Barbs and Backlashes

You call this fall? by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
October 14, 2009, 4:19 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: , ,

I spent the weekend “out west”, west of Lincoln that is.  We spent time with family in North Platte.  My sister and her kids from Montana met us there at Mom and Dad’s and of course my nephews, son, father and I expected to do some fishing.

Apparently we should have arrived a day earlier because the weather was relatively nice then and my youngest nephew caught the nicest fish of the trip.

Caleb with his nice canal smallmouth.  Way to go Caleb!

Caleb with his nice canal smallmouth. Way to go Caleb!

That fish was big enough to qualify for a Nebraska Master Angler Award, right at 18 inches, and you are dying to know–it was caught on a Road-Runner.After we got to town we slipped out to fish a couple of interstate lakes.  Picked up some more small smallmouth bass and my older nephew caught a surprise.

Seth posing with his wiper that should not have been there.

Seth posing with his wiper that should not have been there.

There have been no wipers stocked in this particular interstate lake, but the canal system is not far away and it would not take much for some brilliant bucket biologist to transfer some fish over and stock for us.  I have said this before, will say it again here, a fish pox on everybody that illegally transfers fish to public waters!  Those introductions have ruined many fisheries.  Grrrr.

We planned to fish hard on Saturday, but that morning we were greeted to this.

My daughter posing with the 15 inches of "global warming" that fell overnight.

My daughter posing with the 15 inches of "global warming" that fell overnight.

The snow put a little crimp in our fishing plans.  First of all, we had to wait for it to quit snowing and for the roads to open up.  There were actually snow plows on the roads!

Then what to do?  Well, I cannot dance, so we were going to go fishing regardless of the conditions.  We have all been there; you plan a fishing trip, travel to your destination and a severe cold front blows through, the wind blows, the temperature drops and the fish shut down.  Sometimes when that happens, a person just has to take his or her lumps and wait for better days.  But, I believe there are some strategies that can save a trip, some strategies that can still scratch a fish or two in spite of miserable conditions.

First of all, I love to have options.  I love areas where there are a variety of waters and a variety of fish species to pursue.  This time of year, as the waters cool, I am thinking of progressing from warm-water species to cool-water species to cold-water species.  For example, many of you saw the big flathead catfish I caught & released just a week ago, ; honestly it is getting a little late in the fall to expect to catch flatheads like that because  flathed catfish are very much a warm-water species.  With water temps. dropping, the big flatties are heading towards their deep-water wintering habitats.  If you know where they consolidate in those wintering habitats, some of those flatheads can still be caught in cold water, but they quit cruising the shallows looking for food as the water cools and if you have to keep catching flatheads your strategies have to change.  As the waters cool, cool-water species like pike, walleyes and muskies will stay active and remain very catchable.  Even later, with the water just about ready to freeze, the best bet might be to pursue a cold-water species like brown, rainbow or brook trout.  Here is my point, if one of those cursed cold fronts hit, and you have the options, think of species that are more likely to be active in colder water.  If you planned to fish for bass, maybe you should shift to pike or even walleye.  If you planned to fish for walleye, maybe you should shift to trout.  Stay versatile, go with the flow, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonaide”.  All of those species of fish are fun to catch and if you stay versatile you can still catch some fish and salvage a trip.

We knew that there might be limited trout opportunities at Lake Ogallala and associated waters because Lake Ogallala has been drained for some dredging work this fall.  Eventually there will be a chemical renovation of Lake Ogallala as well.  But, we thought we still might be able to find some fish there and at least prove we could catch fish under some lousy conditions.



They were not big trout, there will be better days ahead, but it was better than sitting home on the couch watching football all day.

Another tactic that can help beat a bad cold front, again if the option is available, is to shift to flowing water–a river, stream, or canal.  Fish in flowing waters are still impacted by weather conditions, but to a lesser extent than fish in standing waters.  Fish in a stream relate to the current flow and are not as impacted by light conditions, wind direction, and wind speed.  I had some additional canal spots in mind, but with the muddy roads we thought it probably was not a great idea to try to venture to those spots.

Generally the less active the fish are, the less they are aggressively feeding, and the better small, natural presentations work.  Think about using smaller more natural baits and lighter lines.  Livebait becomes a go-to option under the worst of conditions.  And you may have to exercise greater patience–use smaller, more natural baits, put them on the nose of fish and then give them time to respond.  Vertical presentations are the best way to accomplish this; when the fishing gets tough go more vertical–fish a small jig and minnow right below the boat, vertically jig a spoon or blade bait.  Vertical presentations put your bait on the fish and keep it there for longer periods of time.  Horizontal presentations like casting spinnerbaits or trolling crankbaits are great presentations for covering water and contacting active fish that are actively feeding.

We tried to catch some fish from another interstate lake on our last afternoon of fishing and discovered that the water temperature had dropped 5 degrees F in two days.  Ouch!  We slowed down, tried to go smaller and more natural, even saw some fish that showed interest in our baits, but could not get anything to commit to eating them.  Oh well, next time we will get them.

We could have sat at home and decided that the fish were not going to bite.  But I will tell you I only know one thing that is guaranteed when it comes to fishing–you cannot catch anything sitting at home on the couch.  I have had some trips, especially in the fall, when the weather was lousy and I figured the fishing would be tough.  But, once we got on the water, we hammered them.  Sometimes you just have to try it and let the fish tell you what is happening.  Sometimes, in spite of the conditions, you just have to. . . GO FISH!


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I was just wondering what canal that small mouth was taken out of. I currently live in Lincoln, but I’m from that area. This past Labor Day I was fishing at the double check on the Tri-County Canal with a marabu jig. Largemouths, Spotted, and Smallmouths were biting like crazy. The smallmouths were particularly huge. I had three smallies that could have been master anglers if I had known it was 3lbs. In my mind I thought it was 5lbs.

Anyways, I was just wondering if the canal systems of south central Nebraska have always been such good smallmouth fisheries? Or have they just developed recently?

Comment by Nathan


The canal system below Lake Maloney has been loaded with smallmouth bass for a LONG time. I grew up in North Platte, and in the summer I used to ride my bike to the canal a couple, three days every week. I would bet I have caught thousands of smallmouth bass from that water. Now most of those fish are 10 to maybe 14 inches, but every now and then some bigger fish show up, usually close to a reservoir or one of the water control structures. From Maloney on downstream all the way to Johnson you can find smallmouth bass, usually along stretches where there is some rocky habitat. Johnson has a very good population of smallmouth bass as well with some larger fish showing up there too.

The fish my nephew caught was caught up at Sutherland where the canal enters the reservoir. I have never caught a lot of smallmouth bass up there, a few, but never any as big as that fish Caleb caught. That fish was released, it is still there, maybe I can catch it next time!

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

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