Here, in one handy package, is 12 months' worth of the finest fishing trips that the Great Plains has to offer in the coming year! (February 2006)
In the Great Plains, just close your eyes and drive. When your toes get wet, turn off the ignition, climb out your window, and start fishing. It doesn't matter where you are, or at what time of the year you're fishing -- you'll be catching fish: I promise.
The Great Plains is home to some of the most scenic, most impressive fisheries in the entire country, and regardless of the month in which you plan to fish, you're sure to be pleased. From the southern edges of Kansas to the land of Devils in North Dakota, the region is once again home to a year's worth of fishing that you'll never forget.
This section isn't limited to a particular part of the state or even a state itself -- not when we're talking about "the Mighty Mo." The Missouri River either borders or drives right through every state in the Great Plains area, and has great catfishing possibilities in each one. Here are a few:
Garrison Dam, N.D. -- Find catfish in this part of the river by paying attention to contour changes and water levels. Nemaha County, Neb. -- Using chubs and goldfish, fishermen have long caught cats in this area. At Indian Cave State Park, where the Nemaha and Missouri rivers meet, anglers can find both flats and channels in the shallow areas next to the inflows. Pierre, S.D. -- Look for deep holes and suspending baitfish with your depthfinder to locate catfish.
West of Watertown, a plethora of small lakes can be found to give anglers chances at great pike, walleye, and bass fishing. Walleyes are by far the most-harvested game fish at Lake Thompson, which not coincidentally provides some of the best walleye fishing in the area; the crappie there are beginning to make a turn for the better as well. Spirit Lake offers yellow perch and northern pike; Pelican is on its way to being one of the state's big walleye lakes. At this time of year, drop night crawlers and leeches through the ice.
Traditional anglers may hang me up by my bootstraps for lake-fishing for rainbows in Nebraska's small-water trout holes -- but this can be the time of year to get a kid interested in fishing throughout the state, and the thousands of rainbows stocked into state-managed areas during the year can help. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission publishes data on these stockings every year.
Talk to park officials in the following areas to find out when they will be stocking rainbows this year: Keller Park, Two Rivers SRA, Verdigre Creek, the Morrill Ponds, the Scottsbluff Zoo Pond, and a host of others. It's easy to get kids interested in fishing this month by letting them catch some fish, and there's no better way to do that than to let them see a rainbow come out of a patch of clear Cornhusker water.
Lake Byron, near Huron, S.D., is one of the area's hidden northern pike hotspots. Anglers are apt to catch big pike at the lake by means of a variety of techniques at a number of spots. Owing to the flood in 1997, many excellent spots for catching pike at Byron were created in the form of inlets, roadbeds, and flooded treelines. Fish these while looking for grassy areas near the back inlets of the lake in which pike like to spawn.
As far as lure and bait selections go, you have several options. Use live night crawlers as you would a regular plastic worm, Texas-rigging them and allowing the bait to remain near the vegetation as long as it can. A second option: bobber-fishing minnows near cover. Allow the injured baitfish to move through the water in an attempt to entice strikes. A third, more artificial option involves getting the wind in your face and throwing next to the vegetation with a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce spinnerbait and move the lure right beneath the surface of the water.
Brad Dyer, a local angler who has spent his share of days on Lake Byron, had this to offer: "Lake Byron is not always known for its pike fishing, which is why we have done so well there: Not a lot of people fish it for northerns. Fish Lake Byron with the thought in mind that you're going to catch a big pike near the lake vegetation."
Go to Zorinsky Lake in Omaha, and you'll see other boats; go to Grove Lake near Meadow Grove and you may not even see other people. From the lake's put-in at the spillway, anglers should fish the cove straight across from them. Though this cove might be heavily covered in moss at some times of the year, fish a weedless soft plastic through the sludge. Fish green and white scumfrog poppers, allowing them to sit next to the bank in any patch of open water you can find. Even thinly covered mossbeds should produce thunderous strikes in this cove.
If fishing the thick stuff isn't what you want, you'll still have several options. Slow-roll sinking lures down the long sides of the lake. Wooded with steep dropoffs, these areas allow anglers to drop either a spinnerbait or a soft plastic down the eroding banks.
Analyze the clarity of the water when considering spinnerbait size and blade choices, fishing lures with more shine when the water isn't as clear as you'd like. Once those areas have been fished, take a smaller spinnerbait in the 1/4-ounce range and work the shallow far end of Grove right beneath the surface.
After fanning the shallow flats, chase any other aggressive bass out with Baby-1 lures from Mann's. They sell a bunch of colors, but chartreuse appears to be the way to go.
Rory Saari at Ed's Bait Shop near Devils Lake is very up front about what he thinks he can do for anglers. "Regardless of the time of year you are here," he told me, "I can put you on 10 different places to catch walleyes." I like that confidence.
When I go, I'll fish it in early June where walleyes in the 6- to 10-pound range are quite common. At this time of the year, anglers should be looking for shallow water in the 2- to 10-foot range.
Fish for walleyes much as a bass angler would fish for bass, working crankbaits in shallow water. At the same time, anglers can use 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs with minnows or night crawlers. The areas that most walleye anglers fish are in the shallow coves in East Bay and the flooded hay fields off the main lake. Where the lake used to level out around 30 feet, it's near 50 feet now, so formerly shallow areas now lying at much greater depths are immense. Find these areas, and you'll find your walleyes in June.
"We are one of the top three walleye lakes in the nation," Saari assured me. At Ed's Bait Shop, anglers can get free maps, equipment, and maybe even a few tutorials. Call the shop at (701) 662-8321 if you have further questions.
Channel catfish over 30 pounds are caught on a regular basis at the Red River, with fish in the 4- to 8-pound range being very common as well. Find catfish during this month of the year in tributary streams on the Red. Catfish use these areas to spawn; accordingly, anglers might even be able to find weedy patches in these spots where carp are known to spawn.
So what's the connection between cats and carp? Channel cats on the Red love feeding on carp eggs. Anglers can often catch them on a variety of catfish baits merely by working baits slow through the water, much as a bass angler deep-fishes a plastic worm.
Every year during this time, college football polls come out. Everyone has their different list of teams and players, making many out to be pre-season all-world choices. Using the same type of system, analyzing last year's work and hoping that everything works in the way that I hope it does, Kansas' Sebelius Lake is this year's pre-season numero uno in the Mixed Bag category.
From the southern edges of Kansas to the land of Devils in North Dakota, the region is once again home to a year's worth of fishing that you'll never forget.
There's not a place better at presenting anglers with options. While those fishing here don't manage a lot of big bass, Sebelius can boast being a reservoir at which anglers can manage not just excellent largemouth fishing in regard to numbers but also saugeyes, wipers, channel and flathead catfish, and spotted bass.
But if Sebelius doesn't tickle your fancy, buy a topographical map of Kansas, refer to the state's bonanza of statistical data, and plan out a weekend trip for the game fish of your choice. You can do it without ever driving more than an hour from the point at which you first put your boat in.
If I were to draw you a map of the I-80 lakes and say "Fish this one" or "Fish that one," I'd be doing a negligent job. With sandpits that stretch from North Platte to Lincoln, the I-80 lakes are a small-boat angler's dream and a land angler's heaven.
I'm sure the locals know the names of the lakes and exactly where to go, but you wouldn't be getting the full appreciation of the system if you looked at them from a distance like that. As far as highway-adjacent fishing lakes go, the I-80 lakes are one of the best systems -- maybe the best one -- in the entire country.
Here's how I fish them: quick. I don't wait around to see if a fish is going to strike. I also fish very offensively on these lakes, for I feel that in a day's time I can fish from 10 to 15 lakes without having to drive very far. I'll fish the lakes for no longer than an hour, attempting to draw fish to strike with a collection of lures that stay in a side pouch in my tackle box labeled "I-80." Inside are white spinnerbaits, Baby-1, Zara Spook, and a floating soft plastic.
Your job is to fish quickly without hanging up. It's going to be windy, and you're probably going to want to fish off the bank --so fish fast, fast, fast! Go with the idea that the first lake you see isn't necessarily the one you're going to end up at that day.
Despite June being prime time for walleyes on Lake Sakakawea, October can also bring worthwhile walleye fishing to the area. (Plus I figure that if you read long enough into the year, you can always go there again as well.)
Anglers are few and far between in various parts of the lake, and fish can be found in the tailraces and near Garrison. Great walleye fishing can also be found in the Lewis and Clark Park area.
Whatever else you do this month, don't pass up such a great opportunity to catch walleyes!
It might be a month earlier than last year, but I'm still sending you in the same direction. La Cygne Lake is by far the best overall bass-fishing lake in the state of Kansas. Year after year, it produces some of the highest qualities of bass both on the survey days and the angler days, and this year is no different. As the winter moves on, start working your way closer and closer to the power plant located on the eastern side of the lake.
The lake's shallow-water areas will become more difficult to fish as temperatures drop, so this welcome source of warmth will allow anglers an extended Indian summer of sorts, with the in-flowing warm water from the plant keeping the action alive. Use temperature gauges on the lake as you fish and chart your water temperature throughout the day and the month. Start from the warmest water and work down.
Fish weedbeds at La Cygne with some sort of floating soft-plastic bait, especially during these winter months, when the bass fishing is supposed to be sluggish. Texas rigs with no weight work best, as they allow the lure to walk the dog near heavy weedy areas using your wrists as a method to keep the bait in the area for as long as possible.
The more you can get these lures to move while still remaining in a bass' strike zone, the harder it'll be for the fish to ignore your offering. With the lake's geographical location and the power plant, anglers can hold onto warmwater days a bit longer. This lake has a lot going for it thanks to its geographical location and its being fisherman-friendly during the cool months of the year. After a very hot summer on the lake, the fish will be there for the taking during this time.
The Roy Lake area in northeastern South Dakota offers a collection of opportunities for anglers with an assortment of ideas. At Roy Lake, a scenic beauty with an excellent collection of bass, pike, walleyes and panfish, anglers can pick their poison when fishing.
Jan Thames, local resort owner, had this to say: "Netting counts done by Game, Fish and Parks show excellent reproduction in many species of fish, including panfish, so expect to start seeing some excellent panfishing beginning next year."
Anglers can also go through Thames for a guide on the lake or take their chances on their own. I've caught excellent pike in the shallow water coves with 1/4-ounce white spinnerbaits over floating wood cover. Plus, Thames added, "Roy Lake is located within a half-hour of 20-plus glacial lakes, so if Roy Lake isn't working for you, you have plenty of others to select from."
Pick a month. Pick a spot. Fish can be found in the Great Plains at a host of lakes. Anglers should take note of the second and third species/locations featured on this year's fishing calendar chart. Many of those picks can produce some outstanding catches as well.
And sometimes the best spots on the water are the ones that no one else is fishing -- so don't pass up any opportunity, no matter how "underrated" it might be.
As always, talk to locals, and spend time researching. This article is a compilation of expert advice combined with my own fishing experiences. Now it's time for you to get out and experience some of this Great Plains fishing on your own.