The Great Plains region of the country has some incredible fishing opportunities and we are going to pick some of the top "must-experience" fisheries in the region for this upcoming season that typically turn on during the month of May.
Some choices are obvious, perennial favorites that are "no-brain" picks while other highlighted fisheries are more obscure, under-the-radar locations. Our choices are not comprehensive. Surely we left out several great opportunities, but this will at least provide you with a good starting point, and may alert you to fisheries you were unaware of or didn't realize were peaking now or in the near future.
DEVILS LAKE, NORTH DAKOTA
(Walleye, Northern Pike And White Bass)
North Dakota is home to some of the most noteworthy fishing in the region. While there are several great fishing opportunities scattered across the state, a few really stood out this past season and are poised to repeat. For multi-species action for lunker northern pike and nice walleye, not to mention drag-burning white bass, Devils Lake in the central part of the state is special. Every angler owes it to him- or herself to fish this lake in May, casting crankbaits and/or swimbaits up into shallow water. Hundred fish days for a boat consisting of two to three anglers is possible and at the end of the day, your hands are so cut up from teeth and fins, that some anglers resort to using super glue to cover all the cuts.
According to Kyle Blanchfield, from Woodland Resort, the pattern for all species is essentially the same, find shallow bays that warm up quicker than the deeper main lake basins and follow the wind. Shorelines where wind pushes the warmer surface temperature against the shore turn on. Good shorelines may include sand, gravel and some rock, or the attraction could be flooded cattails, reeds or flooded timber. Typically, predators will stack up along these shorelines and walleyes can often be found mixed in with pike and white bass. Anglers might keep the boat in 6 to 8 feet of water and cast in towards shore, depending on the profile of the shoreline.
Great lure options include #5 and #7 Rapala Shad Raps, #5 Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads, #7 Rapala Countdowns and #7 Salmo Friskies for crankbaits. Soft plastic swimbaits are also very effective, with many anglers using both the Northland Tackle Mimic Minnows along with the Trigger X paddle-tails. Great colors include chartreuse or perch patterns along with traditional white, chrome, blue, rainbow, and firetiger color schemes.
Contacts: Woodland Resort, www.woodlandresort.com; (701) 662-5996. Mitchells Guide Service, www.fishdevilslake.net; (701) 351-1890. Devils Lake Tourism, www.devilslakend.com; (800) 233-8048.
MISSOURI RIVER, NORTH DAKOTA
Another torrid bite that occurred last season in North Dakota and looks to continue is the bite below the Garrison Dam Tailrace on the Missouri River.
When we look at the Missouri River fishery below the Garrison Dam, the river widens to the upper reaches of Lake Oahe just below the community of Bismarck. The entire system is a walleye mecca with several boat ramps located up and down the reservoir and river. Typically, hotspots develop from the tailrace all the way down the Missouri River system into Lake Oahe during the month of May.
The biggest factor that can affect the river fishing during the month of May is water visibility. Heavy runoff can muddy or cloud up the water, which drastically reduces fishing success. When the water clears up enough where you can see your prop, the fish typically turn on.
In regards to presentation, particularly in the river, jigs and crankbaits dominate the scene. According to Andy Bachmeier, who manages the fishing shop at Scheels All Sports in Bismarck, soft plastics have begun to replace live bait and that has been one of the hottest trends happening on the Missouri River. Anglers are using several types of soft plastic grub or paddle-tail bodies, with both Gulp! and Trigger X being the most popular. Anglers will also long-line stickbaits like Rapala Husky Jerks and Salmo Stings early in the season. As May warms up, shad-profiled crankbaits like Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads and Rapala Shad Raps become effective.
Contacts: North Dakota Tourism, www.rulegendary.com; (800) 435-5663. Bismarck ND CVB, www.bismarckmandancvb.com; (800) 767-3555.
LAKE FRANCIS CASE, SOUTH DAKOTA
(Walleye, Smallmouth Bass)
Lake Francis Case has long been a popular reservoir that had a reputation for producing staggering numbers of eater walleyes, but last season anglers reported that the staggering number of fish became even more staggering and the size improved dramatically compared to recent years. This system also seems to produce a few walleyes each spring that are in that gigantic 14- to 15-pound range as well, typically near the dam.
On this reservoir, finding walleyes often means traditional tactics and techniques. A popular area includes the stretch of reservoir near the community of Chamberlain. Anglers often jig or troll crankbaits with lead-core line along channel edges, embankments, riprap and points. Hit structure until fish are found. Another popular tactic includes pitching jigs and minnows up onto the bluff walls. According to guide and motel owner Gary Allen, fishing often picks up in March and gets really hot through May.
Hot crankbaits include Rapala Jointed Shad Raps, Rapala Husky Jerks, Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads and Reef Runners. Productive rigging and jigging options include bottom- bouncers and spinner rigs, jigs tipped with soft plastic tails or minnows and some live bait rigs. Don't neglect some tremendous smallmouth bass fishing. Anglers often find smallmouths in shallow water near riprap areas and bluff walls or rocky points. Casting spinnerbaits, tubes or topwaters is extremely effective and the bass are usually overlooked.
Contacts: South Dakota Great Lakes Tourism, www.sdgreatlakes.org; (888) 386-4617. Gary Allens Hillside Motel, www.allenshillside.com; (800) 435-5591.
BITTER LAKE, SOUTH DAKOTA
For walleyes, Bitter Lake has been on fire. Last year, when we filmed on this lake, we watched as people literally backed their boats in the lake and caught limits of walleyes by dropping their lines in the water and drifting 50 or so yards from the ramp — that was all it took. It seemed like fish were everywhere and also that everybody was catching them. How this lake will hold up to the attention remains to be seen, but it is definitely worthy of a top pick.
Many of the walleyes seemed to stack on the weedbed edges on this lake that are typically found between 10 and 13 feet of water. The hot tactic is running bottom-bouncers and short-snelled spinner harnesses along these weedbed edges. Some anglers tip with a 'crawler, but because the weeds tear off the bait, many anglers now use either Gulp! or Trigger X "crawlers" because they are more durable. The water is typically stained and firetiger, glow, chartreuse, perch, and orange colors are really effective. Other top walleye lakes right in this area include Swan Lake and Waubay Lake. For enormous smallmouth bass, try Waubay Lake, Clear Lake, Enemy Swim Lake and Roy Lake.
Contacts: South Dakota Glacial Lakes and Prairies Tourism, www.sdglaciallakes.com; (800) 244-8860.
MERRITT RESERVOIR, NEBRASKA
(Crappie, White Bass, Walleye)
Don Cox of Mullins, Neb., spends a tremendous amount of time exploring fishing opportunities across the state, but when pressured to pick the states best bet in May, he stresses that you can't go wrong with Merritt Reservoir, located in the Nebraska Sandhills. This 3,000-acre reservoir is one of Nebraska's top walleye, northern pike, white bass and crappie fisheries. An abundant forage base of alewives drives this fishery and May is prime time. This lake has many nice crappies but they can be difficult to find until they bed in May. For crappies, this month offers some of the best and most predictable fishing of the season.
According to Cox, crappies can be found concentrated along shoreline contours, particularly up creek channels and inside turns. Merritt Reservoir is somewhat unique because irrigation demands typically draw the water levels down during the spring. The key, come May, is to focus on shallow weedbed edges. Shorelines that have shallow weeds and wind blowing in are often fishy. While many anglers relish bedding crappies, anglers fishing these locations tangle with numerous walleyes, pike and white bass as well. For finding fish, anglers cast small crappie jigs, Road Runners or beetle spins, but once good locations have been narrowed down, many anglers opt for a slip bobber tipped with either a minnow or leech.
Contacts: Merritt Trading Post, www.merritttradingpost.com; (402) 376-3437.
SHERMAN RESERVOIR, NEBRASKA
One of Nebraska's best bets for May walleye fishing, this 2,845-acre lake has over 65 miles of irregular shoreline and is a consistent fishery in the region. Jason Berger, from the Cabelas Corporate Office in Sidney, stresses that anglers often have an easier time finding the larger walleyes during this timeframe. Walleyes in this lake thrive from a rich forage base of shad.
One of the time-tested patterns on Sherman Reservoir for walleyes is to troll crankbaits on the north end of the lake, including the Thunder Bay area. During stable weather, look for walleyes in less than 10 feet of water relating to flats and shoreline contours. During cold or unstable weather, anglers often find fish as deep as 25 feet and lead core is often used to get crankbaits deep. Shad-profiled crankbaits are often most productive, with firetiger, clown, chatreuse, white, and chrome all being consistent colors. When fish won't respond to crankbaits, anglers often live-bait rig with crawlers, leeches and shiners on plain snells. This lake does have a public recreation area and has three boat accesses. Walleyes as long as 30 inches are caught from this lake each year.
Contacts: Guide Ben Garver, www.nebraskawalleyeguide.com.
MILFORD LAKE, KANSAS
(Wipers, White Bass)
Both white bass and wipers typically set up on the dam and other rocky shoreline stretches each spring and May is a prime time to target these aggressive fish. Besides spawning activity along the dam, anglers will often find some big fish that run up the Republican River by Clay Center. White bass numbers are solid in the lake, with some fish reaching past 16 inches. Many of the wipers typically reach 20 inches or longer, with the lake record weighing 17 pounds. White bass reproduce naturally in the lake, but since wipers are a sterile hybrid between a striped bass and white bass, they must be stocked. This 16,200-acre lake received 4.3 million wiper fry in 2010.
While the wipers don't spawn, they still go through the motions in May and congregate in many of the same locations as the white bass. White bass and wipers are abundant and easy to target. Anglers often have their best action for these fish by casting the shallow riprap along the dam with crankbaits. According to Kansas guide Chad Richardson, great lures include shallow running Rip Sticks and Flicker Shads with the best colors being pink or purple hues.
Contacts: Guide Chad Richardson, www.fish-kansas.com; (785) 210-6444.
COFFEE COUNTY LAKE, KANSAS
(Wipers, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass)
This warm-water discharge lake is in high gear by the time May rolls around and is a spectacular fishery for multi-species action. If you have an itch this spring just to get out and catch a lot of fish, this is your fix. Most of the fishing activity often focuses near the discharge on this 5,000-acre lake. While the channel is 15 feet deep, most of the predator fish set up on the edges of the riprap close to the dike. Anglers cast spinnerbaits and crankbaits up close to the rock and can usually find several predator species relating to this location. Anglers can find smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye and wipers all in this general location. Another location that can produce walleye is the face of the dam, anglers often work the face of the dam with jigs tipped with shiners. Anglers are reminded that because of security reasons, all anglers must possess a valid drivers license and life jackets must be worn at all times.
Contacts: Guide Chad Richardson, www.fish-kansas.com; (785) 210-6444.