FREDERICK: Box Butte serves up a stringer of panfish and an orange oddity

Steve Frederick

Many of my fishing memories are preserved in photos that hang on a wall in my basement man cave. One of my favorites shows Andrew Holsinger hoisting a 26-inch Lake Minatare walleye. It’s still the second-biggest walleye ever landed in my boat.

He’s about 6 or 7 in the photo, and the fish is about half as long as he is. But he has no trouble holding it up. His boyish grin tells the story.

These days he’s 20 years old, about three inches taller than I am and will be a junior at the University of Wyoming. Like his grandfather and his dad, Roger, who used to work at the Star-Herald, he plans to be a teacher. He’s a lot busier than he used to be (in the photos I see posted online he’s usually surrounded by a bunch of pretty girls), but I figured he might have time to do a little fishing. As it turned out, he had last Friday off from his summer job at the country club.

Most of our fishing over the years has been for perch and bluegills, so I decided we’d do some bait-fishing at Box Butte Reservoir, where I usually chase bass and pike with lures. To avoid temptation, I left the spinnerbaits and plugs at home and brought along a bucket of nightcrawlers. I picked him up at 5:30 in the morning.

Earlier this year a friend of mine, former County Attorney Ben Shaver, decided his fishing days were over and generously gave me a truckload of rods, reels, lures and other cool gear. He invited me to use what I needed and pass some of the rest along to others. I gave Andrew an old-school fiberglass spinning rod and a classic Mitchell 300 reel, both with plenty of good years left in them. For the fun of it I took a fiberglass fly rod from the stash and converted it to a nine-foot panfish rod with a small spinning reel.

The reservoir is surprisingly high for late July, almost to the level of the top of the ramp, and still clear and cool. We started along the north shore a mile or so down the lake, mainly to get out of a surprisingly brisk wind that soon settled down and left us alone. We tried a few likely-looking spots and kept moving along in search of some reliable action.

For all that’s said about the importance of patience, there’s no point in spending much time in a spot where there’s not much going on. I’ve always put more stock in persistence. Eventually, we came across a lively bunch of bluegills at the edge of a tree line. Later in the day we extended the trip by fishing with jigs tipped with crawlers in deeper water on the outside edge of the weed beds. We turned a lot of fish loose, including a few small pike, but kept a bunch of bluegills and sunfish over about nine inches. Three perch, all over 10 inches, also joined the party.

We also caught an oddity called a European rudd. Probably the spawn of runaway baitfish, they resemble a cross between a shad and a goldfish, with some of them flashing orange fins and others glowing bright orange all over. Andrew caught the biggest one, about 14 inches, and I found out later that the state record, a 3-pound, 3-ounce specimen caught at Box Butte in 2013, was about 16 inches. So it was a pretty big fish for the species, and it put up a good fight. I took it home and cleaned it, just for the heck of it, and it had firm flesh without a fishy odor, although it had a line of spare bones similar to a pike’s.

It went home with Andrew, along with the rest of the fillets from a total of 18 fish. He says he plans to take them back to school and fry them up sometime this fall. They won’t last long, I predict. Andrew likes fish, and like any college kid he’s always in search of a decent meal.

Fishing with bobbers and worms isn’t something I do very often, but of course it’s how almost all of us got started in the sport. And in a lake like Box Butte, which sports some hefty panfish, it can still be a lot of fun.

Steve Frederick is Special Projects Editor of the Star-Herald. He can be reached at steve.frederick@starherald.com or 308-632-9055.

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