I know it is early March and I know everyone, especially anglers, have “spring fever”. I also know that early spring is some of the toughest fishing of the year simply because the water is still cold and the weather is schizophrenic. For many of our warm-water species of fish, fishing success in early spring rises and falls right along with the weather and water temperatures. With that said, listen up. . . . looking ahead at the forecast I have seen for the next few days, we are looking at the first window of opportunity for some good fishing around Nebraska. I am calling it, predicting it right now. I briefly mentioned some early season tips in this blog post, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/02/transition-time/ .
Keep a few things in mind, for channel cats right now fish wind-blown shorelines. Dead baits and even dead baits you might pick up right off the shoreline, will catch cats right now. Expect the best action on warming trends with south winds. If the wind kicks up and the water warms, do not be afraid to fish shallow–those channel cats may roam right up next to shore feeding on baitfish that died during the winter.
The next few days should draw some crappies into shallow protected areas. NO, they are not spawning yet; that is weeks away. Crappies will enter shallow water right after the ice is gone especially in bays and areas protected from the wind. They may spawn in those same habitats in a few weeks, but their initial movements into those areas are to find warmer water and especially to find some prey. A protected bay, neck, or channel, especially one exposed to the afternoon sun would be a good place to look. Crappies always love cover of some type, fallen trees, beaver lodges, last year’s aquatic vegetation, etc., so if there is some of that habitat in those protected areas that will make them even more attractive to crappies. You might have to fish slow and give the fish time to bite, your favorite small jig will probably work, but think about fishing that jig below a small float (i.e. “bobber”). Using a float above your jig will allow you to keep it at one depth and to slow it down. And, never forget that a small lively minnow suspended below a bobber will almost always work for crappies too.
I know some of you ice anglers have some wax worms left over from our off and on ice fishing season this past winter. Tipping your jigs with those waxies will work for crappies and some bluegills too. Wax worms are not just an ice-fishing bait.
Keep in mind that small bodies of water warm faster than large bodies of water. I especially mention that because early spring is one of the peak times for catching big largemouth bass from Nebraska waters. With this warming trend, the biggest bass in your favorite pit or pond may be loafing along some warming shoreline looking for an early season meal. Again, this early in the season think slow presentations–slow-rolling spinnerbaits, jigs & plastic trailers (i.e. “jig & pig”), and suspending minnow baits (e.g. Rogues, Husky Jerks) are all good early spring presentations.
A pre-spawn walleye or two may be a possibility right now. Walleyes spawn in early spring so look for those fish near spawning habitats. Jigs and minnows or live-bait rigs with minnows would probably be the most popular presentations right now. Casting or trolling crankbaits can also work, or try casting jigs in the shallows on or near spawning habitat during low-light conditions (e.g. dusk and dawn or on a dreary, foggy, windy day).
Ralph Wall has posted up some video of some fisheries field research that went on at Lake Wanahoo this week. You will want to check that out here:
I spent some time on Tuesday of this week helping collect and tag those pike. Again let me say this about northern pike in southeast Nebraska: There are not more pike in eastern and southern Nebraska simply because there is a lack of pike habitat in those parts of the state. Northern pike are called “northern” for a reason–they are very much a coolwater fish and their native range extended only as far south as north-central Nebraska. We have documented pike die-offs in southeast Nebraska simply because the water got too warm for them in the summer.
With the new Lake Wanahoo, we have a brand new reservoir with lots of flooded terrestrial vegetation and that habitat can support some pike. We have had pike in many southeast Nebraska reservoirs when they were new but over time habitat conditions change and pike fade away. Yes, you can expect some pike fishing at Wanahoo when it opens, but I would not expect pike to be there forever.
The pike tagging that has been done at Lake Wanahoo will result in an actual population estimate of the actual number of adult pike in the reservoir. Stay tuned for that information. The tagging will also tell us about angler exploitation of that resource when Lake Wanahoo opens. We want anglers to report the tagged pike that they catch; that information will be invaluable. Each tag will have a number and instructions on reporting.
Lastly, and let me make this abundantly clear–LAKE WANAHOO IS NOT OPEN AT THIS TIME. Yes, fisheries biologists were on Lake Wanahoo tagging pike this week. We wanted to get that done before the lake was opened for fishing. No, no angling of any kind is allowed at Lake Wanahoo right now. As of this afternoon, I was told that Wanahoo will be opening for fishing on April 28. So, do not go to Wanahoo to fish now, you still have to wait, and stay tuned for more details on that opening date.