are those with relatively stable water levels, relatively clean water and lots of shallow-water cover, especially aquatic vegetation.”
Based on this, the pits, ponds, and small-to-medium-size reservoirs statewide provide our best largemouth bass fishing, according to Bauer. “Don’t sleep on some of our sandhill lakes, though — they consistently produce some big, fat, beautiful largemouth bass,” Bauer advised.
If anglers are after the brown bass of the state, the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska is the best fishery by far.
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“From Gavins Point Dam upstream into South Dakota, a good number of smallmouth bass live and thrive,” Bauer noted. He also said downstream of Gavins Point Dam in the “non-channelized” section of the river down to Ponca is a hotspot. In addition to the Mighty Mo, some of the larger irrigation reservoirs that have rocky habitat where some smallmouth bass reside can be productive. Bauer explained biologists have discovered smallmouths can and will do well in pit and pond habitats if they do not have to compete with largemouth bass for forage. Some strip pits and ponds have populations of just smallmouth, and they can be quality fish.
Outside of those waterbodies, bigger lakes hold ample populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
“If you are looking for waters with some acreage, Wanahoo, Iron Horse Trail, and Buckskin Hills would be the best bets,” Bauer explained. For smallmouth, the aforementioned Missouri River in northeast Nebraska is tops, followed by Lake McConaughy and Johnson Lake, Bauer said.
What to Use
Your usual go-to lures will and do work at Nebraska’s top bass waters.
“Spinnerbaits are versatile baits that will work in a variety of situations at a variety of times,” Bauer said. “I would add that the scum frog bite is particularly good on Nebraska waters because, especially in our small waters, bass sure like to eat frogs all summer long — and the frogs are there.” Aside from those two, Bauer suggest using your favorite plastic worm or jig. “Those are hard to beat in a variety of bass fishing situations around Nebraska all year,” he advised.
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For smallmouth bass on the waters listed, jigs would be at the top of Bauer’s list. “Jigs imitating crayfish and open-water baitfish like gizzard shad cannot be beat,” he said. Crankbaits in crayfish and baitfish patterns are a top pick, too. “Of course, don’t forget the topwaters! Buzzbaits, Zara Spooks, Whopper Ploppers, and just twitching a plastic fluke on the surface can be deadly,” Bauer stated.
When to Fish
I have caught my biggest fish in the cold, dreary days of February and March in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. Nebraska is no different. According to Bauer, if you want big bass, early spring is when the biggest bass are caught in the state.
“As soon as we get some warm days after the ice-out, some big pre-spawn females are looking to feed to prep for the labors ahead,” Bauer explained.
During the summer and after the spawn provides good consistent action for numbers of fish, with an occasional big fish. If you’re willing to brave the heat, the hot action can continue right through July and August. Bauer explained how important fall can be, too, for catching big Nebraska bass. “Once fall rolls around, fishing pressure drops significantly, and another window of opportunity for big bass picks up and continues right into November,” he went on to say.
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Recently, fishing pressure has become a factor in Nebraska’s bass fishing, much like other reservoirs and states around the country.
“There are no secrets anymore, and I would not tell you that any fishery in the state is a secret or ‘overlooked’ for any species of fish,” Bauer cautioned. Wanahoo, which is between Lincoln and Omaha, is hammered by avid bass anglers. Iron Horse Trail sits in the southeast corner of Nebraska, and, because the fishery is peaking after a complete aquatic habitat rehabilitation project, pressure is high, Bauer advised. Buckskin Hills has been a perennially good fishery in northeast Nebraska for a long time and, even with pressure, continues to produce.
“The Missouri River in northeast Nebraska is no secret, but it is a relatively ‘wild’ stretch of river that intimidates some anglers,” Bauer added. McConaughy is big water better known for its walleye fishery, so bass fishing pressure is not as felt as the others. “Johnson Lake, too, is better known for walleyes and is a summer playground for a variety of water activities. But there are some good smallies in it, and it should not be overlooked,” Bauer concluded.
Each year, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission produces a fishing forecast highlighting the best fisheries for a variety of species for the coming year. The information can be found online on the department website.