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Some Bass Love for Nebraska!

Recently I found a story on-line about bass fishing, that would be black bass, largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, in Nebraska.  It was published on Bass Resource, and it is right on when it comes to some of the bass fishing opportunities in Nebraska.  Take a few minutes to read the article, Cornhusker Largemouths.

I have always said that Nebraska has some excellent black bass opportunities, but anglers need to keep in mind that our best largemouth bass habitats are for the most part small bodies of water–pits, ponds, and small reservoirs.  We have large reservoirs in Nebraska and yes, those large reservoirs have largemouth, smallmouth and even some spotted bass in Elwood Reservoir, but our large reservoirs for the most part are irrigation reservoirs.  When irrigation reservoir water levels fluctuate annually as much as dozens of feet, they are less than ideal habitats for black bass.  On the other hand, our smaller waters tend to have much more stable water levels, some good water quality and lots of shallow water cover, especially aquatic vegetation–BASS HABITAT!


I understand the frustration that creates for some bass anglers–our large reservoirs are big enough to handle the metal-flaked bass boats just like the bass jocks on TV, but our best bass fishing is found on waters where a float tube would be a much better choice as a fishing boat.  Fortunately, some of our large irrigation reservoirs fill with water every year and can provide some consistent bass habitat, reservoirs like Merritt where we will be hosting the high school bass championships in a couple of weeks.  In other cases, water level fluctuations over time will occasionally produce excellent habitat conditions when rising water levels flood the cottonwoods, cockleburrs, smartweed and other vegetation that grows on exposed reservoir substrates during periods of low water.  When that happens, we can experience periodic “booms” in bass fishing on one of our large irritation reservoirs for a couple of years, but when water levels drop again, so will the bass fishing.


So, if you are looking for the most consistent, best largemouth bass fishing in Nebraska, then you need to be fishing smaller waters.  Of course you know I will suggest you check out the annual Fishing Forecast for the best of those waters every year.

And don’t forget about our sandhill lakes!!!!  Those habitats are relatively shallow, and full of a variety of aquatic vegetation–bass habitat.  In fact I believe Nebraska’s sandhill lakes produce some of the fattest, prettiest largemouth bass that can be found anywhere.  I love ’em!


On the smallmouth bass front, I wish we had more habitats that would support smallmouth bass in Nebraska.  Smallies are more of a cool-water fish and more successful in flowing waters and rocky habitats.  The best habitat for smallmouth bass in Nebraska is what I call our “upper” Missouri River in northeast Nebraska.  Gavins Point Dam upstream into SoDakota supports some good smallmouth fishing, and the unchannelized river below Gavins can produce some good smallmouths too.


You can find some smallmouth bass in a few of our larger reservoirs, irrigation reservoirs, anywhere there is some rocky habitat.  McConaughy produces some good smallmouth fishing on the rocky points, ledges and dam mostly on the lower, eastern, half of the reservoir.  My first Nebraska Master Angler fish was a smallmouth bass from a rocky shoreline on Merritt Reservoir, and rocky stretches of the Tri-County Canal system in central Nebraska hold lots of small smallmouths.  Bigger fish lurk in associated canal reservoirs especially the dam and outlet area of Johnson.

When the interstate lakes were created in Nebraska, smallmouth bass were introduced in many of those borrow pits.  We discovered that smallmouth bass can be quite successful in those small bodies of water AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT HAVE TO COMPETE WITH LARGEMOUTH BASS.  Largemouth bass simply are more successful in small bodies of water, pits and ponds, and when both smallmouths and largemouths are present, the largemouths dominate over time and the smallmouths disappear.  Unfortunately, most Nebraska interstate lakes are now dominated by largemouth bass, many of those pits have some big largemouths, but smallmouths are scarce.  The exception would be War Axe at the Shelton interchange between Grand Island and Kearney.  There is an excellent smallmouth bass fishery there right now, pretty much total catch & release as the only bass that can be legally harvested there would be larger than 21 inches.  Oh, and don’t even think about illegally introducing a largemouth to that interstate lake!


I will always tout that one of the best things Nebraska offers anglers is a diversity of fishing opportunities for a variety of species of fish.  That does not mean that every body of water will be good for everyone’s favorite species of fish.  It does mean that with the opportunity to get around the state and the versatility to fish a variety of waterbodies for a variety of species, you can experience some really good fishing, and that includes bass fishing!

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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