You'd be hard pressed to find four states with more fishing diversity than the Great Plains states. From North Dakota to Kansas you can catch everything from trophy walleye and pike to jumbo yellow-bellied perch and crappies to behemoth catfish. If you're willing to travel, you can be still ice-fishing in April or be fishing in short sleeves.
It's the variety of weather and species that makes angling in the Great Plains fun. Following are some suggestions you'll want to add to your angling calendar for 2015.
Glen Elder Crappies
When winter starts off early and cold and encases Kansas' Glen Elder Reservoir in a layer of good, hard ice anglers have a field day catching out-sized crappies. The best ice-fishing on 12,586-acre Glen Elder typically takes place on the west end of the reservoir, near the Cawker City Causeway. Ice conditions tend to be more stable and predictable there because it is somewhat sheltered. Current there attracts schools of gizzard shad, which in turn draws pods of hungry crappies, walleyes and white bass. The majority of crappies on Glen Elder will average 10 to 12 inches, but dinner plate-size slabs stretching 15 to 17 inches are not uncommon. Glen Elder reservoir is located 12 miles west of Beloit off U.S. Highway 24.
Other Options: In east-central South Dakota (Kingsbury County) at Lake Thompson work the drop-offs from 12 to 20 feet for walleyes that will average 16 to 20 inches, pike up to 20 pounds and big yellow bellies. Want to catch some big crappies this winter? North Dakota's 840-acre Pipestem Lake, five miles north of Jamestown, is a can't-miss destination for good specks.
Elwood Reservoir Smorgasbord
"The ice-fishing is absolutely fantastic on Elwood!, said guide Steve Trybus (308-440-2430). "You can catch walleyes, wipers, crappies, catfish, bluegills — it just depends what you want."
Wipers are generally found from 45 to 48 feet down in the Nebraska reservoir and bite best under low-light conditions. Crappies, surprisingly, can often be caught suspended above the other game fish 15 to 18 feet down or relating to edges of trees and breaks.
"The W-3 Jigging Rapalas or Jiggin' Shad Raps are all we use," said Trybus.
Other Options: Metigoshe is one of the best lakes in North Dakota for bluegills, with 'gills up to 10 inches possible. Concentrate on the 17- to 25-foot depths in North Dakota's Lake Audubon for walleyes, and use your electronics to find isolated humps that others might miss.
Red Willow Reservoir Crappies
1,630-acre Red Willow Reservoir, or Hugh Butler Lake as it is also called, in Nebraska's Frontier County is unfamiliar to most Great Plains crappie anglers, but it's a sleeper for producing big specs. 19-inch crappies in excess of 3 pounds have been caught there. For a bucket of 10- to 12-inch specks use minnows or conventional-sized tube jigs.
Other Options: North Dakota's Red River is known for producing giant catfish, but it's a sleeper for giant walleyes, too. South Dakota's Dry Lake (Codington County) and Swan Lake are worth a try for northern pike.
Lake McConaughy Walleyes
Walleyes move into the rocky structure along the dam to spawn once the water temperature in this Nebraska lake reaches 42 degrees. Anglers slow troll with stick baits along the rocks. Be prepared to lose some lures. Walleye up to 12 or 13 pounds are taken during the early spring bite. A secret is to use a couple colors of lead core.
Other Options: South Dakota's Reetz Lake (28-inch minimum length limit; daily limit one fish) is a good lake for catching and releasing exceptional numbers of trophy-sized walleyes. At Kansas' Coffey County Lake work the rocky shorelines for a mix of smallmouths, largemouths and white bass.
Deerfield Lake Trout
South Dakota's Deerfield Lake near Hill City is a great place to take advantage of the state's Free Fishing Weekend in May. The reservoir has an outstanding trout population composed of both rainbows and splake. The yellow perch there are a sleeper, and it's not uncommon to catch a limit of trout and perch in the same day.
Other Options: At Kansas' 16,000-acre Milford Reservoir use swim baits and jigs to catch everything from crappies and smallmouth to wipers to walleyes. Smallmouth up to 7 pounds are not uncommon. Once water levels drop and warm, insect hatches cause trout to go on a feeding frenzy on South Dakota's Rapid Creek. Try flashy spinners if the water is murky. Trout up to 5 pounds are not uncommon.
Swanson Reservoir Potpourri
One of the most fun things about fishing Nebraska's Swanson Reservoir is that you never know what you're going to catch. Casting in open water is likely to produce plenty of white bass and bonus wipers. Fishing flooded timber will produce walleyes, largemouth bass and crappies. Casting swim baits in various sizes will catch them all.
Other Options: Nebraska's Merritt Reservoir is known for it's great walleye fishing, but you'll catch giant pike and largemouths, too. June can be a great time to catch Kansas' trophy blue catfish on Perry Reservoir. Look for cats up to 30 pounds or more. Tempt them with a chunk of gizzard shad.
Valentine NWR Panfish
The lakes found on the Valentine NWR in Nebraska are shallow, smaller bodies of water that can be easily fished from a canoe or car-topper. Many have motor restrictions so oar or paddle power is the best. Top-water baits can be good for bass and pike and suspending live bait or scent-enhanced plastics under a bobber is perfect for panfish.
Other Options: Ft. Robinson in the Nebraska panhandle has a variety of small ponds to fish there, plus lots of trout fishing to explore in that Pine Ridge area. Try Richmond and Mina lakes in South Dakota for panfish and walleye.
Wilson Reservoir Smallmouths
9,040-acre Wilson Reservoir is considered the clearest and one of the most scenic reservoirs in Kansas. It's also one of the top smallmouth bass destinations in the Sunflower State. Look for plenty of bass in the 10- to 16-inch range and bigger. Wilson State Park (785-658-2465) has both primitive and utility camping sites with cabins available for rent.
Other Options: Lewis & Clark Reservoir is located on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska, and there is good walleye fishing off the flats at Weigand Creek and for channel catfish along the bluff shoreline along the old river channel casting and trolling crankbaits. Blue cats have really taken off in Eldorado Reservoir in Region 4 in Kansas. Many weight up to 30 pounds. Try dead bait and cut baits.
Branched Oak Reservoir Crappies
Nebraska's Branched Oak Reservoir does not have a lot of structure, and the crappies basically roam the basin most of the year. Depths range from 6-15 feet in the bays to 20-30 feet in front of the dam. There are a variety of sizes of crappies, including some big fish up to 14 inches and maybe a little bigger. Usually good catches can be made with twister-tailed jigs, but it doesn't hurt to have some minnows on hand.
Other Options: Wagon Train Lake, located 21 miles south of Lincoln, Neb., is not a big reservoir at 315 acres, so it cools quickly in the fall and there aren't that many places muskies can hide. Play a waiting game with a big sucker or cast over-sized spinner baits and bucktails. Look for Indian summer days to produce great walleye action on Lake Sharpe near Pierre, S.D. Use bottom bouncers and half a crawler or jigs. Walleyes will run 15 to 20 inches.
Lake Sakakawea Walleye
The fishing on North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea has been on fire in recent years, but fall serves up a whole new level of intensity. Fall is when you can catch some really big walleyes. The key is to troll slow using lead core to get baits deep or using deeper diving plugs. Expect 6-10 pound walleyes and bonus pike.
Other Options: Pick the right day
in October and you can catch a smorgasbord of game fish on Lake Oahe in North and South Dakota that will include walleye, pike, smallmouth, catfish and white bass. The 2,300-acre Keith Sebelius Reservoir, or Norton Reservoir, is located 3 miles southwest of Norton, Kan. The reservoir contains a hodgepodge of crappies, saugeyes, walleyes, white bass and wipers that are sure to put a bend in your rod.
Calamus Reservoir Muskies
Located near Burwell, Neb., Calamus Reservoir covers 5,124 acres and has a very fishable population of muskies. Calamus muskies are going to be eating white bass, suckers, walleyes, etc., in other words, big baits. Match the hatch by throwing giant crankbaits.
Other Options: There is a bumper crop of crappies at Kansas' Kirwin Reservoir. Fish from the record spawns in 2008 and 2009 are now very respectable and should provide plenty of tasty fillets.
Fish are highly concentrated in late fall around fish attractors and standing timber. Nebraska's Lake Sutherland can produce hot late fall walleye action for those willing to brave the cold. A warm water discharge concentrates baitfish and the walleyes follow. Casting with crank baits and stick baits after dark produces limits.
Devils Lake Walleye and Perch
Devils Lake in North Dakota is one of the hottest ice-fishing destinations in the country. As this large, fertile lake expands, so do it's fishing opportunities.
Devils Lake produces hot first-ice-angling action for walleyes, northern pike, yellow perch and white bass. The fishing is uncomplicated then and even novice anglers can catch lots of fish on Devils Lake. The shallow bays are the first to freeze. Jumbo perch have been showing up in the catch again.
Other Options: 383-acre Sheridan Lake in Pennington County, S.D., has a reputation for producing big pike, rainbow trout, perch and crappies for ice anglers. Once one of the premier trout lakes in the Black Hills, Sheridan Lake become infested again with big northern pike. "South Dakota's Waubay Lake has a really strong perch population right now," said Cory Ewing (605-929-3894). Look for plenty of perch in the 10- to 12-inch range. Jigging spoons with a minnow head are hard to beat. The same rig will take bonus walleyes.