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Great Fall

As I sit here “blogging”, I am pretty sure my open-water fishing for this season is done.  Sure you could still find a few areas of open-water and dry off some fish, you can all winter long if you wish, but most Nebraska anglers are going to be hitting the ice soon, very soon.

So, that means it is time for me to give a report on my and my son’s fall fishing.  In recent weeks I have showed you some pictures of some exceptional fish that our Game & Parks Fisheries biologists have seen while sampling this year, primarily this fall; now let me show you that nice fish can be caught on hook & line too!

Reviewing my fishing log for this year, and it would be true for most years, I honestly do as much fishing in the fall as I do the rest of the “open-water season” combined.  Yep, I will admit it, during the heat of the summer I still do some fishing, but not nearly as much as I do at other times, especially in the fall.  While spending time on the water, if you watch closely, you can begin to detect signs of fall coming, you can notice changes in fishing patterns, as early as late August.  Once I can see Labor Day on the calendar, I start gearing up for the fall push, and when it is “on”, I fish hard.  I spend as much time on the water as possible every fall.  Our results this fall re-enforced that strategy!

It started in late summer:

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I believe the rainbow was a sign of good things to come!

My son and I stay flexible, fish for a variety of species year-around, but I will admit to you that we do not spend a lot of time fishing for panfish most autumns.  No, the big predators are putting on the feedbag to get ready for winter and even next spring’s spawning activities, and fall gives us some of our best opportunities to catch big fish.  Many trips we do not catch a lot of fish, a lot of trips may result in only one or two, but we catch a variety of large predator fish in the fall, and even if we only catch one or two on a trip, they are well worth it!

Before they head for their wintering holes, we like targeting some of these:

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Daniel got a tagged one:

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Look close and you can see the yellow tag, just below the dorsal fin.

Here is the information on that fish:

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I love flathead catfish.  Some might think they are ugly slobs, but I love ’em for the big, beautiful, top-of-the-food-chain, apex predators they really are!  Love staring down the big mouth of a big flatty and wondering what poor little fishy, some not so little, had a horror-film experience in that big ole maw.

No, none of our flatheads this year were really, REALLY big fish, not by flathead standards.  But, no fishing report would be complete without a story about “the one that got away”.  Late in September, literally on my “last cast” one evening, I hooked that fish, a B-I-G flathead no doubt.  Fought it for 20 minutes, never got a look at it, never made much headway with it.  I did a fair job of keeping it up, but eventually I could feel the line rubbing on rocks, and you know what happened next. . . . “There he was, gone.”  How big that fish was I can only guess.  I have caught flatties to over 50 pounds, and my best guess is that fish was in that class.  There will be another time, I will get ’em!

A few of these showed up this fall, have not caught nearly enough of them in the past couple of years.

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One even cooperated by hitting at the perfect time for a sunset photo!

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We did not do a lot of road trips this fall, but I did get one in–one all the way to the far northwest corner of the state.  I had not fished any water out there in a while, it was nice to get back, Fall Tour.  The fish there were not large, but they, and the places where they were found, sure were purdy!

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Our fishing strategies in the fall always revolve around identifying the prey source, usually finding an abundance of that prey, and then fishing those areas at prime times.  Predator/prey dynamics drive the whole system and that is especially true when the fish are feeding in the fall.  Yes, knowing what and where is critically important, because you then know where, and what tools, presentations and baits, to be using.  After that, it is simply a matter of being there when the monsters choose to feed.  The beauty of that on many Nebraska waters, reservoirs especially, is that there are multiple species of predator fish that can show up at the same place and be caught on the same baits.  Typically, my son and I do not do much chasing of hot bites or a lot of changing baits in the fall–identify where to be, pick the right presentation for the location, keep fishing, they will come!

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Besides the big, beautiful, top-of-the-food-chain, apex predator flathead catfish, fall is a great time to catch the other Nebraska fish that is THE apex predator fish at the very top of the aquatic food chain–Muskies!  We have had autumns where we caught more muskies, but we sure did not get skunked!

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Of course my son clipped me with the biggest one:

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Muskies tend to be one of the last targets of our fall fishing, but at the very last, with water temps. just above where the ice starts to form, there are always cold-water fish that are still very active.  Daniel topped it off with the biggest trout this fall as well:

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There it is, there is my run-down of our fall’s fishing activity.  It was a great fall!  Yep, I am always ready for ice, but if autumn would have lasted another month or two I would have been just fine with it.  However, now we have ice, and you better believe I cannot wait to get on it!  There are a lot more fish in Nebraska waters for us to catch!

Oh, like the big fish our biologist sampled this fall that I have told you about, every fish you see in this blog post was released.  Daniel and I will catch ’em again!  They were caught, and released, from a variety of public waters nearly from one end of the state to the other.

Should I finish with a picture of this fall’s “super moon” or a sunset?

You pick, more variety!

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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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