I can remember advertisements in old NEBRASKAland magazines that promoted our state as “The Mixed Bag Capitol of the World”. That was in reference to our small game hunting possibilities, but I believe with our long open seasons and great diversity of fish and wildlife, we are more so “The Mixed Bag Capitol of the World” now than ever. To prove that point pull up a chair and let me tell you about my adventures over Thanksgiving weekend. . . .
My family and I headed back “home” for Thanksgiving. We are blessed to have my wife’s folks and sisters and families as well as my folks in-state and relatively close. We got to spend at least some time with all of them over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Yes, we spent lots of time eating and watching football games and sharing laughs, but you know the “boys” and I sneaked away for some time in the field and on the water.
This first evening my son and I slipped out and discovered that it was not too late in the fall to catch and release some walleyes!
Daniel caught the first one, ended up being the largest one too, a fat 19-incher, but then I caught all the rest! Obviously, it is late fall right now and water temperatures are getting colder all the time, but with the right presentations fish can still be caught. We caught all of our walleyes that night on crankbaits, did not use any live bait. I believe I have mentioned before that I love to fish in the fall, it is the best open-water fishing of the year, and I will fish as late into the fall as possible. As the water cools, generally I will slow my presentations. We used neutrally-buoyant crankbaits (e.g. Husky Jerk, Suspending Long A) for those fish and you would not believe how slow we were retrieving those baits. In fact the best presentation was to pull the bait forward a couple feet, get a good wobble out of the bait, and then stop, pause, let it set for awhile before pulling it forward again. Those walleyes would come up and smack the bait while it was paused. I am a huge fan of neutrally-buoyant crankbaits in the fall, late fall especially, because a person can crank those baits down, slow the retrieve and even pause them and they will stay at their running depth, stay right in the faces of those toothy predators!
Thanksgiving morning we slipped out for a little pheasant hunting. Now, let me ramble here for a bit. . . . I realize the pheasant numbers in Nebraska now are nothing like they used to be. Believe me, I am old enough to remember a lot of better days for pheasant hunting. I hear a lot of complaining, cussing and discussing about that; all I will say is that habitat conditions now are NOTHING like they used to be. As we were driving to go hunt Thanksgiving morning, we were driving to an area where I have hunted pheasants every year since I was in high school. As we drove down those old familiar gravel roads I was discouraged to see the poor habitat conditions in many fields where I have killed pheasants over the years. My boys, son and nephews, get tired of hearing my “old man stories” of how it used to be, how the habitat was and how many pheasants we could find.
But. . . even now there are pockets where habitat conditions are good and the pheasants are there! My brother-in-law hunted with us for a little while Thanksgiving morning, and then my son, nephew and I spent a little more time hunting, but we did not hunt long. We had to get to the Thanksgiving feast by 1:00, and my wife was sure to remind us not to be late. In that short amount of time the boys and I killed six beautiful roosters; I even shot my limit!
Let me tell a story about my last two birds Thanksgiving morning. We walked one bunch of plum thickets, one of those spots we have hunted for years, I bet we have killed dozens if not hundreds of pheasants from that strip of native grass and thickets over the years. Anyway, as we came to the end I was “on point” waiting for one of those roosters that always seems to run to the end, run to the fence where the grass ends, and then hold tight for an easy “lay-up” shot. As I got there, one rooster did not disappoint me. I dumped him in the grazed pasture on the other side of the fence and then watched him scoot into some thickets alongside a road. I knew I would find him waiting there, so, I unloaded and crossed the fence and then briskly walked over to find him. As I walk up to thicket where I saw that pheasant run, a rooster jumps up at my feet. I pause, let him get out a few yards, and then swing the ole double-barrel up and dump him. Boom! He was dead before he hit the ground. As I walk over to retrieve that bird I am wondering if that was the cripple I saw run into that thicket? I have chased cripples around and around before only to have them eventually jump up and fly away seemingly unharmed. I stuffed that bird in my vest and decided I better walk back to the thicket and look around in case the bird I just shot was NOT the cripple I chased in there. Sure enough, I wriggle into the thicket where I saw the cripple run, stop, start looking around and as my eyes focus past the blades of grass I recognize the pattern of rooster pheasant feathers under the grass. I look a little closer and recognize tail-feathers sticking out one direction and I reach down on the other end to grab the head of the cripple I originally saw run into that thicket. That was it, the last two birds for my limit. I unloaded my gun and walked along with the boys before we finished up and headed for our turkey dinner. I am glad I decided to push into the thicket for a closer look!
Now if you have been reading my blog at all in the past year, you know I have taken every opportunity, I have made excuses, to get to Lake Ogallala to fish for trout. The trout fishing there is as good as you can find anywhere right now, and the late fall water is never too cold for trout to bite! We spent a couple of days over the Thanksgiving weekend on that fishery; even fished one day in 106.3 mph winds!
We did not catch any really big trout this trip, but we caught a lot of 14-16-inchers with our big fish topping out at 18 inches. The one evening when the wind died, the fishing during the last hour of daylight was outstanding–a fish every cast! Here is my son with his biggest rainbow of the trip.
Mine was about the same size, but looks smaller (why do his fish always look bigger than mine?).
You can probably tell from the pictures that we fished the North Platte River below the Keystone Diversion Dam at the bottom end of Lake Ogallala. Water flows in the river are minimal right now and the water is very clear. My son caught a few fish on small crankbaits, but we had to tackle down to catch most of the fish. Any avid fly angler will tell you that at times trout can be very selective and tough to catch. I believe that is most likely to happen when the fish get a really good look at your presentation like when the water is clear and the flows are low.
I have not used a nightcrawler to catch a trout from Lake Ogallala in a long time and I doubt that I ever will again. There have been times in the past when I could not catch trout from those waters on ‘crawlers, and then discovered that tackling down and using other baits actually worked better! I have discovered that a variety of other presentations will catch more fish, bigger fish, and result in fish that can be caught and released.
The trout in Lake Ogallala and associated waters feast on a variety of aquatic insects and other creatures, but one of the most important prey items would be midge larvae. I am not a fly-fishing purist by any means, I will use whatever gear and presentations are most efficient and effective, and most of the time on Lake Ogallala I am using spinning gear, but we often tackle down to light lines and small artificial baits. I have used a variety of small jigs, small plastics, and other baits to catch hundreds of rainbows from Lake Ogallala in the past year.
Often my fishing partners and I are trying to imitate the midge larvae with our baits. That can easily be done with fly-fishing gear and a variety of fly patterns. However, most of you know how windy it was on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend; yes, my son and I fished that day. The fishing was tough and we worked to catch fish. I kept “tackling” down to even smaller leaders and smaller baits, and eventually I tied on a #22 nymph, a midge larvae imitation, and started banging fish again. Now, that bait was made to be fished on the fly rod, but how well do you suppose a person could fly-cast in the 106.3 mph wind? I know this will offend many of my fly-fishing buddies, but I tied that light leader and #22 nymph pattern onto my spinning rod, attached a small float and one split shot above it, and started catching fish. I see little difference between doing that with a spinning rod or doing it with a fly rod, shot, and “strike indicator”. It is very much the same thing, and especially in high winds the spinning rod will catch more fish.
I have to finish with another shot of one of the same pictures I already posted.
Yes, I know the foreground in the photo is too dark, but click on that picture a couple of times and then magnify it. Look past the left side of my head up on that ridge. In the sunset you can see a couple of mule deer sky-lined up there. Now this would be the ultimate “hunt-fish combination” and tall tale if I told you after catching those trout I hiked up on that ridge and arrowed one of those deer. I did not, but still, is this a great state or what?