Summer fishing on the Great Plains
Five places where the action can be as hot as the weather
By Brent Frazee
In honor of the arrival of summer, we’re going to send you on an extended fishing trip across the Great Plains.
Hitch up the boat, organize your fishing tackle and pack the cooler. We’ve chosen five places where you stand a chance of getting plenty of bites.
Summertime Kansas Fishing Destination
- Milford Lake
(16,000 acres in northeast Kansas)
There aren’t many places where you can experience the explosive hit of a wiper on a topwater lure, the acrobatics of a big smallmouth bass and the heavy pull of a trophy blue catfish all in the same day.
That’s why Milford Lake is so special. The largest reservoir in Kansas is known as one of the best multi-species fisheries on the Great Plains, offering anglers plenty of options.
And the action doesn’t shut down in the heat of summer. At dawn and dusk, the wipers often herd shad into the shallow and rip into them. That’s when topwater fishing with oversized baits can shine.
Later in the morning, you can catch smallmouth bass along rocky banks or riprap with plastic baits or finesse jig and pig combos.
If you’re looking for a bigger bite, head to the north end of the reservoir and fish with fresh cut shad for the reservoir’s trophy blue cats.
Or if trolling is your deal, toss out a medium-diving crankbait that will get down to 6 to 12 feet and you’ll get hits.
“Milford is a phenomenal fishery,” said Rick Dykstra, who has fished the reservoir for 43 years. “There are so many options here.
“In the summer, the best way to find gamefish is locate the bait. If you’re going along and you see a school of shad up top, you know there’s a good chance there are gamefish under them.”
Summertime Nebraska Fishing Destination
- Lake McConaughy
(35,700 acres in western Nebraska)
If your bucket list includes catching a giant walleye, Lake McConaughy would be a good place to visit.
The largest reservoir in Nebraska has long been known for its trophy walleyes. The gamefish thrive in McConaughy’s clear water, buoyed by a healthy population of baitfish in the form of alewives.
The reservoir also has the structure, flooded timber and variety of depths that walleyes like. Add it up and you have one of the nation’s best walleye fisheries.
“A 5-pound walleye is nothing special out here,” said Brad Hahn, who runs the Big Mac Spoiled Guide Service. “We don’t get too excited until we catch one 8 pounds.
“McConaughy produces lots of big fish year in and year out.”
Hahn and his fellow guides catch those walleyes on an unconventional method—trolling bass-type spinnerbaits through the flooded timber.
“We’ll troll 1-ounce spinnerbaits that most people use for bass and catch some big walleyes,” Hahn said.
Hahn also will troll smaller crankbaits such as Salmo Hornets along break lines or vertically jig along drop-offs in the fall.
South Dakota Summer Fishing Destination
- Lake Oahe
(370,000 acres in central South Dakota)
This gentle giant, the fourth-largest reservoir in the United States, is famous for its walleye fishing.
Mike McClelland, a longtime guide and professional fisherman, will tell you that reputation is justified. Though the sprawling Missouri River reservoir can intimidate some anglers because of its size, it has plenty of spots that hold walleyes.
“Oahe has lots of 18- to 20-inch walleyes right now,” said McClelland, who is in the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. “The population is in good shape.”
McClelland follows a routine to catch those fish. He won’t drop his lines until he spots fish on his electronics. When he does, he uses his trolling motor to pull bottom bouncers with a 3-foot leader and a No. 2 hook baited with a leech or a piece of nightcrawler over structure such as underwater islands, humps or drop offs.
But Oahe isn’t all about walleye fishing. The reservoir also has an excellent smallmouth bass population. And it has an overlooked population of big channel cats.
Add good numbers of white bass and northern pike, and it’s no wonder that Oahe attracts fishermen from across the country.
North Dakota Summer Fishing Destination
- Devil’s Lake
(44,230 acres in northeastern North Dakota)
It’s the tale of two seasons at Devils Lake.
In the fall and winter, yellow perch are the big attraction. The North Dakota lake has both the quantity and quality of the tasty panfish to lure national attention.
But in the summer months, fishermen’s interest turns to walleyes. And again, the lake has plenty to offer.
“The perch disperse in the summer and good concentrations of fish can be hard to find,” said Johnnie Candle, a guide on Devils Lake. “Most people target walleyes in June, July and August, and our fishing can be phenomenal.”
Candle used a recent guide trip as an example. He took a party of four fishermen out at 7:30 a.m. An hour later, all of the anglers had their limit of five walleyes.
They used slip bobbers with a small jig head and leeches to catch their fish over a submerged rock pile Candle had located with his electronics.
“It was a farmer’s rock pile before the lake came in,” Candle said.
He targets other man made structures like roadbeds, to catch walleyes, too.
“This lake has literally hundreds of miles of flooded roads,” Candle said. “That’s great structure for walleyes.
“We’ll pull bottom bouncers down those old roads and catch all kinds of walleyes.”
Iowa Summertime Fishing Destination
- Clear Lake
(3,684 acres in north-central Iowa)
A restoration project is paying dividends for fishermen.
Through the community-led project, the west end of the lake has been dredged, removing silt, increasing the depth of the water and improving water quality.
“Before the restoration project, the maximum depth on the west lake was about 6 feet,” said Kevan Paul, who guides and has a bait and tackle shop on the lake. “Now there are places where the water is 28 feet deep, the water quality is a lot better and there is more weed growth.”
The result? Excellent walleye fishing. The Lake has a restrictive walleye population (daily limit of 3, with only one fish 22 inches or larger allowed), but fishermen can expect plenty of bites.
Clear Lake also has one of Iowa’s best channel-cat populations, with some fish in the 15- to 20-pound range. It also has good numbers of yellow bass, a species that looks similar to a small white bass but with a yellow tint to it.
Like white bass, yellows tend to be an open-water species that likes to roam with the baitfish. They don’t get as large as the whites, but they are outstanding table fare.
“Our yellow bass average 10 to 12 inches, but they fight like crazy,” Paul said. “We harvested the heck out of these fish to get the population down.
“Now we’re seeing lower numbers but bigger size. They’re a lot of fun to catch.”
Summertime Angling on the Great Plains Outdoors
Don’t let a summertime heatwave keep you from enjoying the fantastic fishing opportunities all across the Great Plains! From panfish to walleye and catfish to bass, there’s something for everyone on the Great Plains Outdoors!