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Great Fishing In The Great Plains

Great Fishing In The Great Plains

First, let me tell you about what makes this calendar your No. 1 best friend for the upcoming fishing season.

I didn't pull these lakes out of a hat. I went about writing this article as if I were planning an out-of-town trip to these locations to do some fishing. I got in touch with fisheries biologists, talked to locals, studied lake surveys and lake histories, called friends who had fished these lakes, and resorted to my own memories. Finally, I cut down my own list of hotspots from more than 200 to a more sensible 50, and finally to a more "editorially correct" 36.

Will your angling results directly reflect the value of the suggestions made here? I hope they turn out great. But if they don't, it won't be for a lack of homework on my part.

So now let's back up a month and let me tell you where you should have been in January. Or where to go next year about this time.


Crappie: Kansas

According to Kansas fisheries biologist Robert Wolfe, Perry has one of the best annual crappie populations in the state. The fish are scattered at this time of the year, so you'll need to work at locating them, but they can still be found near schools of shad throughout the lake. When baitfish can't be found this month, anglers ordinarily vertical-jig contour changes and deep-water brush rather than troll.

Perry Lake isn't the only crappie option in Kansas this month. Clinton, Melvern, Hillsdale, and Council Grove have all boasted good classes of crappie during various years, and all have the potential to host excellent crappie numbers on any given year. Anglers should pay attention to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks fishing surveys issued at the beginning of each year that target crappie. From this point, anglers can make adjustments as to whether they'd like to go after high quality or large quantities. And while the crappie spawn usually peaks in late April and early May, fishing pressure is low during this time of year, while crappie catch rates are still high.


In addition, Coffee County usually has one of the best crappie fisheries in the state owing to the warm-water supply from a local power plant. Coffee County's 5,000 acres constitute one of the few fisheries in this calendar that can be fished from boats this early in the year.


Yellow Perch: South Dakota

Despite the large amount of pressure that Waubay Lake receives during the winter (1,000 cars might be parked on the ice on a weekend day), Waubay is still known as one of the best yellow perch lakes in the state, and anglers can expect high-quality fishing this month as well. Move to deeper water as the winter carries on, vertically jigging spoons, Kastmasters, and Swedish Pimples for best action. And if you also want a chance at a walleye or a northern pike while you're out for perch, fishing minnows while you're otherwise using the same techniques makes these multiple options available.

Also keep in mind at this time of year that Roy Lake is a strong perch choice, with good chances at a high number of fish. Usually coming across with one of the highest perch populations in South Dakota each year, Roy is another yellow perch lake that won't disappoint anglers.


Crappie: Kansas

Lovewell was one of the strongest crappie lakes for both black and white crappie during the 2004 season, and it's expected to produce again this year. Run jigs down contour breaks throughout the lake with 1- to 1 1/2-inch slab spoons. With a ton of smaller fish surveyed by the KDWP last year, the production of fish greater than 12 inches should increase. Fish will concentrate around brushpiles and can be caught using white and chartreuse spinners.

In addition, biologist Robert Wolfe advises, pay attention to the surveys for lakes that might be good next year by finding the waters that now have large concentrations of fish just below the size you're wanting to catch this year. If conditions don't alter too much, you could be setting yourself up for great trips year after year.


White Bass: Kansas

This year, Glen Elder, Fall River and Kanopolis are our best white-bass lakes for the month of April. With the largest numbers of big whites surveyed by the KDWP, Kanopolis looks good to treat anglers to big sizes and big numbers of the whites. This month, anglers should catch whites as they move upstream to spawn. And while whites can be caught through the latter part of spring and even into the fall, this is your first real opportunity to attack them full force. While jigs are the most common method of catching whites, small crankbaits and flat spoons can produce as well.


Northern Pike: North Dakota

Once the ice clears out and the summer walleye anglers start attacking Devils Lake, pike fishermen can nonchalantly slide into another year of excellent action with northerns. Now at well over 100,000 acres, Devils Lake is the largest natural lake in North Dakota. Since 1992 the lake's water level has increased by 25 feet, and with all of this extra water, the lake has flooded many back roads near the lake, thus providing excellent cover for pike fishermen.

Big-bladed white spinnerbaits provide consistently strong pike fishing. Imparting any sort of movement at all to the spinnerbait, such as a slight hesitation or a vertical bounce, also produces excellent results. That's especially true when it's fished with some sort of trailer, most notably split-tailed plastics or even longer plastic worms. However, northerns will also hit frog- and minnow-colored crankbaits.

Increase your chances by matching the local food source, just as you would with any type of angling, and only deviate from your strategy after first trying this method of fishing.

During the summer of 2004, the average-sized pike surveyed at Devils Lake weighed 4.7 pounds. "We surveyed many more fish larger than that," said North Dakota fisheries biologist Randy Hiltner, "We saw a ton of 3- to 6-pound fish that, while they won't necessarily rival Canada's trophy pike, still give anglers excellent opportunities for quality fish."

Use the western end of the lake, which is shallower, as a starting point; pay attention to your weedy cover as the end of May draws to a close. As the summer wears on, these pike will rush out of whatever vegetation they can find to ambush frogs, fish or -- perhaps -- your lure.


Largemouth Bass: Nebraska

Try a little "pond-hopping" this month around Omaha and Lincoln at a host of lakes, including multiple fishing destinations in Louisville, Wahoo and Fremont. At Fremont, bass boat anglers have at least five small-lake opportunities on waters smaller than 30 acres each. These lakes get very little pressure throughout the week, or even on the weekends. Plus, johnboat anglers have at least 15 more spots

at Fremont Lakes Recreation Area at which big bass can be caught.

Fish spinnerbaits amid the dense succession of logjams and fallen trees, and attack the overhanging structure and weedbeds with green-and-white scum frogs.

I've caught as many Master Angler bass at Fremont as I have at any other lake in Nebraska. Big fish are there, but they're often so hard to get to that people just don't want to bother with them. But I'll be the first person to suggest Fremont when those big fish start running the shallows and I'm waking up as excited as I can be, knowing that I'm only going to catch 10 to 15 fish on a half-day trip when I'm used to catching many more. Trust me, though -- it's worth it.


Mixed Bag: North Dakota

Last summer I drove through North Dakota on a fishing trip and found myself putting on a long sleeved T-shirt during my early-morning angling jaunts. And when Nebraska is usually in the low 90s and Kansas tries to climb in the upper 90s more than I like, I try to use a little brainpower and not fight the patterns.

At Red River, anglers will find that even if the temperature does climb a bit high, they can still find fish in this constantly moving water source. And the best part is that you don't have to limit yourself to one type of fish. Walleyes over 10 pounds are caught each year on a river primarily known for its 30-pound-and-better channel cats. But these aren't the only species worth fishing for in the river. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has determined that at least 50 separate species of fish swim the Red River, including smallmouths, bluegills and pike. In addition, the pike have been big for years now, with fish nearing the 4-foot mark surveyed 10 years ago; see if there's one still around for you. Yet with weather and scenery this nice, who really cares?


Catfish: Kansas

I'm a statistical guy, as you can see. A researcher. Very seldom do I leave home with a group of friends for a few days and not find at least a few fish. Not because I'm good -- good gosh, on most days I can't even spell "angler" -- but I do know where to find my information when I need it.

With that in mind, I'd say that Kirwin Reservoir would be my top catfish pick for a few reasons. The KDWP's annual survey for 2003 showed that Kirwin harbored the largest channel catfish seen (over 25 pounds) and the third-largest flathead surveyed (over 24 pounds) during the summer of that year. Plus, it had the largest density of channels over 24 inches and 28 inches of any reservoir in the state. Well, two years have now elapsed since these fish were surveyed, and you know these aren't the only big catfish here.

Kirwin's water level will often drop during the summertime, and this summer should be no different. Bow Creek is a longstanding hotspot on the lake, and anglers there take catfish by means of both trotlines and rod and reel. Crawfish, shrimp, and sunfish are catfish favorites at Kirwin.


Whites And Wipers: Kansas

Troll this month at Cheney Reservoir with Shad Raps and ThunderSticks, making it a point to find baitfish schooling near the surface. Nearby gulls give anglers the best bets to find these spots, according to the KDWP's local fishing forecasts for Cheney.

Cast toward these areas until baitfish disappear, and then troll that same area for scattered whites and wipers. Fish this time last year were mostly found in 4 to 12 feet of water in Graber's Cove, Hutchison Point, and Walleye Island.


Bass: Nebraska

Walnut Creek, just south of Omaha, provides an excellent late-season bass lake to feed the angler's appetite before the long winter sets in. With so much vegetation to work through during the summer months here, bass anglers are often able to find fish in the usual spots at this time of year, thanks to the lack of pressure and the dying back of summertime's nightmarish green maze. I've always fished a lot of topwater lures at Walnut Creek owing to the grass issues, and have often found fish by using scum frogs, floating plastics and spinnerbaits.

Fish the rocky points and edges of the receding grassbeds before committing to the midlake timber. While fish can be found on this structure, it's often too eye-appealing for its own good. Instead, pay attention to your depth and start by fishing the edges of lake structure. Also, spend time on the rocky levee. Shallow near its edge, it drops off, allowing anglers to slow-roll spinnerbaits or work diving crankbaits into deeper water.


Walleyes: South Dakota

At Lake Oahe, walleye fishing is a way of life. With virtually three separate lakes to fish (lower, middle, and upper), anglers can find the exact fish they're looking for on any given day. While walleye fishing peaks during the summer months, this time of the year allows diehards to find fish while others are chasing ringnecks over milo fields.

Fish the lower lake this time of year for big walleyes, advises the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The amount of fish you can catch increases as you go to the upper end, yet the lower end still provides the best chance at a trophy. Talk with locals and state officials regarding the best areas for walleye angling right before you visit.


Largemouth Bass: Kansas

Complete your bass fishing this year searching for big fish, and don't worry about slowing down your retrieve quite yet. At La Cygne, where the water stays warm all year long thanks to the associated power plant's warmwater discharge outlet, big bass (and a lot of 'em!) can be found even at this time of year. Fish as you normally would at first -- that is, without slowing down your choices too much. If the fish tell you to show them your lure a bit longer than you usually do, then slow it down.

A ton of riprap and weedbeds means that there still should be action relating to these constant factors. The fishing, no doubt, is best at this time of year. The lengthy growing season of the fish -- a consequence of the warm lake temperature -- makes La Cygne the best bass fishery in the state.

If, however, winter is a more typically frigid affair, slow your retrieve down. I often just switch to reels with a lower gear ratio in order to achieve the exact speed I need, and spend more time in spots instead of quickly buzzing from area to area.

Drop down on lure size, and fish spinnerbaits with pork trailers to leave these lures in the strike zone for quite a while. Continue searching for fish in shallow water until the fish tell you to do otherwise.

La Cygne, at 2,600 acres, has one of the best largemouth populations in the state, and has Kansas's best big-bass population by far. With fish surveyed near 10 pounds just over a year ago, La Cygne appears to offer bass anglers everything they can handle this upcoming year, and now is a great time to start.


Now your year's complete. You've caught everything from trout in South Dakota and salmon in North Dakota to white bass in Kansas and largemouths in Nebraska.

Whew! I'm worn out! Maybe you are, too. Spend this year planning all those trips you've always wanted to make, and know there are places within the Great Plains that can fill your fishing dreams any month of the year -- regardless of the species.

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