Scale up your summer fishing in Nebraska

Scale up your summer fishing in Nebraska
Daryl Bauer

It’s summertime and the living is easy, or so the expression goes.

But that’s not always the case for a fisherman. We asked Daryl Bauer, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission fisheries outreach program manager, to give us an update on fishing in the heat of summer.

How would you rate summer fishing in Nebraska?

“Summer fishing gets tougher, no doubt about it. The fish are actually feeding as much or more now than they are at other times of the year, but the abundance of natural prey is at its peak right now, too. Nebraska waters are very productive and in many cases, right now, about all a fish has to do to get a meal is open its mouth. So, feeding periods are short and may be intense, but they do not last long and then the fish conserve energy until the next feeding opportunity. So, the best idea to scratch a few fish during the ‘dog days’ is to identify good spots — areas where fish are likely to be when they are feeding — and then be there at prime times, usually early and late in the day, perhaps after dark. Anglers need to be prepared to take advantage of short activity periods, and then be patient until the next opportunity.”

What species are good to chase in the summer?

“Of course there are species and waters where anglers can be more likely to catch some fish even during the heat. On our large reservoirs, white bass and wiper fishing gets hot during the summer as those open-water predators chase young-of-the-year gizzard shad to the surface. Those feeding frenzies usually occur early and late in the day, and are hard to miss. I was at Calamus Reservoir a couple weeks ago and the white bass bite was hot there.

Our catfish species are spawning just now or just finishing their spawn. Fishing success lags while those fish are actively spawning, but it will rebound quickly as we move into August.

Largemouth bass very much are warm-water fish and are very active and catchable during the summer. They love frogs this time of year — fishing shallow water vegetation and algae mats early and late in the day with top-water baits will work this time of year.

Mid- and late-summer can be a great time to tromp along one of our cold-water streams in northern and western Nebraska to catch some trout. Yes, the bugs will be thick and the grass will be high, but those trout feast on grasshoppers that fall into the stream at this time of year. A pair of ‘tenner shoes,’ a fly-rod and some foam hopper patterns would be about the best way I know of to spend a summer afternoon.

The same thing can work on our warm-water rivers and streams, too. Channel catfish eat a bunch of grasshoppers this time of year, too.”

You said white bass fishing was hot at Calamus. How can we find out where the fish are biting?

“I always tell folks to start with our annual fishing forecast. You can’t catch ’em where they ain’t. The best source of ‘chatter’ about fishing reports, what’s working and what is not, is the internet. The Nebraska Fish & Game Association Fishing Forum is the best source of that information for Nebraska waters. That’s at nefga.org/forum/fishing-and-hunting/nebraska-fishing-forum.”

Where is your favorite fishing spot?

“You know I love ’em all, and I have already hinted at some. I love the white bass and wiper bite on our large reservoirs in the summer; also love wet-wading and catching some grasshopper-eating trout on one of our cold-water streams. I have spent a lot of early mornings stalking pits and ponds for some top-water bass in the summer, too.

Most recently, I mentioned the hot white bass bite I got in on at Calamus Reservoir. (I) dried off some pike and largemouth bass up in the Sand Hills recently, too.”

There’s some been some stuff about dieoffs in the news lately. Can you explain what that means?

“We have at least some dieoffs of fish every year, and this year has been no different. I have had reports of mostly dead panfish from a variety of waters over the past couple of months. In most cases those dieoffs were confined to mostly one species of fish and when that occurs it suggests a disease outbreak of some type. Panfish like bluegills and crappies can experience some stress going back to last winter, through wild temperature swings that we often experience. There’s also some spawning stress, and those fish are more susceptible to disease outbreaks. Those events are part of the natural mortality that happens in all fish populations every year; they typically run their course and the majority of fish in a population are not affected or recover.

A few dead fish, even a few dozen dead fish, is nothing unusual. When we start seeing hundreds or thousands of dead fish, then there may be a situation that needs to be investigated. However, I will tell you that most folks automatically assume that there has been some pollution or some toxin that caused a fish kill. In most cases that is not the case. I will also tell you that in many cases the exact cause of fish dieoffs is hard to determine for sure. We have a section in the annual fishing guide on reporting fish kills. Promptly report dead or dying fish to a conservation officer or Nebraska Game and Parks Commission district office.”

Do anglers need to worry about fishing in Nebraska waters because of pollution?

“Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality annually tests the flesh of fish collected from waters around the state. They test fillets from those fish for a variety of chemicals and then issue fish consumption advisories if levels of those chemicals exceed action levels. You need to go to their website and read all about their testing program (www.deq.state.ne.us/NDEQProg.nsf/WaterHome.xsp).

I will tell you that there are no waters in the state where there are advisories recommending the consumption of no fish. On their website is a long list of waters and species of fish where anglers may want to limit their consumption. That list — those fish consumption advisories — are based on an assumption that if a person ate a meal of those fish from those waters each week over a period of years, they would have an increased chance of getting sick or developing cancer. That information is available to the public so everyone can decide what risks they are willing to take. Personally … I do not eat that much fish, especially that much fish from one particular body of water, so I would not worry about eating fish caught anywhere in Nebraska. I take more risk driving to my favorite fishing spots.

If you check out NDEQ’s web page on fish consumption advisories (deq.ne.gov/NDEQProg.nsf/OnWeb/FCA), they link to a pamphlet from the Department of Health and Human Services on eating seafood, including what is purchased at the local grocery store. That pamphlet provides good perspective and, in fact, the fish sitting in the cooler at the grocery store may be more ‘contaminated’ than what is caught from any Nebraska waters.

You want to know what the biggest contaminant is in runoff into our waters? Sediment and nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous and fertilizers. Those things are not directly incorporated into the fish, but they do affect water quality and fish habitat. … That is exactly the kind of thing we try to address with some of the features we include in aquatic habitat rehabilitation projects of our reservoirs, and that is the kind of thing that is being addressed in the designs of new reservoirs.”

How can we read more about your fishing adventures?

“Go to magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/category/barbs-and-backlashes.”

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