Josh Caster unloaded his fishing gear last weekend at Memphis Lake, near Ashland, around 9 a.m. to see what would bite. It was cloudy, a little chilly, but there wasn't much wind. In less than 90 minutes, the 31-year-old caught three bass. Within a few hours, his friend caught seven.
Caster — whose goal is to catch at least one fish a month — had a tough time in March, April and even into early May. He's not struggling anymore.
Good fishing weather arrived a little late this year in Nebraska, but it has recently taken off. “When the weather warms up is when the fish really start to bite,” said Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He added that Nebraska is fortunate to be a big state that offers a diverse fishing population — that draws a crowd.
“Everywhere I've been, there's been lots of people fishing,” he said.
Last year, despite being particularly dry and hot, fishing permit sales were up. It's too early to tell how this summer will fare, Bauer said, but he hopes to see an increase this year, too.
“You'll never get a negative outlook from me,” he said.
The lakes near metropolitan areas are well stocked in the summer, said Jeff Jackson, Game and Parks fisheries supervisor in the southeast district that covers Omaha and Lincoln. Water quality is typically high, which boosts bass, bluegill and crappie.
Jackson likes to remind those who live in Omaha and Lincoln that they don't have to travel far for fishing opportunities. He recommends Walnut Creek and Wehrspann Lake in Sarpy County, Lake Cunningham in Omaha, Youngman Lake near Elkhorn, Holmes Lake in Lincoln and Memphis Lake near Ashland — an under-utilized spot.
Crappie, largemouth bass, walleye and bluegill are plentiful in the northeast, said district fisheries manager Jeff Schuckman, who is based in Norfolk. There's channel catfish, too.
“We've seen good crowds at our small lakes to our bigger reservoirs,” he said.
The water temperature is in the upper 70s to low 80s, and there's oxygen through the entire lakes in most areas because the state hasn't seen extended periods of extreme heat.
“The warmer the water, the less oxygen it holds,” Schuckman said. When the lakes heat up, fish move toward the surface, which means those casting a worm and a weight are working in what he calls “dead water.”
“People either aren't aware of that or forget it in the summertime,” he said. It's something to be mindful of come July and August.
Schuckman recommends fishing the upper Missouri River and near Gavins Point Dam.
“It's a hodgepodge. There's all kinds of different species,” he said. “It's a fun place to go fishing because you never know for sure what you're going to catch.”
Al Hanson, the northwest district fisheries manager based in Alliance, said the region's water successfully draws out-of-state people, in addition to locals.
He said Wyoming and Colorado residents visit regularly and fly fish for bluegill.
“It's something that people don't really think about,” he said.
Panfish are doing well in the Sand Hills reservoirs, though Hanson said streams offer opportunities to catch brook trout.
“Some of the streams don't get hit as hard because people are kind of lazy,” he said. “If they can't drive to it, they won't go to it.”
Brad Newcomb, the fisheries biologist in southwest Nebraska, said the season is following typical fishing patterns, echoing other district managers who tout walleye, bass and channel catfish.
The region also saw a slow start. “The peaks are later than typical, and water temperatures are lagging behind where they normally are,” he said.
That might mean the season ends later than usual, too. It's what Caster, of Lincoln, is hoping for.
“In a way, this late start has been fun because people seem to have more time in the summer to get out there,” he said.
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