I have finally caught up with all my “chores” after being “out” most of last week. Time to give you a report on my latest adventures in our great state.
My family and I headed west to spend the Independence Day holiday with family. We spent several days in Valentine, did lots of things, spent as much time with family as we could and enjoyed every minute of it. It was hot and dry and as most of you know, much of the state is suffering from lack of precipitation right now. In fact, it was so dry that our annual fireworks celebration was cancelled. That was a “bummer”, the first time in my life the 4th has been fireworks free, but we made the best of it anyhow; instead of setting off fireworks we burned up some handgun ammunition on the 4th!
No offense to Lincoln, Omaha or any other “large” community in Nebraska, but I have celebrated Independence Day in several places and nothing beats “small town” Nebraska. There is just something about the small town attitude and sense of community that makes their Independence Day celebrations more genuine, more heart-felt, more sincere. If you have not taken advantage of the 4th of July festivities that occur in most of our small Nebraska communities, you need to. In fact, jump right in and take part. We have spent some time decorating and participating in the annual Valentine 4th of July parade for the past several years and have had a lot of fun doing it. Have even managed to win a little prize money!
The day after the 4th we gathered up a bunch of tubes and took a little float down the Niobrara River. By the way, this is another activity that every Nebraska resident should be required to do at least once in their life! You should not be able to carry the official “I am a Nebraskan” card without taking at least one float down the Niobrara.
A couple of my cousins thought since I am a biologist that I should have given some kind of interpretive commentary as we floated down the river. I did snatch a few “bugs” out of the river and do a little show and tell, but I did not bore them with a running commentary on the uniqueness of the Niobrara River valley, how it truly is the epicenter of “east” meeting “west” and “north” meeting “south”, of how the Niobrara valley ecosystem is an unique blend of a variety of species. Nah, I can do that some other time. Perhaps it is best appreciated by just floating, just taking it all in.
Of course we pulled over to get a closer look at Smith Falls, http://www.outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=308 .
We bored the kids by telling them stories of the days we visited Smith Falls before it was a state park; of the days when we used the old cable car to get across the river.
OK, some of you are thinking, that all the family activities and stuff was nice, blah, blah, blah, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FISHING????? We did not spend a lot of time on the water fishing, but we did manage to sneak away and do a little bit. One of my cousins has a little pond in their backyard and we spent a couple of evenings relaxing there in a lawn chair drying off and releasing a few of their pet bluegills, yellow perch and creek chubs.
My son and I inflated our float tubes and headed out to the Valentine Refuge one day, during the middle of the day, we were too stupid to slip out there early morning or evening. It was hot, the water was hot, but I could not think of a place I would rather be!
OK, on this particular day, in about 4 hours of fishing, I out-fished my son 7 fish to 0. I could brag about that, but I know that it was that way on that particular day, and on another day that will flip. I caught 6 pike; did not expect to catch many, if any pike, as warm as the water was, but I found a few that needed to eat something. The biggest was about 26 inches or so; the rest about the size of this one. . . .
Pelican has a bunch of really nice largemouth bass in it, and we kept trying to catch some of those fish. We suspected that the bass were back in the emergent vegetation, maybe even way back in the thick stuff. Occasionally we could see and hear fish back in there. We tried a variety of presentations in that cover, but could not find anything that would do the trick. I suspect it may have been a different story had we fished early or late in the day, or if I had been able to haul all 50 pounds of my tackle box with me on my float tube. Eventually, I tied on a Slug-go and within about 5 casts hooked this fish. . . .
That largemouth taped out at over 21 1/2 inches, almost 22–as big as any largemouth I have ever landed. After catching that fish right after tying on the soft jerkbait (i.e. Slug-go, http://www.lunkercity.com/sg.html), we thought we might be on to something, but that was the only bass we caught. We needed more time to figure out how to catch more of them.
The pike were caught on a variety of spinners and swim-baits and all of the fish were released. The water levels on all of the sandhill lakes we saw were down a bit from what they were this spring. It is the middle of summer and the submerged aquatic vegetation is at its peak right now. We had to slog through some of that vegetation and shallow water in our float tubes and if anyone had been in a boat they would have worked and grumbled to get through it too. But, once we got through that we got to areas that were very fishable and at least I caught fish.
I will always tell you the best time to go fishing is whenever you have time! We all know of hot waters and hot bites that we would like to take advantage of, but the best strategy, all the time, is to spend as much time on the water as possible. One evening after supper we slipped down to the Mill Pond on the edge of Valentine. We were not expecting to catch anything big, whack a bunch of fish for a fish fry or anything other than just spending some time together fishing.
They caught 6 different species out of that pool, and I found another hiding in the rocks. None of them were large, but it was fun not knowing what might bite on your hook.
Found a snapper to play around with. . . .
I am pretty sure that turtle just wanted to be left alone, but I had to get in for a close-up. It almost looks like it was smiling.
And then here is why I say the best time to go fishing is whenever you have time. We did not expect to catch any trophy fish that evening after supper, but my son Daniel slipped up above the dam, saw the mats of algae around the shorelines and decided that would be a good place to throw a scum-frog. Here’s what he caught.
He said he had one other nice bass blow up on his bait, thought he had that one hooked too, but when he started picking all the algae and aquatic vegetation off of his line, that fish was not there. The bass he caught was about 20 1/2 inches, big enough for a catch & release Nebraska Master Angler Award. Now you see why I do not brag too much after out-fishing someone; it can always flip and the fish do not care who’s hook they bite.
Something else about Daniel’s big bass: I already told you he was fishing a scum-frog type bait and I mentioned the mats of algae. I hear complaints all the time from folks wishing there was no aquatic vegetation or “moss”. I realize that vegetation and algae can make the fishing more difficult and challenging, especially for those of us fishing from the shore, but I am convinced that folks would quit complaining about it if they learned to fish that aquatic vegetation and algae. The scum-frog type baits are made for fishing right through the aquatic vegetation and mats of algae. Daniel caught his fish twitching his scum-frog right over, right through algae mats. There were not any openings where he caught his big largemouth–nothing but a solid mat of algae. Largemouth bass love to cruise under those mats and they very much love to pick off unsuspecting frogs who think they can lay in that algae and escape the jaws of death. Daniel’s fish sucked his scum-frog right off the surface, right through the algae. There was not much of a fight, he just horsed the fish in, entombed in algae and aquatic vegetation, but when he cleared all that off his line, he had a nice bass to show for it.
I got to show one last picture before I quit rambling. This one was back on the Niobrara, alongside the little stream below Smith Falls.
Go back and take a closer look . . . see any fruit in that picture? I mentioned earlier how unique and special the Niobrara River valley is, and beside the paper birch growing just above where that photo was taken you can see another example in the wild raspberries and chokecherries that can be seen in that photo. We did not pick any of those wild fruits there, but we did take advantage of the abundant chokecherry crop before we came home! Chokecherry jelly and syrup is my absolute favorite!
It was a great holiday!