NO, I am not getting all fired up for the holiday season already. I have a lot of fish to catch before then, and in my opinion the best open-water fishing of the year is right now–fall. I fish every month of the year, but if I could design the perfect calendar it would include 6 months of ice fishing (I really like to ice-fish), 3 months of spring turkey hunting (the one thing that really distracts me from fishing) and 3 months of fall fishing! Let me tell you some of the reasons I love fishing in the fall.The weather and scenery to be experienced in Nebraska in the fall can be spectacular, but another big attraction of fall fishing is the lack of crowds. For much of the spring and summer “fishing season” it seems there will be a crowd of anglers every place the fish are biting. There will be jet-skis and speed boats roaring all over. Not only does that make it hard to “get away from it all,” it also makes the fishing tougher. Undisturbed fish are easier to catch. In the fall when you find the fish, and figure out how to catch them, you likely will reap the rewards by yourself.
Although fall is a time of transition, weather patterns tend to be more stable than the often stormy, schizophrenic weather of spring. Stable weather patterns always result in better fishing. Fish behavior in the fall is dictated largely by the need to feed, in contrast to spring when spawning behavior can influence fish movement and behavior. In the fall fish are more likely to settle into feeding patterns that can remain relatively unchanged for several days. In a typical Nebraska autumn, good fishing for most species of fish can be expected to last into November.
Cooling water in the fall signals fish to feed heavily in preparation for the long, cold winter and the rigors of spawning the following spring. Development of eggs and milt in many species of fish starts in the late summer and fall and fish feed heavily in fall to take in the extra energy needed to develop eggs and milt. For most species of fish, they will be in their best body condition, will be their fattest, in the fall. I love catching those “fall fatties” because they will be some of the biggest, prettiest fish I catch every year.
In most Nebraska waters, by the time autumn rolls around, prey densities have been reduced from their summer peak abundance. Whenever there are hungry fish actively looking for prey, fishing can be excellent, and that is often the case on a variety of Nebraska waters in the fall. Nebraska reservoirs with gizzard shad or alewives can still have an abundance of prey in the fall and fishing can be tougher there, but even on those waters, the fish are feeding heavily and anglers can expect fishing to improve. Anglers targeting large game fish in the autumn should keep in mind that bait fish have been growing all summer and are larger in the fall. “Big baits for big fish,” is most true in the fall.
Here are some of my favorite water bodies for fall fishing:
Look for masses of baitfish in shallow water and bays in early fall and then on sharp drop-offs adjacent to deep water in late fall—walleyes, white bass, wipers and other predators will not be far behind. Crankbaits, jigs, swimbaits, bladebaits and a variety of spoons will all catch fish from reservoirs in the fall.
I love exploring our cold-water trout streams in autumn. Beside the cooler weather and beautiful fall colors, there are less bugs and brush to fight through in the fall. Water levels may be a bit lower in the fall, but usually the water quality is excellent and at times you can spot the trout. Brook trout in some of those small streams are actually fall spawners and the fall colors on the ridge-lines will be no more spectacular than the trout that inhabit those streams. With spawning activities occurring or soon to occur, the trout will be beautiful. Drifting nymphs or terrestrial patterns with a fly-rod will catch fall trout as well as small spinners and crankbaits or livebaits fished with spinning tackle. If you have not seen the Trout Fishing in Nebraska’s Streams booklet, let me know and I can put a couple copies in the mail for you.
PITS AND PONDS
Some of the best panfishing and bass fishing found in Nebraska is found on relatively small bodies of water—pits and ponds, and fall is one of my favorite times to fish these waters. Many pits and ponds are privately-owned and require permission to fish, but there are a bunch of these fisheries that are open for public access. State recreation areas like Louisville, Fremont, Ft. Kearny, and Bridgeport have a number of pits that are open for public access and do not overlook the Interstate-80 lakes. Summer fishing patterns on pits and ponds will gradually transition into fall patterns. Generally as submerged aquatic vegetation begins to die back in the fall, fish in pits and ponds will move towards deeper water and weed edges. One of my favorite fall tactics for big bass in these waters is to fish a suspending jerk bait (e.g. Husky Jerk, Smithwick Rogue). Crank those baits down to their running depth and then slow down and occasionally pause and jerk the bait. The later in the fall and colder the water, the slower the bait needs to be fished.
I could spend days exploring the unchannelized Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. That area is beautiful in the fall and offers lots of fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, big white bass, walleye, sauger and other species. Lewis & Clark Reservoir is not part of the unchannelized river, but it also is beautiful in the fall and offers some excellent fishing. On large rivers there will be some migrations of fish in the fall towards deeper holes where the fish will spend the winter and there are even some fish that will begin to move upstream to spend the winter in deeper holes near their early spring spawning habitats. Jigs and minnows are a versatile bait that will almost always produce some fish on rivers and reservoirs. Vertically jigging those baits as well as other vertical jigging baits, spoons, blade baits and tail-spinners can produce fish well into November.
In some parts of Nebraska instead of large fishable rivers there are canals where there is some excellent fishing (e.g. Tri-County Canal system in central Nebraska). Fall fish movements in canal systems are very similar to movements in large rivers, and key fall spots will be barriers that prevent fish movement or at least cause the fish to pause for a time and deeper holes where fish will spend the winter. Again jigs & minnows or jigs & GULP! trailers will produce in the fall, but so will crankbaits and swimbaits.
I know it is contradictory to tell you that one of the reasons I love fall fishing is the lack of competition and then turn around and write a blog post on fall fishing. I will be on the water, probably will not see most of you out there this fall, but in the midst of the hunting and trapping seasons you might want to save some time to GO FISH!
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