I spent some time last weekend up on the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska, near Niobrara, Nebraska. The Missouri River is the eastern border of Nebraska, but sometimes I get the impression that folks think certain stretches of the river belong to our neighboring states. For example, I often read about Lewis & Clark Reservoir in South Dakota, or hear folks talk about fishing the river in South Dakota when they are actually on a stretch of river that is border water between us and South Dakota. And I believe there are a lot of Nebraskans and especially Nebraska anglers who do not fully appreciate the special resource that stretch of Missouri River is in northeast Nebraska.
From the South Dakota border down to about Ponca State Park the Missouri River is unchannelized and about as “wild” as any stretch of Missouri River. Yes, there is a dam in that stretch, Gavins Point Dam, and water flows are regulated by all of the dams on the Missouri River, but there is none of the diking and channelization found from Ponca all the way downstream to the confluence with the Mississippi. Much of that upper stretch of Missouri River in northeast Nebraska is National Recreational River, http://www.nps.gov/mnrr/index.htm . There is a lot of river in that stretch and a lot of natural, big river habitat. There are literally miles and miles of water and great fishing for anglers to explore!
I know I love that stretch of river, but do not get to spend nearly enough time fishing up there. Since the flooding of 2011, the fishing has been especially good, and I got an invitation to fish up there this fall with a guy who has spent much more time on that water. I jumped at the chance. So let me share some photos, tell some stories, and hopefully give you a taste of why I believe that part of our great state and that water is special.
We spent an afternoon and full day on the river fishing. We fished a lot of river, a long stretch both above and below Niobrara and another long stretch above and below Verdel. I am not going to tell you the fishing was red hot because it was not, but we kept fishing and we caught fish. As a matter of fact, in the time we spent on the water we caught rock bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, freshwater drum, goldeye, shorthead redhorse, and smallmouth buffalo. That was not an unusual list of species for the water we fished and there were others I expected to catch (all I needed was more time to catch them!). One of the fun things about fishing that stretch of Missouri River is the diversity of species–there is something fun about hooking a fish and not knowing for sure what it is until you get it to the net.
Most of the time we cast baits along shorelines, especially rocky shorelines, but we fished a variety of habitats. We tossed a variety of suspending and diving crankbaits, rattle baits, some jigs and plastics. Most of the fish came on the crankbaits. Fish appeared to be scattered, but we found some areas that were better than others and I believe given even more time on the water we would have zeroed-in on more fish and a more consistent bite (of course you know I will always tell you that about every one of my fishing trips, ha). I do not know that we discovered any real secret to catching fish on this trip other than to keep fishing, keep covering water, keep trying different areas and different presentations. I will always tell you that some of the best anglers I know simply fish harder than others; they make their own “luck” if you define “luck” as the residue of hard work, or where preparation meets opportunity.
Here’s the rock bass.
And here is the biggest pike I caught.
I kind of stole that fish from my partner. It was sitting in a big log along the shoreline, the current was swinging right by there; Brad hooked and lost it first, missed it another time, and then the pike swung back to my end of the boat and ate my X-Rap. But he got me with the biggest pike of the trip.
That is Brad H. with one of the pike he caught. Thanks Brad for the invitation to fish with you, and thanks for the great photos!
We fished all day Saturday, caught fish here and there, but not really as many or as large as we were hoping for. Mid-afternoon Brad decided to run way upriver to check out a spot that had always been good before last year’s flooding. By the way, high water events on rivers can change things, and a person has be careful where they are going because sandbars and other hazards are out there. We got stuck briefly on one sandbar, had to take off our shoes and roll up our pants to push off. Anyway, we ran upriver, pulled into the spot and found that it had not quite returned to its pre-flood condition but was still a good place to fish. There was a corner where there was a sandbar and a flat sandy beach just off the current–it did not look like anything special. But, I started casting up into that corner, corners are always good places where predator fish can trap and feed on bait fish, and kind of absent-mindedly was retrieving my X-Rap when I felt it hit something. I raised my rod tip because I thought the bait was banging into the sandy bottom and as I see my bait rise towards the surface it was clobbered by a nice smallmouth bass! I land that fish, we take a few pictures, and then I turn around and in not more than 3 casts I had another nice fish boil on my bait but miss the hooks. A few more casts after that and bang, another nice smallmouth! This time I can see a smallmouth of equal size following my fish as I land it. Brad tried to drop a bait back in there right away, but unfortunately that was it. I am not exactly sure why we had that fast flurry of action; just happened to catch those fish feeding in that corner, but I was sure glad we made the long run upriver. The two smallies were both 17-inchers and well worth the boat ride!
Sorry for the lack of a smile, we had just come off that long boat ride!
Late in the day we were fishing down another rocky shoreline along the river channel and I was throwing a Shad Rap that I could crank down the drop-off, banging off of the rocks, and then onto the bottom in 6-8 feet of water. I had hooked a couple of small smallmouths doing that when I hooked a bigger fish. I got it to the boat, had no idea what it was until we saw it and it was a shorthead redhorse, a species of sucker.
That was a nice shorthead redhorse, an 18-incher and probably the largest I have ever caught. The red tail fin is kind of neat, Go Big Red! Even brought a smile to my face!
That was kind of an unusual catch, redhorse suckers do not typically prey on other fish, but I’ll be if this one was not hooked in the mouth!
The front treble hook was right in the mouth, back hooks swung around to the side. I did not think much of that, it was odd, but a little while later I hook another fish on the same bait, a big fish, and that one turned out to be a smallmouth buffalo. That first buffalo was hooked under the “chin”, foul-hooked, but just a little bit later, I caught another one.
And that buffalo was also hooked in the mouth!
My boat partner thought that was pretty cool, so he put on a Flicker Shad and started doing the same thing. It was not 5 minutes later and he caught another buffalo and that fish also had the hooks in its mouth!
Now I would never tell you that fishing crankbaits would be an effective technique for catching redhorse suckers and buffalo. Those fish feed on a variety of bottom organisms and can be caught by fishing ‘crawlers or dough baits on the bottom, but crankbaits?????? Here is what I think was happening–we were stroking those baits along the bottom, they were digging along the bottom and off of rocks all the time. We were also fishing with the current. I am sure those fish were holding on the bottom, facing into the current, and as those crankbaits came bouncing along they ended up right in their face. At that point did they open their mouths to take advantage of an easy meal? Or did we simply just hook them in the mouth? Whatever, they were fun to catch and as I said added some excitement and diversity to our trip even though we were not out there to catch suckers and buffalo.
I love fishing in the fall. I believe fall is one of the best times of the year to catch fish, big fish, and it is one of the best times of the year to be enjoying the great outdoors. The weather was beautiful last weekend and the fall colors are just starting to peak. I got to show you some of the scenery.
Here are some shots of the river. . . .
On the water. . . .
We stayed in a cabin at Niobrara State Park, http://www.outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=126 .
If you have never been to Niobrara State Park, you gotta go! First of all, what the sign says about Lewis & Clark is absolutely true. Every time I am there I am struck by the fact that Lewis & Clark and their men were there, they walked the same ground, saw some of the same sights. I can close my eyes and almost see them and their boats on the river!
Secondly, the sights are spectacular!
Somebody help me with this red vine, what is it?
The cottonwoods are just starting to turn.
We saw plenty of wildlife too!
We saw turkeys, whitetail deer (EHD has in no way killed them all, we saw a lot and I had to stop for some on the highway), osprey, bald eagles, and falcons as well as a variety of other birds.
And as I left to head towards home, here is where I wanted to be:
The best of fall is here, NOW. Clear your schedule, plan a fishing trip, plan a sight-seeing trip, plan to spend a night or two in one of our state parks. I will be out there as much as possible in the coming weeks, yeah, yeah, I say that 12 months out of the year, but it is true, right now!