The author is all smiles over this chunky largemouth that he caught at Grove Lake in northeastern Nebraska. Photo by Jeff Kurrus.
When I think about Nebraska bass fishing, I think about sharing my boat with my best friends in the world.
Yes, the day at Walnut Creek that saw me catch 85 bass in less than three hours does occupy a special section of my memory, but for the most part it's always been about sharing time with good friends and, of course, catching fish. So I got on the phone and starting talking to those who had shared more than a small amount of time in a boat with me in the Cornhusker State, and asked each where he'd go if he had only one day to fish for bass in Nebraska.
I called Paul Turner first.
"How 'bout that Father's Day when we fished Fremont?" he asked, his Southern drawl bleeding into his accompanying laugh. "Those big fish were everywhere."
Each lake we went to that day gave up even more nice fish than had the one before it. That's the great thing about the Fremont State Recreation Area: It's like fishing different spots on a big reservoir. Paul and I caught fish at multiple lakes on the same day many times, with great fish always coming at lake No. 7/8 and No. 16. If you want to fish hard to reach bass in deep cover, you can do that; if you want to fish deep-diving crankbaits and plastics in clear water, that option's available as well. Just don't ever spend too long fishing one spot if you're not catching bass -- the next spot's likely to be better.
I called Robbie Gaia next. He's always talking about the multiple trips that he's made to the Louisville State Recreation Area south of Bellevue.
"I've never seen fish hit so hard before," he began. "The rain was falling so hard that one day. And they were just inhaling those scum frogs."
We were working one of the many grassbeds on the lakes when the fish began slamming into our green and white frogs. We'd overshoot our intended area, hop the plastics off the land and allow them to sit in the strike zone for as long as they could. A wrist-twitch here, another subtle twitch there; then, the strike. When we got off the grass, however, things slowed dramatically -- but we didn't let that go on for very long. At each lake we went on to target every grassy area that we could find, fishing and refishing the areas. Then the rain stopped; luckily, the fish didn't.
As I spoke with Robbie he suddenly interrupted his own story about pulling in another Louisville fish. "Verdon," he said. "How could I have forgotten about Verdon?"
I knew that was coming. Verdon is perhaps one of the best small lakes that I've ever fished, rivaling many of the great lakes I've fished in the Dakotas and Kansas. What makes Verdon so great is the amount of choice you have in terms of structure and cover. If bass aren't on the rocks, then fish the stickups; if they're not sitting above the bottom vegetation in the open water, they'll be in the heavy duckweed areas.
A 100-fish-a-day venue with the potential to deliver 5- to 8-pound fish, Verdon is Nebraska's representative on the worldwide list of great small lakes that make it worth your time and effort to travel a great distance and fish there for a couple of days. We've caught big fish on Zara Spooks, Scum Frogs, and crankbaits at Verdon. Another lure that the lake's fish particularly enjoy is a white tandem-bladed 1/4-ounce spinnerbait. I've seen more than 150 bass caught (and released) on that lure in a day at Verdon, several fish in the 15- to 20-inch range. We fished ours near any of our shallow areas between the vegetation and the surface.
"Verdon's one of the best I've ever seen," Gaia said. I thought I would hear the same thing from Matt Marx when I called him next.
"I have two for you," Matt said. I was curious then, since Matt and I had spent some time on Verdon and had also fished what seemed like every lake around Lincoln and Omaha, including Olive Creek, Bluestem, Yankee Hill, Standing Bear, and Wehrspann.
"Burchard Lake," he said.
While Burchard Lake does feel a lot of tournament pressure in southeastern Nebraska, it's still one of the state's best big-fish lakes. We used a variety of lures to catch quality bass there, including crawfish-colored crankbaits, a variety of Texas-rigged soft plastics, and white and chartreuse spinnerbaits.
"Fish the points that the lake has to offer first from the outside in," Matt offered. "Also work your way to the deep water south of the boat ramp."
"Matt," I began, "do you remember the time -- "
"Yes. I remember the time when we had a pile of fish stacked on the point, and I drove the boat right into their feeding area and scattered them everywhere."
"Just making sure," I responded.
The second lake was right under my nose, and I didn't even see it coming.
"Zorinsky," he noted, "is a lake that always, always has the potential to give up big fish."
Probably Omaha's finest big-bass lake, Zorinsky has the reputation for giving up great largemouths during Omaha's summer nights. However, we've caught our big fish in the middle of hot summer days on the riprap and in shallow vegetation. Fishing Baby-1s in these areas proved huge for us on a number of trips to the lake. We also found fish in the heavily timbered north end of the lake.
Sometimes I don't necessarily need to catch a lot of fish, but I want to catch big fish.
You shouldn't just go into these areas without a plan, however, because, without a timeline or a pattern, you can spend hours fishing every single tree that looks good -- and the problem is that they'll all look good. Maximize your efforts by finding a depth at which you're catching fish and identifying the different types of trees within that range. All you'll be looking for in this situation is something different, something that you can connect a pattern to.
I speak from experience here: Early in our Zorinsky careers, Matt and I spent several days lost on the water, unable to make ourselves pass up all the promising-looking sites. So make sure that you attack this lake with some system in mind.
Now I'm starting to sound like my father -- the one person I
fish with who always has to have a plan. With more than 50 years of bass-fishing experience, the number of big fish he's taken is immense. He often fishes lakes that contain low numbers of bigmouths, but in which the big specimens among those few are plentiful. Yet he set out on a different path when I asked him about his Nebraska favorites.
"Alexandria," he said. "We patterned those fish perfect."
"Yes we did," I told him.
We backed off a collection of logs and stumps that perfectly lined up with a group of light poles behind the levee when we fished Alexandria. We merely trolled from spot to spot, picking up fish repeatedly on chartreuse-, bream- and crawfish-colored crankbaits diving to 6 feet.
"Arnold is another one I love," he added, reminding me of the western Nebraska hideaway that gave up high-quality fish to us on multiple trips through that part of the state. Bass-colored crankbaits on both the island and the rocks served us well for several days when we fished that lake.
"Grove was another," he said, bringing to mind slow-rolling spinnerbaits in the northeast part of the state.
When I got off the phone with Dad, I sat back and thought about my own favorite places to fish. Sometimes I don't necessarily need to catch a lot of fish, but I want to catch big fish; sometimes I want to catch a lot of fish without a care in the world, and if a big fish wants to participate, fine.
Yes, I always want to catch a lot of good fish and a big fish, but I have to know where to go depending on what I'm looking for. Which is why I have a little place at the top of my own list of Nebraska's best. While I've written about it before, I'll continue suggesting it until it stops giving up great fish: Walnut Creek.
Walnut Creek allows anglers both the challenge of finding shallow-water bass in the vegetation as well as working deep-water crankbait and plastic-worm options on the spillway. There are points and creekbeds, sludge and clear water, 2-pound fish and 8-pound fish. Make it the first place you fish when the ice breaks.
And keep in mind all the lakes that my friends suggested -- all great places. I'm a little surprised that nobody mentioned the I-80 Lakes, Wellfleet, or even Red Willow, but maybe that's just as well: Sometimes I think the list of great Nebraska bass fishing is just too long. What's a person to do besides get a topographic map, a rod and reel, and a handful of lures?
Nothing, in my opinion. It sounds like the perfect thing for any day of the year in this part of the world.