2017 Great Plains Fishing Forecast
January 26, 2017
The Great Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota offer a tremendous variety of fishing opportunities. A diverse terrain that combines a drastically varying climate combines to create an assortment of angling treasures. From renowned ice-fishing for panfish in the Dakotas to reservoirs celebrated for striped bass and wipers in Nebraska and Kansas, this region truly has it all.
A wide variety of species are available for anglers, and the vast geographical area of the plains states offers many noteworthy angling opportunities that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. Each month offers several peaking fishery options, and we have highlighted some of the best places to fish this season based on time of year.
Because we are blessed in this region with so much diversity, I challenge you as an angler to experience something new or different. Over this upcoming year, there will be plenty of great chances to explore what may seem new or exotic.
Remember as well that you can often experience incredible fishing by targeting fish species that might not get a lot of attention from local anglers. We can sometimes experience some outstanding fishing options by just crossing a couple of state lines. Let's take a look at some of the top choices now for the Great Plains region.
JANUARY - Bitter Lake Walleyes
South Dakota's largest natural lake, Biter Lake is a solid bet for numbers of eater walleye and remains one of the region's most popular fisheries. The lake is full of 14- to 17-inch walleyes that make great table fare. Focus on any of the primary reefs or points in 10 to 25 feet of water, expect hot action after the sun goes down.
Besides Bitter Lake, the entire region offers hundreds of new lakes that have been peaking in recent years, and ice-anglers willing to put in the work are often rewarded with not only walleyes but also gigantic jumbo perch up to 15 inches.
Other Options: Valentine NWR in the Sandhills of Nebraska is a perennial favorite for panfish at first ice. These shallow dish bowl lakes are extremely productive for bluegills, crappies and jumbo perch but also for some big pike and bass. Shallow weedlines are often the ticket. For solid winter perch fishing, try Poinsett Lake in eastern South Dakota. Run and gun the fourteen-foot mud flats to find big schools of 10- to 12-inch fish.
FEBRUARY - Coffey County Lake Smallmouths
This Kansas cooling lake often kicks in during late winter, although hazardous winter conditions can shut down access. One of the best smallmouth bass lakes in Kansas, focus on pitching the riprap embankments with soft plastics.
Other Options: Pactola Lake located in South Dakota's Black Hills is one of the only opportunities in the Great Plains to ice-fish for lake trout. Anglers often find lakers relating to deep main lake points. Nelson Lake in western North Dakota is another cooling lake that traditionally produces some of the state's top largemouth bass fishing, and late winter is prime time.
MARCH - Lake Oahe Northern Pike
This massive South Dakota impoundment on the Missouri River has several strong year classes of pike that range between 30 and 40 inches, with some bigger fish a real possibility. Late-ice is prime time to target these winter predators in the back ends of most of the major creek arms and bays that enter the lake. Tip-ups with dead bait, such as frozen herring or smelt, catch some really big fish. Don't discount the shallow areas here. It's not uncommon to find fish in 5 feet of water.
Other Options: Devils Lake in North Dakota has no closed season on walleyes, and the late-ice walleye fishing is often hot. Focus on shallow shoreline breaks that have sand, rock or flooded timber. Nebraska's Swanson Reservoir is a top location for white bass.
APRIL - Lake Francis Case Walleyes
This South Dakota reservoir is one of the region's best spring walleye bites for high numbers of fish. Troll crankbaits with either lead core or snap weights along the bluff walls or along the edges of the old river channel. Pitch jigs along the rip rap and bluff walls when the fish move up to spawn.
Other Options: The top end of Lake Oahe below Bismarck, N.D., has had a tremendous crappie bite in recent years at late-ice. Focus on flooded brush piles and channel edges in Beaver and Porcupine Bay. Trophy pike can often be caught fishing from the bank right at ice-out on North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea.
MAY - Lake Oahe Walleyes
The upper end of Lake Oahe from the ND/SD state line all the way to Bismarck is hot during early summer for numbers of walleyes, with big fish a possibility. Use bottom bouncers and slow death or troll crankbaits on primary points and structure near the mouths of the major incoming tributaries.
Other Options: Lake Sharpe (S.D.) is another Missouri River reservoir well known for walleyes, but the abundant smallmouth bass population is flourishing and might be the region's best kept secret. Farther south, Wilson Reservoir in Kansas is prime for stripers.
JUNE - Devils Lake Walleyes
This massive natural lake in eastern North Dakota is in prime form come June. Find numbers of walleyes by pitching crankbaits along shallow windblown shorelines or fish the flooded timber with slip bobbers and leeches.
Other Options: The Kansas River in Kansas is one of the best rivers in the nation for trophy-class catfish. Focus on snags, brush piles and riprap pilings for massive flathead cats. Nebraska's Lake McConaughy is one of the region's best bets for walleyes.
JULY - Milford Reservoir Smallmouths
This Kansas reservoir is a tremendous fishery, and the smallmouth bass fishery in particular is in prime form come mid-summer. Target these bass along bluff walls and main lake points in 10 to 20 feet of water by casting tube jigs and soft plastics. The best locations have rock and are close to deep water.
Other Options: North Dakota's Red River will be producing enormous channel catfish for anglers fishing cut bait on snags and current seams. Lewis and Clark Reservoir on the SD/NE border is a tremendous largemouth bass lake, and the silted-in areas on the upper end of the lake offer some of the best bass habitat.
AUGUST - Lake Sakakawea Walleyes
This Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota has been picking up steam. Troll bottom bouncers and spinners on main lake points and reefs that are in close proximity to the old river channel in depths that range between 15 and 30 feet of water.
Other Options: Keith Sebelius Reservoir in Kansas is a solid fishery for wipers and striped bass. Jig spoons near the old channel edges. Enemy Swim Lake in eastern South Dakota is a consistent smallmouth bass fishery, focus on the deeper points and rock saddles with drop shot rigs and soft plastics or work the outside edges of weedbeds.
SEPTEMBER - El Dorado Lake Largemouths
El Dorado in Kansas is a great multi-species lake producing walleyes, catfish and wipers, but the largemouth bass fishing can really kick in come September. Fish the flooded timber with crankbaits or soft plastic creature baits.
Other Options: Box Butte Reservoir in Nebraska offers tremendous smallmouth bass fishing in the fall. Milford Reservoir is a tremendous fishery for a variety of species but don't overlook the fall white bass bite jigging spoons over schools of baitfish along the deep channel edges.
OCTOBER - Lake McConaughy Walleyes
We had to mention the Big Mac sooner or later'¦ one of Nebraska's most notorious fisheries, this reservoir has two very coveted months for trophy walleyes — April along the dam face and October when these fish start getting fat on alewives. We picked the fall bite, as there are way fewer anglers.
Other Options: Nebraska's Red Willow Reservoir offers a solid fall bite for wipers. Spoons and live bait along the channel edges connect with fish. Move until you find baitfish on your sonar. North Dakota's Missouri River picks up for walleyes in the fall from Bismarck all the way to the SD/ND state line.
NOVEMBER - Lake Sharpe Walleyes
This long impoundment on the Missouri River in central South Dakota offers solid numbers of 15- to 18-inch walleyes. Troll crankbaits with lead core or snap weights along the edges of the old river channel and along the bluff faces in 15 to 25 feet of water. A great smallmouth bass fishery also exists.
Other Options: Glen Elder Reservoir in Kansas is a tremendous crappie fishery, and late fall can be prime time to find stacked up schools of fish. Kirwin Reservoir in Kansas is a good option for crappies.
DECEMBER - Lake Audubon Walleyes
First-ice on this North Dakota impoundment offers tremendous walleye fishing and is a popular body of water for ice-anglers. Look for walleyes on sunken reefs and shoreline structure in 10 to 20 feet of water at early-ice. After dark can sometimes be the best time for aggressive fish.
Other Options: Lake Metigoshe tucked away in the Turtle Mountains of north-central North Dakota has quietly blossomed into one of the best panfish lakes in the region. Anglers find bluegills that range between 9 and 10 inches along outside weed edges at first-ice. Merritt Reservoir in Nebraska doesn't always get good ice, but when winter comes to Nebraska this reservoir offers some of the best ice-fishing in the region for crappies.
As you can see, the plains states offer more than enough fishing variety to hold the attention of anglers throughout the year. We picked a highlight reel of fishing focusing on well-known bites that seem be reliable for anglers and also considered trending fisheries that seem to be peaking right now. Of course not every great fishing opportunity could be listed, but this serves as a good guideline to get started.
An angler with a spirit for adventure could do some light traveling and literally stay on some of the best fishing for 12 months out of the year.
The amount of diversity present in this region is absolutely incredible. Each region contributes high-quality angling opportunities, with renowned angling truly present in each Great Plains state.
When you look at a map of the Great Plains states, you might not notice a lot of water, but don't let the lack of water fool you. Kansas boasts some of the nation's top catfishing. Nebraska and Kansas combine to boast some of the most successful wiper stocking programs. Some of the nation's best walleye fishing can be found through the Dakotas and parts of Nebraska. Add the variety of largemouth and smallmouth bass, with exotic angling for trout and the ever-popular panfish, you have more fish than time. Now it's time to hit the water at a fishing hotspot near you.