March bass fishing can be great at these Cornhusker hotspots.
By Jeff Kurrus
This spring you have a job to do: Get away from the big city before it becomes too warm to fish this year's Nebraska bass hotspots - one of which is the largest hidden hotspot that the state has to offer.
Merritt Reservoir is in the north-central part of the state near Valentine. It isn't a high-profile bass lake, which makes it even more inviting for diehard largemouth anglers. Boat ramps at the Snake River and Powderhorn areas allow fishermen to take advantage of the lake's tributary system. To explain: The Snake River's depth dips below 10 feet in many places, while the Powderhorn area offers repeated channels and inlets to fish in less than 20 feet of water.
In addition, Merritt Reservoir once owned the state record for smallmouth bass, and still has excellent smallmouth potential, thanks to its moving water in Boardman Creek and Snake River. Then, once you work your way back out of these creeks, fish Merritt's crop of aquatic vegetation in its many bays.
Another option would be to fish the islands in the Powderhorn area with weightless lizards. In the past, anglers have had excellent luck catching lunker bass on leeches at Merritt, which is displayed in the lake's Master Angler bass archives on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Web site. So, any imitation of this bait gives anglers another opportunity for finding the right pattern.
(Oh - I almost forgot: If you hang into something that you can't move and that doesn't quite feel like a bass, it's probably not one. Merritt is also the home of the current state records for channel catfish, white crappie, and muskellunge.)
If you have any questions regarding bass fishing on Merritt, get in touch with John Nadolski, a guide on the lake, at www.merritttradingpost.com.
Larry Kurrus, the author's father, caught this nice spring largemouth at Davis Creek. Spring is a good time to fish the 1,145-acre reservoir -- before the summer drawdown. Photo by Jeff Kurrus
At 1,145 acres, Davis Creek gives anglers another large-water option in Nebraska. However, Davis Creek was recently drawn down and still has had difficulties rising back up to pool.
"If you're going to fish Davis, fish it during the late spring," says Daryl Bauer, lake and reservoir program manager at the NGPC, "because the drawdown is so large during the summer (more than 25 feet from full pool at the end of summer 2003)."
Yet the fish are there throughout the year. They're just in different water. Recently a good buddy of mine and I went fishing at a local reservoir that had also been hit by the summer's irrigation needs. As it was down more than 10 feet, we bypassed our habitual spots and began fishing deep contour changes (from 15 to 25 feet) using crankbaits that dived 8 to 12 feet.
Our fish still didn't cooperate. Then, on a whim, I started fishing the same water with a shallow-diving crankbait - one designed to dive 2 to 4 feet - and began picking up fish immediately. We went on to catch 30 bass that afternoon, all by working deep-water contours with shallow-running lures.
Unconventional? Yes. Did we find a pattern? Most definitely.
Red Willow is located in the southwest portion of the state near McCook, and allows anglers both deep- and shallow-water fishing for bass. In the back of Bortner Cove and Bluegill Haven, fishermen will have the opportunity to turn their large lake into a small one as waters of 30 to 40 feet depths trickle down to less than 5 feet in the back of the coves. Yet keep the following in mind: In the NGPC's spring 2002 bass surveys, Red Willow ranked near the bottom of total fish surveyed. However, the fish that were surveyed averaged more than 15 inches in length.
Start by locating shallow creek waters and fishing every oxbow you can find, especially on the south side of the lake where 50-foot depths turns into much shallower dimensions west of the Red Willow area. Plus, try at least one of these techniques on your stagnant days.
I've found that, compared to any other lure I've fished in Nebraska, white, green, and black weedless scum frogs (whether you're fishing slime or not) are some of the best lures for taking Nebraska bass. All across the state, from North Platte to Omaha, these lures have been a mainstay in my box for two reasons: They're so lifelike that even real frogs are often fooled by them, and people rarely fish them.
Next, fish some sort of propeller lure and allow the lure to stay in the strike zone for a ridiculous amount of time. Then, once you twitch the lure, do so where it moves very little, not traveling more than a couple of inches each time you twitch it. This technique has allowed me to catch many large bass on days when nothing else seemed to work. Over and over again, show the fish something that's annoying and that won't go away. Then do that again and again.
Talk to Steve Lytle, who guides at Red Willow, if you have any additional questions. Go to his Web site: www.goodlifeoutdoors.com.
After showing a picture of Box Butte's contour map to a friend who had never fished it, he said flatly, "It looks like a big swimming pool."
I had to agree. At 1,600 acres, Box Butte is not one of the largest, most picturesque lakes you'll find in Nebraska, yet the possibility of catching quality bass is as close as the nearest cover. In a lake such as this, anglers will benefit from fishing contour changes just as if they were pieces of visible cover. After fishing a variety of lakes over the last few years, my fishing partners and I have come to this realization You only need some change, any type of change, and Box Butte is the perfect spot to demonstrate this common-sense approach to bass fishing.
In addition: During the state's 2002 fishing surveys, Box Butte yielded a very respectable number of fish measuring from 8 to 20 inches. The lake's middle-of-the-road numbers remind me of a couple of lakes I've fished religiously in the past, including Two Rivers and lakes nos. 7 and 8 at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. Plus, with its location in the northwest corner of the state, Box Butte isn't geographically central to a ton of fishermen.
The main thing about Calamus, a 5,200-acre reservoir in central Nebraska, is its lack of visible structure for anglers. However, what flooded timber there is in this reservoir (as well as in Davis Creek) should be fished in order to find success. However, the drawdown in the summertime makes Calamus an extreme challenge for fishermen.
"When you lose more than 10 percent of you
r surface water every summer," says Joel Klammer, NGPC fisheries biologist, "it's going to be hard to keep any sort of consistency in a fishery."
Yet fish can still be found, just as they can in all of these Nebraska reservoirs that are drawn down each summer.
For example, anglers always have the option of fishing the mouths of coves, the secondary points, and the shallow water at the backs of coves. Match the hatch by asking locals what baitfish are most prevalent in Calamus for that particular time of the year you're fishing it.
According to the NGPC's annual fishing surveys, Calamus ranks high in the white bass and wiper categories, so crankbaits that match their colorations would be a good fit when fishing contour changes on the main lake.
The main thing to remember when fishing wide-open places like most of the ones described here is this: The largemouth bass is a territorial, cover-seeking fish. Like a yard dog stuck in the hot sun, a bass will search out any sort of cover it can find. A dog's shade might be under the eave of a house, or right beside a chain link fence - anything that allows it to feel like it's hiding. It's the same thing with bass.
Whenever you're confronted with wide-open water, fish any sort of cover or "change" that you find, regardless of how small. Analyze where, when, and how you caught your bass at each of these places, and then transfer your findings - when in comparable situations - to the other reservoirs.
Finally, if you're traveling a great distance to fish these reservoirs, make a phone call first to make sure that the water level suits your needs. The summer drawdowns on these lakes are quite substantial, and anglers should at least think about taking a look at these places earlier during the fishing season. Contact the NGPC at (402) 471-0641 or visit the agency's Web site, www.ngpc.state.ne.us.
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