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Black Bass Bastions Of The Great Plains

Black Bass Bastions Of The Great Plains

The Great Plains states are not often thought of as premier bass fishing destinations. However, if you are willing to give some time to the fisheries available, you may be very pleasantly surprised.

The Great Plains states are not often thought of as premier bass fishing destinations. However, if you are willing to give some time to the fisheries available, you may be very pleasantly surprised.

At the time of authoring this article, we are currently digging out from the year's first blizzard and I am thinking about a deer tag that is still burning a hole in my pocket. It's miserably cold outside, but the atmosphere inside my basement office is cozy as I relive some bass fishing memories from this past summer. Many people pass the winter months dreaming about getting a suntan on the beaches of some tropical resort, while living the "high life." Sounds attractive, doesn't it?

Personally, that's not my idea of the "high life." Rather, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities here at home, livin' it up and rippin' lips. As the dog days of summer are right around the corner, some of the season's finest bass fishing is upon us in May. Don't let late spring pass you by without taking advantage of the tremendous soft-water resources we have here in the Great Plains.

This past summer my tournament partner and I were practicing for a two-day bass tournament on one of our favorite bass lakes. There had just recently been an algae bloom and the standing timber that was scattered across the lake presented ample opportunity to put together a healthy limit. The fish were biting well and we had already boated over 18 pounds from assorted locations. Since this was our practice time, we made sure to contact a fish or two on each spot and blast out of there before we sore-mouthed any of the others.

The next spot was located along a "do-nothing" stretch of riprap. We killed the motor and dropped in the bow-mount as we began to parallel the shore. I was penetrating the heavy cover with a shaky head topped with a beaver and my partner was swimming a jig over top of the structure. This spot had traditionally been good to us, but we needed to verify the fish were still here before moving onto the next spot.

My first pitch placed my jig in the throat of a "Y" shaped log and I let the bait hit the bottom. I gave it a little life by slowly dubbing it up and down, without moving it forward. Suddenly, I felt the tension change and I lost contact with my jig. I watched as my line swam sideways and I knew it was time to cross some eyes. I lowered my rod tip, pulled in the slack line and set home. Instantly, the culprit pinned to the other end was running for deep water but decided an acrobatic display was in order first.


The football-sized largemouth came out of the water, flipped a couple of times and made the all-too-familiar "flop" as he hit the lake surface. My line went slack; he was gone. He was definitely a keeper fish, one that was likely pushing the five-pound mark. Had this been a tournament day, I would have taken the defeat quite a bit harder, but knowing the fish was in the vicinity is exactly what we were looking for. After a few sleepless nights, day one had arrived and we were sitting on the lake anxiously awaiting blast-off. There is nothing quite like the smell of outboard engine exhaust in the pre-dawn darkness. We were on 'em.

Whether you are a devoted tournament angler or you just enjoy the challenge of bass fishing -- Kansas all the way north through NoDak has your fix. Prepare yourself for some Great Plains "Velcro-thumb." There are numerous species of freshwater fish that perk the interest of all kinds of anglers, but none quite like the largemouth and smallmouth bass of North America.

What is it about smallies and largemouth that makes them so attractive? Well, for one, they like to fight. In fact, the smallmouth bass is, by many accounts, considered the "fightenest fish in freshwater." However, while both subspecies usually thrive in good numbers, they are not always easy to catch. I think the most prevalent reason they are so popular is because they are adaptive fish existing in diverse fisheries.

There are days and conditions where it seems you can't do any wrong and they are virtually jumping in the boat. Then there are days of the polar opposite: you can throw everything, including the kitchen sink, but just can't buy a bite. The experience behind every fish you catch is the real reason why we pursue both smallies and largemouth.

North Dakota
North Dakota is a sportsman's paradise. The fishing opportunities are seemingly endless as American anglers of any inclination can find their preferred species, but the uniqueness of each fishery presents a welcomed challenge. Typical for the northern region fisheries, the largemouth bass is in short supply. However, there are a few locations across the state where catchable numbers exists, but we will be primarily focusing on North Dakota smallies.

"We have a very diverse fishery here," says Scott Gangl, fisheries management section leader for the North Dakota Game and Fish. "Anglers who are looking for unique fishing opportunities will find them here. Smallmouth bass numbers have exploded over the past several years, now offering anglers a chance at trophy-class fish.

"Our sampling data on several lakes across the state are showing smallie populations to be very healthy and on the increase," he continues. "Even with the ample amount of opportunities North Dakotans have to pursue these fish, we don't see many anglers specifically targeting them. Their popularity is catching on, but not to the point where finding a good place to fish will be difficult."

Audubon Lake is just north of Coleharbor in McLean County and is comprised of 16,611 acres. The lower two-thirds of this lake is off-limits to boats as it is a wildlife refuge. Much of the fishable portions are accessible by shore and boat.

New Johns Lake, Heckers Lake, East & West Lake -- these lakes are connected in a series by the McClusky Canal and operated by the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District. Each lake has healthy populations of smallmouth bass, but the real treasure is the canal itself. There is virtually unlimited shore fishing access -- allowing anglers to get to just about every inch of the canal. Smallmouth can be found throughout!

Lake Darling is located 16 miles north and 13 miles west of Minot, offering anglers ample opportunities at a quality population of smallmouth bass. In fact, the current state record of 6 pounds, 13 ounces, was caught from Lake Darling several years ago.

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South Dakota
South Dakota is also not known for its bass fishing as most anglers typically chase perch and walleyes, but it is slowly catching on. To the angler who is looking to scratch their bass itch, there is ample opportunity to do so in South Dakota. There is an abundance of both largemouth and smallmouth bass, but the best fisheries might take some work to access.

Enemy Swim Lake is located in Day County in northeast South Dakota and has great numbers of smallmouth bass. Some largemouth bass can also be found in traditional locations. This lake is northwest of Watertown.

Clear Lake is 472 acres and is located near Colton, in Deuel County. Smallmouth bass have been sampled in great numbers and healthy sizes.

Lake Sharpe Reservoir is a part of the Missouri River system and is near Chamberlain. This lake is known to have a tremendous smallie fishery.

Lake Oahe's world-renowned walleye fishery often overshadows its outstanding smallmouth fishery. It has been said that the smallies that live in this lake are enormous and plentiful.

"South Dakota also has an excellent largemouth fishery existing in our many stock dams," says Fisheries Program Administrator Geno Adams. "These 'lakes' are numerous and often difficult to get to, but bass over seven pounds exist and good numbers of healthy fish can be caught on a regular basis.

"We have a multi-faceted bass fishery in our state," Adams explains. "We have some sleeper lakes that are often overlooked and some hard-to-access locations, allowing the fish to grow to their trophy potential. With the diverse fishery we have in this state, I can assure anglers in pursuit of both species that 2011 will be a great season to be on the water in pursuit of these fish."

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"The best bass habitat in Nebraska seems to be in smaller bodies of water," says Fisheries Outreach Program Manager Daryl Bauer. "We have good populations of bass in our larger bodies of water, but these are irrigation reservoirs and often go through an annual drawdown. This makes them difficult to pattern and they do struggle some with recruitment.

"Our 'Interstate Lakes,' which are located along Interstate 80, are mostly public and have been known to produce excellent numbers of largemouth bass," Bauer says. "They were developed when the interstate was built and the Game and Parks Commission took advantage of the potential fishing habitat that was formed. Now anglers have reported fish of trophy caliber on a regular basis."

Maskenthine Lake is located ten miles east of Norfolk and is 100 acres in size. Sampling data has shown largemouth bass to be doing very well, with fish up to 6 pounds being a possibility.

Buckskin Hills, in Dixon County, is about 4 miles southwest of Newcastle. This lake is about 75 acres, but has produced excellent bass fishing for quite a while. There is a 21-inch length minimum and boaters are restricted to 5 mph.

Burchard Reservoir is located in Pawnee County, near Tecumseh, and is 150 acres. Substantial numbers of healthy fish have been sampled on a regular basis. There is a 21-inch minimum on largemouth bass.

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Traditionally, Kansas has not been a national contender in largemouth bass production, but with the management practices currently in place, watch for Kansas to become a national largemouth bass destination. It often takes several years for a fishery to really catch on, but bass fishing in Kansas is not a new thing. Through sound catch-and-release management practices, the fishing available has not only become abundant, but has also produced the kind of quality hardcore bass anglers are looking for.

"Several years ago, the waters across the state came up and flooded new spawning habitat," explains Kyle Austin, fisheries management coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "We are expecting a tremendous year class to come on strong from that time frame. This year they should be mature and in excellent numbers."

"We manage several fisheries for trophy production," he continues. "Our sampling numbers, density ratings and lunker ratings are indicating that 2011 should be a banner year for largemouth bass fishing in Kansas. Whether you are a dedicated tournament angler or a weekend warrior, we fully believe you will find what you are looking for."

La Cygne Reservoir has a longer growing season due to a power plant that keeps the water warmer longer. This body of water is currently the top producer in the state. This lake is 2,600 acres and is located in northeast Kansas, in Linn County.

With nearly 160 miles of shoreline and 12,600 acres, Perry Lake is one of the Great Plains top largemouth bass producers. This lake is located in Jefferson County, near Oskaloosa.

Sebelius Reservoir is about 2,300 acres and is located near Norton. This lake has a 15-inch minimum. Spotted bass are also present with the same minimum-length requirements.

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We just barely scratched the surface of what kind of bass fishing opportunities exist across the Great Plains. With a little research and a willingness to work, you will be able to locate the solitude and tremendous fishing that awaits you. Bass are the most sought-after species of fish for a reason. There is just something about the sound of a big bass sucking in a Scum Frog on a cool summer evening that easily makes them my favorite species to tangle with.

As for our two-day tournament? Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans. Our pattern didn't hold and we had to make some game-time decisions in order to accommodate a dropping barometer. We stumbled upon a short stretch of cover that was adjacent to a creek channel, which should've been holding good numbers of big fish. We managed to load the boat with nearly 17 pounds in a matter of 10 minutes. There is no way to describe the feeling we had when we weighed in the winning bag that afternoon. It is easy to see why I am a bass fisherman.

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