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The Great Plains' 2009 Fishing Calendar

The Great Plains' 2009 Fishing Calendar

Our region has been blessed with great fishing from one end to the other. Here's 12 months' worth of angling for our finest game fish and the top locations for catching them. (Feb 2009)

My editor could easily devote this entire issue to the outstanding fishing opportunities available in our region -- and it still wouldn't be enough space to cover it all! The Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas, collectively and individually, offer anglers an amazing mix of great angling options every day of every year.

What follows is a look at just some of the action you can enjoy in all four states every month. As you read through this report, one thing likely will become clear to you: Fishing season never ends in the Great Plains.

From New Year's Day through the next New Year's Eve, you have a chance to enjoy some great fishing. Here's a calendar for you to use in making the most of every moment you can spend on the water. Enjoy!


During one of the year's coldest months, you can enjoy some of the year's hottest bass action -- literally and figuratively -- on La Cygne Lake in eastern Kansas. Only an hour south of the greater Kansas City area, La Cygne is a power-plant lake with a hot-water outlet that provides water temperatures bass in other lakes usually only see for a portion of the year.

"If you want to catch a bass on a spinnerbait in January, you can do it at La Cygne," said Sunflower State fisheries biologist Kyle Austin. You also can catch nice largemouths on shallow-running crankbaits and just about any other bait you'd like to try.

Adjacent to the hot-water outlet, anglers can find great opportunities to enjoy hot action even when air temperatures are in the teens this month. I know; I've done it.


A great way to approach La Cygne's January bass action is to launch your boat and, when you arrive near the hot-water outlet, ease your craft up near the off-limits safety boundary. You then can let the outlet's current drift you along as you make casts to shoreline cover.

Other Options: South Dakota perch fishing can be very good this month, although biologists note that it's nearly impossible to predict which lakes will offer the best fishing in a given year. It's best to call ahead and see where these tasty panfish are biting through the ice.

Ice-fishing also abounds this month in Nebraska and North Dakota, although the action won't be as good as during periods of early and late ice.


"Our late-ice period offers the best ice-fishing of the whole winter," said Darrell Bauer, of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "This is a great time to go after crappie and big bass on farm ponds. They can be really good during late ice.

Anglers have a number of public-water options, too. Bauer noted that two Smiths in Nebraska are good for late-ice action: the Smith Lake on the wildlife area of the same name, near Rushville, and the Smith Lake on Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in Garden County.

He also mentioned the lakes in the Sandhills region and the Valentine Refuge lakes as great destinations for late-ice angling. The latter have been known to give up bluegills over a pound, big pike and bass through the ice. Crappie and yellow perch are also in the mix this month.

Safety can't be stressed too much for those searching out the best fishing spots during late-ice periods. Move slowly as you venture out on a frozen lake. Take something to use for testing ice thickness step by step, and turn around at the first sign of too much stress under your feet. No fishing is worth risking serious injury or possible death from hypothermia.

Other Options: Late ice hasn't yet arrived in the Dakotas, but the fishing action still can be pretty good for walleyes, crappie and perch. The water is open in Kansas, and crappie usually are stacked fairly deep. They're not terribly difficult to catch after you locate them.

Pike/North Dakota

This is late-ice time in North Dakota, and fisheries management section leader Scott Gangl points to Sakakawea and Devils Lake for great pike-fishing opportunity this month. "Sakakawea doesn't have quite the numbers of pike it had in the past, but there are still some very big fish to be caught during our period of late ice," he said. "Devils Lake has good numbers of pike, so anglers should find good late-ice-fishing there, too."

Gangl also mentioned Sweetwater Lake, north of the town of Devils Lake, as another good possibility, and added that anglers who use frozen herring or smelt, either bottom-fishing or on tip-ups, are going to enjoy some good pike fishing. The same rules regarding checking ice safety apply. Don't take any chances.

Other Options: You'll find an open-water bite on the Missouri River in South Dakota for early-season walleyes. Trout fishing is good in Nebraska, and the walleyes in Kansas are staging along the dams of reservoirs for the annual spawn.

Walleyes/South Dakota

South Dakota fisheries program administrator John Lott said walleye fishing starts getting really good pretty much statewide this month. "In April, our walleye fisheries are going great guns," he said. "Lake Oahe can be a little slow right around the spawn, of course. But other than that, anglers are going to find good walleye action all over the state."

The Missouri River system provides great options on lakes Oahe, Francis Case and Sharpe. Lott also mentioned Belle Fourche Lake in the western part of the state as another strong walleye destination this month.

Walleyes tend to be fairly shallow this month, and that gives shoreline anglers a good chance at getting in on the action. Although walleyes are the focus, Lott also noted that pike can be found in the shallows this month, too, which only adds to the flavor of the fishing, especially from shore.

Other Options: You'll find some Chinook salmon action above Oahe Dam in South Dakota, and there's some great early pike fishing in the Sandhills Lakes of Nebraska.

Bass, Crappie/Kansas

The Sunflower State's biggest bass and crappie are very shallow this month, and the fishing can be fast and furious. Austin mentioned Cedar Bluff, Big Hill and La Cygne as some of the top bass destinations, with the crappie hotspots including Hillsdale, Elk City and Fall River reservoirs.

Bass anglers who fish soft plastics in shallow coves and bays often will trigger defensive/protective strikes from big females on spawning beds. The key is to fish very slowly, making the bass react instinctively to perceived threats "hanging around" near the beds. Soft-plastic lizards and tube baits are hard to beat.

A great tactic for crappie now is to float a sma

ll jig 12 to 18 inches under a bobber as you move through the backs of coves and bays. Often, wind action alone will move the jig in ways that entice big slabs to strike. It's a great way to catch some big crappie.

Other Options: It's walleye season throughout the rest of the Great Plains, with Nebraska and the Dakotas offering a mix of spawning action. Throughout the month, anglers will have a chance at some of the biggest walleyes of the year in all three states.

Other Options: It's walleye season throughout the rest of the Great Plains, with Nebraska and the Dakotas offering a mix of spawning action. Throughout the month, anglers will have a chance at some of the biggest walleyes of the year in all three states.

That being said, you also have to check out the paddlefish snagging action at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. North Dakota and Montana have set harvest limits because the action can be so good. You might only have a week or so to take advantage of this; it's a chance to tangle with some huge fish.


One of the Great Plains' unique fisheries takes center stage this month. All along Interstate 80 from Lincoln west to Ogallala, anglers will find small lakes -- the "Interstate Lakes" -- open to public fishing and host to some excellent bass action.

Most of the Interstate Lakes are reclaimed borrow pits that were formed during construction of the big four-lane highway, and they provide super bass fishing this month. A variety of baits and techniques will produce action. You can fish spinnerbaits or crankbaits to find fish and/or cover a lot of water, or use soft plastics to slow down and fish more thoroughly. Either way, these fairly small potholes have plenty of largemouths waiting for you.

"Anglers are going to hit these lakes during pre-spawn this month," Bauer said. "They'll find good water temperatures (for fishing) and really good water quality. We've had big bass taken from all of them, and there are a handful that also have smallmouths. They really provide a unique opportunity for bass fishing."

Other Options: Stock dam fishing starts heating up in South Dakota for bass and panfish. Catfish start turning on in Kansas, and North Dakota anglers will find a mixed bag of fishing in the tailrace of Garrison Dam.

Walleyes/South Dakota

In South Dakota's western reservoirs, the annual appearance of young gizzard shad really turns on the walleye action.

"Walleye fishing in our western reservoirs is generally very solid throughout the season," Lott said. "Gizzard shad are their primary forage in those lakes, and the annual spawn really turns on the fishing. It triggers activity that will run throughout the month."

A variety of baits and techniques will put walleyes in the boat now, but the tried-and-true jig-and-minnow combination is tough to beat. It mimics the size and look of the natural forage walleyes are keying on now.

Other Options: Look for good panfishing around Nebraska, and good prospects for catfish in North Dakota and Kansas. This is the month when white bass, wipers and pure stripers also become great angling options.

Boaters on the water early and late in the day should be on the lookout for schools of baitfish being targeted at the surface by bands or marauding white bass, wipers and/or stripers. This action often lasts only a few minutes, but the frenzy provides some of the most exciting action of the whole fishing season.

Catfish/North Dakota

In the Garrison tailrace and in the Red River of the North, Gangl calls North Dakota's catfishing fantastic this month. "In the tailrace below Garrison Dam," he said, "anglers will find a lot of channel cats in the 17- to 20-inch range. They're great fun to catch, and they make great table fare.

"In the Red River," he added, "the potential for catching a 20-pounder is really good this month." From Grand Forks north, anglers will find many miles of the Red River available for catfishing. Bait fishing is the way to go, and fishermen should expect the action to be fairly consistent.

Honestly, North Dakota is not the first place many anglers think of when talk turns to destinations for summer catfishing. Use that to your advantage, because the action's really good, and plenty of cats are to be caught in the state this month.

Other Options: One of the options Great Plains anglers have this month involves a trip to Kansas' Wilson Reservoirs for pure stripers. Most of the fisheries in our four states feature wipers, a white bass/striped bass hybrid. But Wilson continues to offer strong fishing for pure stripers, and they can be great fun this month.

Salmon/North Dakota

We're staying on the north end of the Great Plains for September's featured fishing action. Lake Sakakawea is home to a healthy population of chinooks, and they move shallow this month, which is a boon to anglers from boats and from shore.

"They're preparing to spawn this month," Gangl said, "and that makes for some great shallow-water action." He recommended using spoons or other artificial baits that have a lot of flash. He also noted that fly-rodders can have a big time with chinooks.

"We have flyfishermen who put belly boats into the shallow coves and bays when the Chinooks are in, and they do very well using traditional salmon flies and large streamers," Gangl said. Just like with spoons and other artificials, using flies tied with flashy material will be most effective.

Other Options: Catfishing is good in Nebraska reservoirs like Ogallala and Merritt, and shoreline anglers will catch nice white bass on Kansas waters. In South Dakota, lakes in the Madison area offer great action for yellow perch this month.

Walleyes, Bass/South Dakota

Lake Francis Case and Lake Sharpe on the Missouri River offer great walleye action in South Dakota this month, and the smallmouth fishing picks up -- especially in the East River region. "Walleye fishing is very solid this month throughout the Missouri River system," Lott said, "but Francis Case and Sharpe, in particular, are going to be really good."

Personal experience suggests that casting stickbaits can be effective on walleyes now, although there are other more traditional methods (e.g., jigs and minnows, trolling, etc.) that are used more prevalently and are very effective.

Those same stickbaits are killer for fall smallmouths. So are other crankbaits, and spinners -- both inline and safety-pin style. However, nothing beats fishing rocky structure in the fall with soft-plastic crawfish imitations. Smallmouths love crawfish, and it's almost easy to catch smallmouths on those lures this month.

Other Options: If you can possibly imagine fishing for walleyes in North Dakota without a lot of other anglers around, then definitely plan on an

October outing. The walleye action can be outstanding this month, but the onset of hunting seasons have many fishermen thinking about the woods and pheasant fields instead of the water. Kansas' fishermen also will start to see walleyes moving toward the dam and its rocky structure on many reservoirs, and that always brings good fishing.


"Nobody thinks of muskies in Nebraska," Bauer said, "but we have some great muskie fishing -- especially in Merritt Reservoir. It's the home of the state record." He added that the state stocks year-old "fingerlings" in its muskie program, and a 40-inch minimum length helps grow muskies big in the Cornhusker State.

Action for them this month can be outstanding. Anglers who aren't used to fishing for muskies should opt for their heaviest bass tackle because muskie baits aren't tiny or light. Large inline and safety-pin style spinners are very effective, as are large jerkbaits and jointed crankbaits.

Fishing coves with spinners can be very exciting, as muskies often follow lures back to the boat before striking. When that happens, bring the bait within a few feet of the boat; then, dip the rod tip in the water and make figure-eights with the lure just under the surface. Don't think that a 40-inch muskie gets a little put out when it feels the hook after striking right next to the boat? You're very, very wrong!

Other Options: Early ice is starting to form up north, and the panfishing can be very good where you find safe ice. As is the case with late ice, you just can't be too safe in checking ice thickness on outings this month.


Kansas has another hot-water lake: Coffee County Reservoir, which is adjacent to the Wolf Creek Power Plant. "Coffee County Lake has a really good smallmouth fishery," Austin said, "and December is a month when anglers can really get into them."

Crankbaits will work; so will inline spinners. But, once again, it's really hard to beat stand-up jigheads with soft plastics that mimic crawfish.

Even when it's really cold, these scrappy fighters will hit like it's late spring or early summer because of the favorable water temperatures the power plant outlet provides. Make no mistake -- anglers are going to be more sluggish because of December's cold weather than are Coffee County's smallmouths.

Other Options: North Dakota's Nelson Lake, another power-plant lake, boasts good smallmouth fishing this month. If you'd like to tell your fishing buddies that you took a smallmouth on a spinnerbait in North Dakota in December, just head here.

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