During ordinary seasons, fishing in western Nebraska slides into the doldrums this time of year.
The water gets warm. Weeds abound. Food is abundant. For whatever reason, it seems to slow down. Until this year, I’d be winding down my efforts to produce a weekly fishing column. But this is no ordinary year. It’s been cooler and wetter than most, and there are still options for the determined angler.
Looking for something different to do this week, I gave the Nebraska Game and Parks fishing guide a scan, looking for something I hadn’t tried. That led me to the Morrill Sandpits.
I’ve looked them over a few times before but never stopped to fish. To be honest, I’m not a fan of public sandpits. It annoys me that the Game and Parks bosses will invest money in dumping hatchery trout into man-made ponds in the middle of town but often neglect more natural fisheries with species that are better suited to our climate and conditions. Their approach might sell a few more fishing licenses (though I have my suspicions about how well that pays off) but leads to trashed and trampled parks that have little to offer wildlife or people.
The Morrill Sandpits have a bit of that, but they’re in far better shape than most. According to the guide, the area consists of 25 acres in three lakes. There are actually four, but the biggest pond is on private property. You can’t camp overnight or bring a boat. The guide says you’re supposed to check with the City of Morrill office for permission before going, which you can’t do on weekends. To be safe, I checked in a few weeks ago. The site seems to get substantial traffic for being three miles from town, but there’s plenty of space to fish — and plenty of fish. Officially, the pits have bluegill, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, rainbow trout and perch. During some casual casting over a couple of hours, I caught all but the last two species using only soft plastic baits. The entire area was under water during river flooding earlier in the summer. I can’t say whether that helped or hindered this season’s fishing.
The ponds also attract a couple of ospreys, or fish eagles. Lately I’ve been photographing them at a couple of sites in the valley, and the fishhawks brought me back Tuesday afternoon. The shot that’s been eluding me is of a bird plucking a fish off the surface of the water. Apparently that one’s going to have to wait. A lone osprey was patrolling the area when I returned, but it didn’t seem to be hungry.
What I liked about the place is that it’s interesting. There’s plenty of vegetation surrounding the ponds, with areas where access is easy and some where you need to hike in a bit. The place is alive with small toads and frogs, which are a favorite forage of predator fish. That’s also an indicator of ecological health, since amphibians are declining worldwide due to pollution and global warming.
What I didn’t like was that the place isn’t treated as well as it could be by some of the people who use it. There was trash all over the place, which is inexcusable, because the city or county provides a dumpster on site, as well as several nice picnic areas. Why be a slob when they make it easy to be considerate?
Like any well-fished spot, it seems to give up mostly small fish. I caught and released two bass about 13 inches (a few inches shy of legal), a catfish about 16 and a couple of palm-size bluegills. Fishermen I talked to reported mostly similar results. But there’s plenty of fun to be had if you’re not concerned about taking home a mess of eaters. There are enough active small bluegills to keep a kid with a bobber and a box of nightcrawlers busy for hours.
If you don’t own a boat, you’ll probably find the Morrill Sandpits a good option — and still surprisingly active this late in the season.
Steve Frederick is Special Projects Editor of the Star-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 308-632-9055.