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Great Plains Fishing Calendar

Great Plains Fishing Calendar
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It's time to get your angling game plan together for the coming months. To help map where and when to take advantage of all the excellent fishing opportunities awaiting anglers during 2018, here's an overview of top spots for various species throughout the entire year. Photo By Ron Sinfelt

JANUARY - Yellow Perch: Devils Lake, ND

The largest natural lake in North Dakota is Devils Lake. Located in Ramsey and Benson counties in the northeastern part of the state, Devils Lake covers thousands of acres and is a great place to target jumbo perch through the ice. As a matter of fact, this lake has been called the perch capital of the world.

Devils Lake really is a great perch lake. It is fairly deep, although water levels fluctuate with precipitation. There are rocky areas, sharp drop-offs, underwater humps and many bays and coves where the perch can hide. 

Other Options: Valentine NWR (NE) Bluegills: Use ice jigs tipped with beemoths or spikes for early-ice bluegill action. Merritt Reservoir (NE) Panfish: Good-sized crappies, perch and bluegills will be active as soon as there is safe ice.

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FEBRUARY - Northern Pike: Lake Oahe, SD

Lake Oahe is a sprawling reservoir behind the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River. It is enormous, since it stretches from the dam just north of Pierre, South Dakota, and extends all the way into North Dakota, covering approximately 370,000 acres. The cold water and huge number of bays and creek arms make for great pike habitat, too.

It is those creek arms and coves where ice-fishermen target winter pike. Big northerns cruise these areas looking for an easy meal, using deeper creek channels as highways leading up to shallower feeding flats. Anglers set tip-ups in these back bays and just wait for the fish to bite. 

Other Options: Missouri River (NE/SD) Saugers: Bottom-bouncing jig/minnow combos produce great catches of saugers below Gavins Point Dam on the NE/SD state lines. Glen Elder Reservoir (KS) Crappies: Target suspended crappies with live minnows or small shiners at dusk.

MARCH - Largemouth Bass: La Cygne Lake, KS

Bass anglers in eastern Kansas know that La Cygne Lake may just be the best largemouth bass water in the state. This 2,600-acre cooling water lake is warmed by the power plant on the eastern shore, giving the bass a longer growing season than normal. By the time March rolls around, the bass are already on a spring feeding spree!


There are plenty of nice-sized bass in this lake, but there are some real trophies, too. Many people say La Cygne is the best bet in the state for catching a 10-pound bass.

Other Options: Coffey County Lake (KS) Smallmouths: Smallmouth bass will be feeding near shoreline rocks; try tube jigs or small crankbaits. Bitter Lake (SD) Walleyes: Active walleyes will hit a jig/minnow or a slow-moving minnow-imitating plug.

APRIL - Smallmouths: Milford Lake, Ks

Milford Lake near Junction City is consistently named as one of the top smallmouth bass lakes in the state of Kansas. Characterized by extensive creek arms and secluded coves, this lake offers plenty of good smallmouth habitat: rocky bluffs, submerged points, underwater boulders and rocky shorelines.

The fact that the Kansas state- record smallmouth bass was caught from Milford is solid proof of the good fishing here. That fish weighed 6.88 pounds and was caught in April of 2010. 

Smallmouth anglers on Milford Lake concentrate much of their efforts around the creek channel ledges, deeper rocky points and submerged boulders. It pays to cast to the rocky shorelines and riprap areas as well.

Other Options: Missouri River (ND) Walleyes: The spring walleye action can be hot around sand or gravel bars this month. Melvern Reservoir (KS) Channel Cats: Find good numbers of channel cats hitting nightcrawlers and other baits along shoreline rocks.

MAY - Rainbow Trout: Lake Ogallala, NE

Anglers interested in catching rainbow trout in the Great Plains region should look no further than Lake Ogallala in west-central Nebraska. Covering a mere 320 acres, this small, cold lake below the Kingsley Dam provides excellent fishing for both numbers of rainbow trout and good-sized fish.

Rainbow trout thrive in cold, clear water, and the fact that Lake Ogallala receives its water from the bottom of Lake McConaughy makes this small lake an ideal home for this species.

Other Options: Wilson Reservoir (KS) Striped Bass: Troll shad-imitating lures near deep drop-offs for hot striper action, even during mid-day. Lake Metigoshe (ND) Bluegills: May is a great time to target big bluegills in the shallows here with small natural baits.

JUNE - Bluegills: Valentine NWR, Ne

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Nebraska covers more than 71,000 acres, and it features several small lakes that offer a variety of fishing options. One of the best options in early June is the bluegill bite.

Nebraska Game and Parks biologists surveyed some of these lakes for bluegills in 2016 and were pleased with the results. West Long Lake had the highest density of bluegills, and 81 percent of bluegills sampled measured from 6 to 7.9 inches long. Quite a few bluegills were over 10 inches. 

Hackberry and Pelican lakes are known as big-bluegill lakes, and the survey's largest bluegill came from Pelican Lake (10.8 inches long).

Other Options: Milford Reservoir (KS) Blue Cats: Use dead shad or large pieces of cut-bait to tempt the big blue catfish here. Valentine NWR (NE) Largemouth Bass: Bass will be active around the weeds on many of the small lakes here.

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JULY - Walleyes: Lake Oahe, ND & SD 

This huge impoundment on the Missouri River features countless coves, backwaters, creek arms, underwater points, submerged gravel bars and woody structure. 

Walleyes are Lake Oahe's most popular sportfish, and for good reason. Walleyes here are plentiful, they taste great and there is always a chance for boating a trophy-size fish. Eater-sized walleyes are very common in Oahe and can be found around a variety of structure.

Other Options: Francis Case Reservoir (SD) Smallmouth Bass: Soft plastic jigs will entice plenty of smallmouths around bluff walls or shallow rip-rap in these waters. Swanson Reservoir (NE) White Bass: Bounce a jig/minnow along underwater structure to find groups of hungry white bass.

AUGUST - Channel Catfish: Red River, ND

The Red River on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota is very unusual. Unlike most rivers in the United States that flow south toward the Gulf of Mexico, this river flows north — into Canada. It twists and turns and is very good at hiding the fact that there are hordes of tackle-busting catfish roaming beneath the surface.

This is the home of a tremendous channel catfish fishery. Not just a channel catfish fishery; it's a trophy catfish fishery. While 10-pound channels are considered big in most parts of the country, they are only average-sized fish here. 

Other Options: Elk City Lake (KS) Flatheads: Target giant flatheads at night by using large live bluegills as bait. Lake Sharpe (SD) Smallmouths: Smallmouth bass will attack minnow-imitating lures along the current edges, especially near rocky cover.

SEPTEMBER - Blue Catfish: Missouri River, KS

Flowing along the Kansas-Missouri border and down to Kansas City, the Missouri River is home to a remarkable catfish population. Some of the biggest catfish roaming the river these days are the resident blue catfish. There are some really big ones here, too.

How big is big? The Kansas state- record blue catfish was caught here in 2012, and it weighed a whopping 102.8 pounds. Bigger blue cats are out there, too. In 2017, an angler in Missouri caught and released a 107-pound blue cat from the Missouri River.

Other Options: Lake Audubon (ND) Smallmouth Bass: Fish the many sunken islands and shallow points with minnow-imitating plugs for fast action. Glen Elder Reservoir (KS) White Bass: Find schools of active white bass chasing baitfish and target them with jigs or casting spoons.

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OCTOBER - Northern Pike: Lake Sakakawea, ND

Northern pike fishing in western North Dakota is great these days, and one of the premier places to fish for the toothy denizens of the deep is Lake Sakakawea. This huge impoundment on the Missouri River accounts for a large percentage of the trophy-sized pike caught each year in North Dakota.

The combination of cold water and plenty of forage fish makes growing giant pike almost commonplace on Sakakawea. Perch, suckers and goldeyes are all abundant, and the aggressive pike feed on them heavily.

Other Options: Lake Sharpe (SD) Walleyes: A jig/minnow fished along the bottom on the edge of the river channel should produce good results. Roy Lake (SD) Largemouth Bass: Cast plastic nightcrawlers or tube jigs around deeper weed edges to connect with bass.

NOVEMBER - Muskies: Merritt Reservoir, Ne

Merritt Reservoir in northern Nebraska has been producing big muskies for many years, and this year should be no exception. This 2,906-acre reservoir was formed when the Snake River was dammed in 1964, and is home to plenty of great muskie habitat. 

There are islands, deep river channels featuring sharp drop-offs, and many small coves and points. The Nebraska state-record muskie was caught from Merritt in 1992 (41 pounds,  8 ounces), and trophy-sized fish are caught here every year. 

Other Options: Lake McConaughy (NE) Walleyes: The walleye bite here only improves as the weather gets colder.Lake Audubon (ND) Walleyes: Walleyes will be active on jigs near submerged structure like points, humps and rock piles.

DECEMBER - Walleyes: Devils Lake, ND

As mentioned earlier, North Dakota's Devils Lake is a great fishing lake, particularly for yellow perch. But it is an even better lake when it comes to walleyes. Devils Lake walleye fishing is excellent for most of the year. Once the ice is safe, hordes of anglers take advantage of the great fishing.

Walleye anglers look for shallower areas with good structure, like remaining weed edges, flooded trees, underwater points and submerged rock piles. Transition points where walleyes move from one place to another can be even better.

Other Options: Poinsett Lake (SD) Yellow Perch: Schools of perch will be cruising the feeding flats and hugging the bottom, so keep baits deep. Thompson Lake (SD) Crappies: Early ice can produce great catches here on live minnows or small ice flies. 

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