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Fall In Review, 2015

Ran into a fellow pointy-headed fish biologist yesterday who has since moved on to bigger and better things in another state.  But, he stills comes back to Nebraska to do some hunting!  He asked me how my fall has been and that got me to thinking that I should give a little review.  It has been a good fall, mild, warm, long, lots of fish. . . .

I love fall fishing.  I fish H-A-R-D in the fall; it is the best open water fishing of the year and I try to fit as much in as possible before I am walking on the ice.  It is not unusual for me to put in as much effort in the fall as the rest of my open-water season combined.  That was true this year.

I do not necessarily catch a lot of fish on any given trip during the fall.  Quite honestly, that ain’t what I am trying to do in the fall.  I am swinging for the fences, fishing for quality fish, big fish.  There are trips where my partners and I do not catch anything, but the majority of time we manage to scratch some fish and some of those will be really nice fish, some of the biggest of the year.

Changes in seasons happen gradually.  There is no one date on the calendar when one season ends and another begins–they slowly, but surely morph into each other.  If you spend a lot of time on the water or in the field that gradual process can be hard to detect from day to day, but it is there, it is happening.  My signal that the fall bite is on is when folks start back to school, start fall sports, start picking up the bows, rifles and shotguns instead of fishing poles.  As the crowds on the water begin to thin, it is time to start getting after the fall bite.  The fish will start the fall bite in August.  From there it is a steady progression until freeze up.  That process takes weeks, but the fish are feeding during that period, they need the energy for the winter to come, and they need energy to begin development of eggs and milt for next spring’s spawn.

I try to be versatile and ride waves of good fishing throughout the fall.  Warm-water species like catfish and bass may be the first targeted and then transitioning to cool-water walleyes, pike and muskies.  Late fall, just before the water turns solid, is cold-water fish time–trout.  Sure, even warm-water species can be caught through the ice, so it is not like it is impossible to catch bass in late fall, or change it up and catch trout in early fall, but by following that progression I can fish several peak periods for big specimens of several species of fish.  Let me give some examples. . . .

My son and I like to start off with some big, bad, beautiful flatties:

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Yes, this fall he caught the biggest flatheads.  I caught the flatties with tags in them (e.g. Finally Got One!):

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My son took a little trip with a couple of his cousins out west this fall and caught some beautiful trout from a couple of our Pine Ridge streams (Trout Fishing in Nebraska’s Streams):

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On the way home, he found a nice bass hanging out by a beaver lodge on a public sandpit:

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Then we got after some walleyes:

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As you can see from the photos, we were fishing from a pair of waders most of the time, but occasionally I will get in a boat.  Our large, Nebraska reservoirs offer some great fishing during the fall, and I took advantage of an invitation to go out and learn some more about that.  We caught white bass, walleyes, and one pike mostly trolling crankbaits, but also vertical jigging (see page 14 of the December 2015 issue of NEBRASKAland for a brief overview of how that is done).

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Photo by Brian Robinson. Thanks for the photo and the great trip, Brian!  And thanks for letting me reel the fish in!
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Photo by Brain Robinson.

I have to show you one more picture of another of my partners on that trip, Paul.

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Besides being a great walleye fishing partner, Paul is a chef.  Paul and Brian insisted I eat supper with them the first night.  I did not want to offend the chef and boy am I glad I did not!  Paul cooked the whole meal over a Coleman camp stove and charcoals; fresh green beans with bacon, rice, and a couple of the best steaks I have ever had in a mushroom sauce.  I can still close my eyes and taste it all, one of those meals I will never forget!

But wait, there’s more. . . .

My son and I like to dry off a muskie or two every fall; at least we try to.  This year was no exception.  Muskies never come easy, time and effort are always required.  I had a couple, three close encounters, so did my son.  I finally closed the deal with the biggest one we got:

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I believe I have the same stupid look on my face with every muskie I have ever caught–it is my “Muskie Mug”.  I know why I look that way every time:  Big, bad, top-of-the-food-chain, apex predator fish are just plain awesome!  And when I say “awesome” that is exactly what I mean–no other fish inspires more awe in me than a big muskie.  Oh sure, big pike, big bass, big flatheads, big walleyes, big fill-in-the-blank do it too, but there is something even more special about a muskie.  Those fish are like the wolves in the wilderness, the mountain lions lurking out there somewhere, the unknown.  When one finally appears, there is something primordial about it–predator/prey at its rawest–it makes me feel alive.

I was a little lazy on a couple of my first muskie trips this past fall and missed a couple of fish at the end of casts.  That is a hard lesson to learn.  But learn it I did, and then I fished with much more focus.  When hard-core muskie anglers talk of finishing every cast, EVERY CAST, with a “figure 8”, they do that for a reason.  Those big, toothy predators often follow baits waiting for that perfect positioning where they can make a successful strike.  That is often at the end of a cast and if you are not ready, you will pull a bait out of the water only to see several feet of muskie make a strike and then swim right on past.  That will make your heart stop, but it results in very few hero shots where you are holding a big muskie.

Finally this fall, I got another fish to follow, saw her right behind my bait, pulled the bait right in front of me, right by my feet, muskie right on the tail, turned into a “figure 8” and all you-know-what exploded!!!!!  I had maybe 8 inches of line from the end of my rod.  Water flew everywhere, the fish actually exploded clear up onto the shoreline with my bait T-boned in its jaws.  I directed her back out, gave some line, and after a few minutes of pure adrenaline put her in the net.

Now you know why I have that look on my face.

And then just recently we were back after some trout.  I shared that report last week, Adventure Report, Thanksgiving 2015; here again are a couple of pictures of the biggest rainbows:

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That has been our fall fishing, so far.  Literally, we have caught fish from one corner of Nebraska to the other, rivers, streams, pits, reservoirs, so many waters, so many fish and so little time!  And, I am not sure it is over yet!  As I type, we are eagerly waiting for ice to fish on, but with the warm weather we still have open-water and I have heard several reports of good fishing from several waters across the state in the past few days.  If life gives you lemons. . . . !

Cannot wait until next fall to do it all over again.  Do not expect to hear continuous reports from me, won’t have time for that, I will be on the water fishing, someplace.  If it is fall you can count on that.  Never fear, with the exception of a couple of 15-20-inch walleyes for walleye almondine, they were all released so I can catch ’em again next fall!

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About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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