During one of my most memorable days on the water I was fishing with Kerry Keane of Gering on Box Butte Reservoir. It was at least a decade ago, maybe more, about this time of year.
The weather was a bit chilly. We were bundled up but catching fish on spinnerbaits — a lot of fish, in fact, including a couple of pike over 30 inches long. At one point I asked Kerry how many he supposed we’d caught. He’s a fishing guide for much of the year and always kept a counter handy. Although we were releasing everything we caught, he’d been keeping track. He checked and gave me an exact number, which I recall was somewhere around 65 or 70.
“I bet we could get to 100,” I said, and the game was on. We hit that number an hour or so later. The tally included roughly 75 pike, 20 largemouth bass, and a handful of crappie, bluegill, perch and other aggressive panfish that were hungry enough to take on a spinnerbait.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve experienced a bite like that, but it taught me something: The dog days of summer, when the water warms and the weeds take over, is just a seasonal lull in the fishing. If your personal fishing season ends in late spring, you’re missing some of the best action of the year.
It was slower than that memorable trip on Lake Minatare last Friday. I went with a trout fishing buddy, Mike Grubb. He hits the lake often and said he’s been catching fish steadily, including walleyes, all season. This has been a good year for the lake’s premier species, and Lake Minatare State Recreation Area Superintendent Dan Thornton told me the walleye catches this year have been steady, plentiful and fat.
We caught about 10 fish over a few hours, including 20-inch and 16.5-inch walleyes, a 27-inch channel catfish, a few other cats, some husky white bass and one smallmouth bass. All of them were feeding in just two to three feet of water along the shoreline. We checked in with one of Mike’s fly-fishing frineds who was using minnow imitators and had caught a lot more smallmouths and walleyes than we did, also in shallow water.
One of the keys to fall fishing is a period called turnover. Cooler, heavier water tends to sink, and the summer heat creates a warm, light layer that essentially floats at the surface. During daylight hours, fish retreat into the shade or into deeper water looking for optimum oxygen levels and greater comfort. When falling nighttime temperatures cool the surface layer, the water at the top begins to sink and the layers begin to mingle. The end of the turnover period can be one of the best fishing periods of the year. We’re not there yet, but cooler evenings set the process in motion.
I also have a theory that in our corner of the world, shorter days and cooler water remind older fish that they’re about to spend the next few months sealed under a layer of ice. For a critter that’s cold-blooded, that can’t be pleasant, and it blocks insects and other terrestrial food sources from entering the bottom of the food chain.
Of course, this time of year many an angler’s thoughts turn to hunting. Or, in the case of loyal Nebraskans, to red shirts, reclining chairs, warm nachos and the Huskers on high-definition TV. But the game’s always on the radio. If you’re willing to squeeze in an extra trip or two, you might find yourself in the middle of a hot bite with the best part of the lake all to yourself.
By the way, you still have time to enter your catch in our annual Big Fish Contest, which will wind down this month. If you catch a nice fish, send us a photo and you might win a prize.
The contest is intended to promote fishing in the Panhandle, but we’ll include fish caught in upstream waters of the North Platte River system as well as Lake McConaughy. Anglers who catch the longest fish of each recognized game-fish species will be eligible for the grand prize of a $100 Cabela’s gift card and a tailgate fillet table donated by Cabela’s. Prizes are based on length, not weight, and we encourage catch-and-release. Entries must include a clear photo of the fish and the angler who caught it, information about the place it was caught, its length in inches (weight optional) and the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses to the length of the fish and the day it was caught. Nebraska Master Angler applications also are acceptable. A fish of the week photo will be published each Thursday. You can also enter your fish online at our website, where you can see other entries before they run in the paper. We keep sharing photos until all of the entries have been published. At the end of the contest, the biggest fish in each species category will win a Cabela’s $20 gift card.
So far we’ve had 27 entries and there are 13 different species entered. We’ll continue accepting entries through the end of this month. Winners will be announced the first week of October. If you have any questions, contact the Star-Herald Sports Department at 308-632-9050 or email@example.com.