By Brent Frazee
Finally, the end is near. It’s time to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring.
It’s time to go fishing. And as usual, the Great Plains states will have plenty to offer in 2023.
Where? We’ve done some research and picked out a few bodies of water in each state where you will have a good chance of loading your stringer or live well.
• Crappies: The eastern part of the state is the place to go this spring.
In surveys by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, three of the region’s reservoirs rank in the top five in crappie populations: Melvern is second, Hillsdale third and Perry fifth.
Lovewell in north-central Kansas leads the state in density of crappies. But Melvern is a close second and is among the state leaders in population of crappies 12 inches and over.
Looking for a couple of sleepers? Wildlife and Parks predicts excellent crappie fishing at Kingman State Fishing Lake and Scott State Fishing Lake.
• Walleyes: Wilson Reservoir may offer the best walleye fishing in the state, if fisheries surveys are any indication. Wilson leads the major reservoirs in both numbers of fish and trophy ‘eyes (fish 25 inches and over). An 8.52-pound walleye was found during population surveys.
• Catfish: Hit John Redmond if you’re looking for a big channel cat. The reservoir is loaded with big fish.
El Dorado has the state’s best density of blue catfish 20 inches and longer.
But the Missouri and Kansas rivers, Cheney, Lovewell and Milford offer the best shot at a fish 35 inches or longer.
• Walleyes: McConaughy has historically been known for its big walleyes, and this year should be no different. Merritt, Sherman and Elwood also rank at the top for big ‘eyes, based on fall surveys by the Nebraska Game, Fish and Parks
The highest total sampling rates of walleyes in the fall of 2022 were at Winters Creek, Merritt, Johnson, Big Alkali and Sutherland.
• Panfish: Whitney has the state’s best crappie population, both in terms of numbers of fish and quality. If you’re looking for some mixed-bag panfishing–crappies, bluegills and yellow perch– try some of the small lakes in the Sandhills. They don’t have the numbers of panfish found in larger reservoirs, but they offer some lunkers.
• Walleyes: Iowa’s rivers produce the state’s best walleye fishing. The Des Moines River in the central part of the state produces big fish when there is enough flow. The stretch near Saylorville Dam can be a spring hot spot.
The Mississippi River, particularly in the tailrace area below dams, also can offer outstanding fishing for walleyes and saugers.
For reservoirs, Big Creek, Clear, Rathbun, and Spirit all contain good numbers of walleyes, although not as many large ones as found in the rivers.
• Catfish: Again, Iowa’s large river systems offer some of the best channel-catfishing. The Mississippi, Missouri and Des Moines have good quantity and quality.
• Walleyes: Lake Oahe is the king. It is one of the nation’s best walleye fisheries and it should continue to produce plenty of fish this year.
But not all is well. Numbers of mid-sized walleyes are declining, and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks plans to increase stockings of walleyes and baitfish this year. Try the Mobridge and Chamberlain areas in the spring and the Pierre area in the summer.
If you’re looking for eater-sized walleyes, Lake Sharpe has an excellent population of 15- to 17-inch fish.
• Smallmouth Bass: Oahe has some nationally known fishing for smallmouth bass. Finding them can be tricky, but they’re often big when you do.
• Walleyes: Lake Sakakawea is poised to have an excellent year in 2023. The previous fishing season was one to remember, with the gamefish and baitfish population in great shape. This year might be even better. Biologists noticed a boom in the reproduction of forage fish in the fall. That should bolster good growth of the already-plentiful walleyes.
Fisheries biologists also found in fall surveys the strongest sauger reproduction in the last 50 years.
Devils Lake is another traditional walleye hot spot, and it should continue to produce good fishing this year.
• Yellow perch: Devils Lake is known for its big yellow perch. The best fishing takes place in the winter, but fish can be caught in the spring before they scatter on the main lake.