February 02, 2016
By Jason Mitchell
The Great Plains states are a cross road of fishing opportunities. Walleye popularity peaks in the north, while largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing interest increases in popularity as you look south.
Mix in pockets of striped bass, white bass, wiper, and the ever-popular panfish with the more exotic opportunities, such as trout, and you can see that Great Plains anglers are blessed.
A wide variety of species are available for anglers, and the vast geographical area of the plains states offers many noteworthy angling opportunities that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere.
Each month offers several peaking fishery options, and we have highlighted some of the best places to fish this season based on time of year.
Because we are blessed in this region with so much diversity, I challenge you as an angler to experience something new or different. Over this upcoming year, there will be plenty of great chances to explore what may seem new or exotic.
Remember as well that you can often experience incredible fishing by targeting fish species that might not get a lot of attention from local anglers.While most anglers traveling to Lake Oahe in the Dakotas target the reservoir's celebrated walleye population, for example, many anglers often ignore the tremendous smallmouth bass fishing opportunities at the same body of water.
As a general rule of thumb, anglers to the north are often consumed with walleyes while bass win the popularity contest farther south. And anglers to the north are often surprised at the quality of walleye fishing farther south, while the bass crowd is shocked at the quality of bass fishing to the north.
Sometimes we can experience some outstanding fishing by just crossing a couple state lines where opportunities that receive very little pressure can often produce some high-quality fishing.
Waubay Lake Perch
Waubay Lake, in northeastern South Dakota, is one of the largest lakes in the region. It is known for producing quality ice-fishing opportunities for jumbo perch that range between 10 and 12 inches, and larger fish are possible.
You might have to explore a few areas of the lake before the fish you're after are located. Try using lures that can cover a lot of water, then fish thoroughly when the bite starts.
Besides Waubay, the entire region offers hundreds of new lakes that have been peaking in recent years, and ice-anglers willing to put in the work are often rewarded with gigantic jumbo perch up to 15 inches.
Other Options: Lake Audubon, in central North Dakota, is a perennial favorite, and it often peaks for walleye near the beginning of the year. Focus on classic sunken islands and long points in 15 to 25 feet of water.
Often, good numbers of fish can be caught after dark or late in the day. Farther south, Glen Elder Reservoir in Kansas often has enough ice and is a top crappie spot.
Belle Fourche Reservoir Walleye
Also known as Orman Dam, this 8,000-acre reservoir near Belle Fourche, S.D, has a solid walleye population that typically fishes extremely well through February.
Anglers often find walleye near the dam and the Gadens Point area. Some of the best fishing happens after dark in 10 to 15 feet of water.
Sunrise is another popular time to target walleyes on this reservoir. Spoons are a good option to start with.
Other Options: Walleye and sauger fishing typically kicks in each season below Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River in Nebraska. Classic jig and minnow presentations shine.
Ice-anglers often find numerous crappies on Pipestem Reservoir in central North Dakota relating to the old creek channels.
Lake Sakakawea Pike
This huge North Dakota impoundment on the Missouri River has several strong year classes of pike that range between 30 and 40 inches, with some bigger fish a real possibility.
Late ice is prime time to target these winter predators in the back ends of most of the major creek arms and bays that enter the lake.
Use tip ups with dead bait, such as frozen herring. Don't discount the shallow areas here. It's not uncommon to find fish in 5 feet of water.
Other Options: South Dakota's Francis Case Reservoir often offers comfortable boat fishing opportunities for huge numbers of walleye. Lake Metigoshe near Bottineau, N.D., is a prime bluegill late-ice location.
Missouri River Walleyes
Walleyes move up into the Missouri River near Bismarck, N.D., each spring from downstream Lake Oahe. Pitch shallow sandbars and current breaks with jigs and minnows to score both numbers of fish along with the occasional trophy.
As spring progresses, follow the fish south as they move toward the state line.
Other Options: Lake McConaughy, located in western Nebraska, might be the best fishery in the region for landing a trophy walleye, and now is the time to do it.
Anglers troll shallow running stickbaits along the dam face. Kansas's Coffey County Lake produces some great smallmouth bass along rocky shorelines.
Milford Reservoir Mixed Bag
This 16,000-acre Kansas Reservoir can be on fire come mid spring with fun fishing opportunities for a mixed bag of crappies, walleyes, smallmouth bass and wipers.
Fish windblown points and shorelines and focus on shallow water by casting jigs with twister tails for lots of rod-bending action. Try a few different colors until the fish see one they like.
Other Options: Devils Lake in north central North Dakota is typically a great location for May fishing. Cast windblown shorelines with crankbaits and swimbaits to catch walleyes that act like bass.
For something a little more exotic, target lake trout on South Dakota's Pactola Reservoir by trolling spoons and crankbaits off deep points in 25 to 50 feet of water where bonus rainbow trout can also be caught.
Lake Oahe Walleyes
This reservoir, located partly in both North and South Dakota, is well known for walleyes. The mid section to upper section of this enormous Missouri River Reservoir often produces at this time.
Run bottom- bouncers and spinners or slow death rigs laced with half a crawler. As a bonus, great smallmouths can often be found on the rocky points or where there are boulders along the shoreline.
Other Options: The Valentine NWR in Nebraska offers several shallow lakes that can offer tremendous largemouth bass fishing early in the summer before the weeds get bad.
Bitter Lake in northeastern South Dakota is a top pick for walleye. Run the weedlines with bottom-bouncer rigs.
Wilson Reservoir Striped Bass
This 9,020-acre reservoir in central Kansas is one of the state's top striped bass fisheries and is also an impressive smallmouth bass fishery.
Use live shad over deep flats wherever you mark fish on your electronics to catch a mixed bag of striped bass, white bass, smallmouth bass and walleye.
Early in the morning and late at evening, striped bass will hit topwater lures.
Other Options: Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota on the Missouri River is top location for walleye at this time. The Garrison Dam tailrace traditionally turns on for a mixed bag of walleye, salmon, trout and catfish for anglers fishing the fast water with three-way rigs and stickbaits.
Swanson Reservoir White Bass
This 4,000-acre Nebraska fishery produces excellent white bass fishing through the heat of the summer. Anglers rig live gizzard shad and jig flutter spoons around main lake points, submerged road beds and sunken islands in depths that range around 20 feet of water. Anglers also catch the occasional wiper, walleye and catfish.
Other Options: Red River channel catfish in North Dakota can push past 20 pounds and often go on a feeding rampage after the mid-summer spawn.
Use cut bait like sucker or skipjack below snags. The average size increases, as the river gets larger to the north. Deerfield Lake in South Dakota's Black Hills can fish well through the summer for rainbow trout. Cast small spinners and spoons along the dam.
Roy Lake Smallmouth Bass
Roy Lake, located in northeastern South Dakota, has a solid smallmouth bass population that kicks into high gear each fall. Nearby Clear Lake and Enemy Swim Lake are also top producers.
Cast tube jigs or Carolina rigs over mid-depth rock piles that range between seven and 12 feet to target quality fish.
Largemouth bass are also present in surprising numbers here, especially around the shallow weeds. When fishing tubes and grubs, try varying the colors when the bite slows or stops.
Other Options: Keith Sebelius Reservoir near Norton, Kan., offers some solid fall action for white bass and wipers. Lake Sharpe, located in central South Dakota on the Missouri River, typically produces good walleye fishing, particularly in the Big Bend Area.
Anglers fish bluffs and points with lead-core line and crankbaits. Lake Sharpe also has a respectable smallmouth bass population as well.
Anglers might associate top trout water with destinations farther west, but Nebraska has quietly developed some great trout-fishing locations, and fall is prime time. Lake Ogallala is one of the top fisheries, along with the Platte River and the NPPD Supply Canal.
Both fly-fishing and spin-casting equipment is popular with anglers here. For lure anglers, small spinners are usually a good starting point for locating fish.
Rooster Tails and Mepps varieties in an assortment of colors are good to have in the tackle box for these waters.
Other Options: Nelson Lake near Center, N.D., offers some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the state, and this lake typically turns on in the fall when air temperatures cool.
Cast any bass presentation along the bank to find great numbers of largemouths, along with some crappies.
The James River in eastern South Dakota can produce some great walleye angling opportunities from shore each fall.
Red Willow Wipers
This Nebraska reservoir, located near McCook, can offer tremendous late- fall fishing for wipers. Wipers follow large schools of shad into deep water and often pile up on humps and along channels in 25 to 40 feet of water.
Use your electronics to find fish and then thoroughly work the area by vertically jigging spoons.
Other Options: Wyandotte Reservoir in Kansas is a solid late fall bet for bass and crappie fishing, especially at night or late in the day.
Milford Reservoir is another Kansas hotspot that produces white bass and wipers. Anglers are finding success here with jigging spoons.
Devils Lake Perch
Devils Lake in North Dakota at first ice is prime time for respectable jumbo perch. Perch can often be found deeper over basin contours and deeper transitions.
Also look for walleye along shorelines at first ice near flooded timber or rock bottom areas. Perch often require more finesse.
Try small horizontal tungsten jigs tipped with wax worms. Jig spoons tipped with minnow heads for walleye.
Other Options: Thompson Lake, in eastern South Dakota, is a popular fishing destination for first-ice crappies. Enemy Swim and Pickerel Lake in northeastern South Dakota are also top panfish lakes for ice-anglers targeting bluegills and crappies. Try hitting the outside weed edge as a starting point.
As you can see, the plains states offer more than enough fishing variety to hold the attention of anglers throughout the year. Now it's time to hit the water at a fishing hotspot near you.