On the calendar, Spring arrived about two weeks ago. In the real world, can be difficult to believe at times. The weather has been up and down, and quite frequently. This, of course, can really make spring fishing a challenge.
As many of you know, St. Patty’s Day greeted most of the state with glorious weather. My friend Clayton and I took full advantage of this and headed for the Tri-County Canal in central Nebraska. While it was a nice day to be outside, getting to the fish wasn’t without a few challenges. We headed out looking for saugers on a stretch above Johnson Lake a ways, and found some of our spots full of nets being used by some of Nebraska’s biologists. They collect walleyes and saugers in March and April for their hatcheries. I was able to fish an adjacent area and within half an hour had 2 nice saugers, one of which was collected by the biologists. I was happy to help, as I noticed their netting procedures looked to be much harder work than what I was doing!
As the day progressed, the wind picked up and made things a bit difficult. We ended with only 4 saugers, the nicest being a nearly 18″ female. We decided to head to another spot and try for crappies that I thought may be present. Making that move turned out to be a great idea. In a couple hours we ended with 35 fish between the two of us, the biggest being 13″.
As nice as Monday was, Tuesday was just plain unreal. I would describe what we had as a miniature blizzard. It crept in slowly, but when it arrived, it was nasty. In true Nebraska style, the weather allowed us to be on the water a few days later. Remember those challenges I mentioned earlier? They still showed themselves in different forms yet again. One of our access points to the canal was still drifted shut, and I really didn’t believe I could pull a boat trailer through it, so we had to relocate. This made our work a bit harder, but we perservered. When my friends Dustin, Clayton and I arrived to our first area, I had two saugers within minutes. One of them was a very nice looking 19 1/2″ fish, so we really thought we were onto something. Little did we know how much of a struggle the next few hours would be. Having caught only 2 fish of 4 that struck our jig/plastic combos, we decided to see if those crappies were still there. As brutal as the weather was just days before, I tried to look at the positive, which ultimately meant that the winter storm probably kept water temps low and unchanged, so hopefully the fish would still be on their same pattern. It did not take long to see that maybe there was something to that theory. With water temps in the mid-40s, the presentation was mostly a slow one. Drifting jigs downstream into likely holding areas enticed the crappies to attack them as they swam by. As we moved around a small area where these crappies seemed to be concentrated, Dustin recorded the fish of the day with an extremely nice 14″ fish that was just gorgeous.
As the week after drew on, the weather continued to change. The next weekend allowed me to do something I’ve been wanting to do, which was search for early fish at Elwood Reservoir. I drove around the entire lake, and had a real problem locating predators, or baitfish for that matter, anywhere out deep. This told me they were most likely up the shallow, trying to find warmer water. We did find a few bays that were up to 4 degrees warmer than the main lake. A buddy and I tried jigs as well as select cranks to find any fish, and we really struggled. The next day was spent on the canal and at Johnson Lake, trying to find a few fish. Once again, with the water not rising much at all in temp, it was tedious. A few crappies were caught, along with one very aggressive largemouth, which is always a lot of fun on a crappie rod. We tried briefly for smallmouth bass at Johnson but came away with none. I did see a couple caught, using a completely different tactic than what we were using.
What I learned over these few days was, as always, try different things until you find something that works to put fish in the boat. It’s true that sometimes you struggle to find anything that works, but that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. Here’s an example: When I was with my friends in the canal, the crappie bite really slowed down. I tried to think of what to do differently to see if the fish would respond. While trying a few different approaches, I noticed that when reeling my 1/16th ounce jigs in at the end of their drift, a few crappies were violently attacking them on the way up, which seemed out of the ordinary as they usually hit jigs on the fall. After trying different depths and retrieves, I ended up catching 25 more fish for a total of 46 on the day. The key was to let the jigs fall in the current, then rip them up a few feet every couple of seconds, so they were able to fall back down again. I believe another key to this pattern is having a bait that gets their attention. This is why, when using plastics as I often do, I use a small shad type bait that has a paddletail, or a plastic that has deep ribs in it. These cause more vibration and water displacement, which can really turn a slow bite into a fast paced event. Another trick I often employ is throwing two jigs on the same line about 14-16″ apart. I like a marabou on top and the plastic on the bottom so that the plastic’s action is free and not disturbed by the fishing line. This also allows you to zero in on hot colors for the day a bit faster.
So when you’re getting out to enjoy the upcoming weather this spring, remember to try different tactics until you find something that works. Spring in Nebraska, as we all know, is an ever-changing time, and that’s no different in the fishing world. Versatility is the key. Get out, figure it out, and have fun doing it.