After the brutal winter we endured last year it would be futile to try to predict what Mother Nature’s plans for the balance of the winter of 2015 will be. We are either dealing with global warming, climate change, the on-set of another Ice Age, or none-of-the-above; take your pick. No matter what, we can be sure spring is just around the corner — and with it the kick-off of another season of bass fishing.
As winter retreats, and the water temperatures inch upward, both largemouth and smallmouth bass leave their deep-water lairs and slowly move toward the shallow- water spawning beds. In this pre-spawn period the fish will be highly sensitive to temperature, water clarity, and most of all the length of the photoperiod, which is the amount of sunlight received between dawn and dark.
Perhaps an easy way to measure the spawning period of the bass is by observing other fish. If the crappies are actively spawning, the bass will still be staging in slightly deeper water, and the males well begin fanning out the beds. They will move into the shallows on clear, sunny days, but will slide out into 10 to 15 feet of water on cold fronts, or when heavy winds roil the lake.
In early May, after the crappies have finished their reproductive duties, conditions will be right for the bass to begin theirs. This is when the big females move into the shallows to lay their eggs.
These fish will be very aggressively guarding their nests and will pick up just about anything that appears to be threatening. A live night crawler hooked through the head on a short shank No. 6 hook is deadly, as is a floating plastic worm on a flat head jig.
Whether you are fishing a live crawler of a plastic one, when you feel that tell tale “tap-tap-tap” on your line it is a bluegill. That means the bass spawn is just about over, and the fish will be found in heavier cover, such as emerging weed beds, piers and docks, and submerged logs and rocks.
With this general knowledge in mind, the only thing bass anglers have to concern themselves with is where to carry out their game plan. Just as Willie Sutton, a notorious thief said, “I rob banks because that is where the money is,” famous old-time bass fisherman Buck Perry steadfastly advised, “Fish where the fish are.” Although their aims were different, their practical advice was sound.
With that wisdom in mind let’s take a look at some of the more promising bass hot spots available to Kansas and Nebraska bass anglers and learn how to locate many of the others both states have to offer.
Since southern Kansas will probably warm up slightly sooner than lakes and reservoirs on the Nebraska-South Dakota border, we’ll start at the bottom and work toward the north.
The first thing Kansas bass chasers should do is visit here.
The Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife, and Tourism compiles information formulated from data collected by fisheries management biologists through their annual lake monitoring activities.
The data is separated into three categories — reservoirs (those larger than 1,200 acres), lakes (waters from 10 to 1,200 acres), and ponds (waters smaller than 10 acres) — because sampling on small water bodies may not be comparable with that on larger areas. Tables have been created for popular species and include a density rating, preferred rating, lunker rating, biggest fish, biologist’s rating, and three-year average.
Each table will identify the body of water, give a density rating of the number of quality size bass present, (12 inches or larger), preferred bass rating, (+15 inches), lunker bass, (+20 inches), largest bass sampled, biologist’s rating of the fishery, and a three-year average rating that will adjust for variances in the year-to-year sampling effort.
The bodies of water are listed in descending order with the highest density rating first. An angler judging the rating list should have in mind what type of fishing action he prefers.
For instance, the highest rated density of bass was in Lake Lenexa, with 181.25 bass per sampling, but fish over 15 inches were rated at 18.75, lunkers at 1.56, largest bass, 6.10, and a biologist’s rating of “Good.” The overall three-year density rating came in at 85.10, which usually indicates a problem sampling in one or more years.
On the other hand, Butler State Fishing Lake placed 2nd on the ratings list, with a density level of 138.24, but the preferred sized fish rating was 66.67, the lunker rating was a very respectable 9.80, and the largest fish weighed 6.59 pounds. This lake’s three-year average density rating was 136.27, and it was rated “Good” by the biologist.
So, what do you want, quantity at Lenexa, or quality from Butler State Fishing Lake? As you go down the list of rated lakes you should have no trouble finding one nearby that suits your tastes just fine.
Looking at Kansas’ reservoirs we find that Sebelius (Norton) Reservoir has an abundance of small bass, and virtually no trophy specimens, but it is rated as “Excellent.” Also bearing an “Excellent” rating is La Cygne Reservoir, whose density rating is only half that of Norton, but has a preferred rating of 47.12, and a lunker rating of 9.18, with the largest fish weighing 8.91 pounds.
The ponds listed in the tables do not hold a promise of big fish, and with few exceptions their density ratings are relatively low. But they all have some bass and would offer a few quiet hours of relaxing casting near your home. And, once you plop a lure into the water, well, you just never know what might happen.
Residents age 16 through 74 who have been legal residents of the state for 60 days immediately prior to buying a license must have a resident license in possession while fishing in Kansas.
All nonresidents 16 and older must have a valid nonresident license to fish in Kansas (unless fishing on a private pond not leased for public fishing). All licenses expire Dec. 31 each year, except five-day, lifetime, and 24-hour fishing licenses.
Nebraska bass anglers can expect their season to develop much like the one in Kansas, except a week or so later, due to slower rising water temperatures. Nebraska fishery biologists advise that some of the best bass fishing will be found in the numerous pits, ponds and small reservoirs scattered throughout the Cornhusker State.
When choosing a small body of water to fish, remember that those with an abundance of shallow water will usually hold the most bass, although not necessarily the largest. Deep, cold pits or reservoirs are not likely to harbor as large a largemouth population.
Additionally, such habitat is extremely difficult to fish due to the clarity of the water. Fish in such locations tend to be extremely skittish and difficult to successfully present a lure to. Live bait may be your best choice under such conditions.
To increase the odds in your favor, fish these ultra-clear waters under low- light conditions.
While small ponds and pits may hold large numbers of small bass, they are not known to consistently produce fish 15 inches or larger. If your goal is to do battle with some bragging-sized bruisers your chances will be much better at some of the large reservoirs and city lakes where good numbers of bass 15 inches and larger are to be found.
Some spots to key in on when choosing a bass fishing reservoir are: Grove, Hayes Center, and Rock Creek Lake. Holdrege City Lake and Papillion’s Walnut Creek Lake are also prime bass spots.
Some other major lakes and reservoirs that consistently produce bragging-sized catches of bass are: Box Butte Reservoir, Branched Oak Lake, Elwood Reservoir, Harlan County Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lake Minatare, Lewis and Clark Lake, Merritt Reservoir, Red Willow Reservoir and Sutherland Reservoir.
There are many lakes that hold good numbers of bass in the Sand Hills region, probably the most productive being Smith Lake, near Rushville.
Private pits and ponds produce some of the best bass fishing in Nebraska, and a number of these are enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program, and can be found in the Public Access Atlas.
Some of the Interstate borrow pits hold surprising numbers of largemouth bass. East Gothenburg, East Sutherland, Louisville No. 3, and Archway No. 1, near Kearney are especially productive.
Nebraska Game and Parks maintains a helpful web site that holds the fish sampling surveys conducted on an annual basis throughout the state. You can access this valuable information here.
Anglers can easily find the results of surveys for most of the state’s fishing waters. The survey will tell you what types of fish are present, and generally detail the size, depth, and quality of the fishery.
Since these surveys are conducted on an ongoing basis the results are current and present a very accurate picture of the entire fishery at each site.
Among the most unusual fisheries in any state are Nebraska’s managed lakes and ponds strung out along Interstate I-80. Largemouth bass are the main predatory species in most I-80 Lakes. Anglers have success using a myriad of live and artificial baits that mimic baitfish or crayfish.
Largemouth bass are present in all of the Interstate lakes in the central portion of Nebraska, with the exception of War Axe, which has been stocked with smallmouth bass.
Lakes with high densities of smaller bass include Windmill, Ft. Kearny, West and Middle Mormon Island, Kea Lake, Coot Shallows, and Sandy Channel No. 2.
Lakes that traditionally produce larger bass include Cheyenne, Windmill No. 1, Bassway Strip, Blue Hole West, and Sandy Channel No. 8. Most of the I-80 lakes have a 15-inch minimum length limit on black bass. Certain sites are catch and release only.
Birdwood, Fremont Slough, Cozad, West Brady and West Maxwell I-80 Lakes would be good choices for anglers interested in catching large quantities of largemouth bass but not large sizes.
Lakes that may offer a larger proportion greater than 15 inches and quantity of bass include Willow Island and East Hershey (C&R). Lakes such as Hershey and East Sutherland may offer a large proportion over 15 inches but not overall quantity.
Along the south central section of I-80 are lakes with high densities of bass, including the Windmill and Ft. Kearny Lakes, Middle Mormon Island, Kearney Interchange, North Kearney Reststop, Coot Shallows, Sandy Channel No. 2, Dogwood East, and West Cozad.
Lakes that traditionally produce larger bass include Cheyenne, Bufflehead, Blue Hole West, Sandy Channel No. 8, Willow Island, and Darr. Most of the I-80 lakes within the South Central District have a 15-inch minimum length limit on largemouth bass.
Exceptions to this include Mormon Island SRA, Cheyenne, West Wood River, War Axe, and Archway Lakes; which all have 21-inch minimum length limits. In addition, Kea West is designated as a catch and release only lake for all species.
Anglers are encouraged to practice catch and release on bass in the I-80 Lakes as they are easily over-harvested in these small lakes.
Nebraska has been blessed with a wide variety of fishing opportunities and just about every species of fresh water game fish thrives in its rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. And, for the bass fisherman, both largemouth and smallies can be found in surprising quantities in all areas of the state.
While smallmouth bass are not abundant throughout the state they can be found in surprisingly good numbers in steadily flowing streams and rivers.
Smallmouth bass love rocks, where the insects and crayfish they prey on live. Look for these hard-fighting battlers around shoreline rip-rap, or on the downstream side of rocky riffles and rock bars. The fish usually will be holding behind large boulders, or in the deep pockets carved out by the current where they can easily ambush minnows, insects, or crayfish being swept downstream.
Since smallmouth bass are accustomed to eating small critters washed along by the river’s flow, scale your lure presentations down accordingly. Jig and minnow combinations work wonderfully, as do small spinners, shallow running plugs, and even night crawlers fished under a slip bobber and floated into likely bass ambush points.
Fly rod enthusiasts will score consistently with brightly colored streamer flies and bass hair bugs.
It may take a little scouting, but some trial and error effort will pay off in a list of quality fishing holes within easy, and affordable, driving distance of your home base.