Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area offers more than 280 acres of fishing water in 20 sandpit lakes, which can be easily fished from land, float tube, canoe, johnboat, or even a bass boat. Richard Price and I started fishing Fremont Lake No. 16 at eight o'clock in the morning. Why Lake No. 16, one might ask? Well, a couple of reasons. On a Sunday in June nearly a year earlier, I had driven through Fremont Lakes SRA and dodged kids, motor homes, skiers, and bicyclists on my way to a fishing hole. At first I did not realize why so many campers would be at the SRA that weekend, then I remembered the Hallmark card on my desk at home. It was Father's Day. I nearly drove home then. I like out-of-the-way places where the sounds of a cricket's chirp and a bluegill's mouth popping a lake's surface can be heard. But, I still wanted to fish. So, my fishing partner and I drove until we found a lake that did not have a boat on it. We didn't care if we had fished it. We just wanted open water. That was Lake No. 16.
Several families were fishing from shore, but we knew we could respectfully fish around them and still have plenty of space. We put in our johnboat and immediately began catching bass on green-and-white, weedless scum frogs. In the shallows, one fish struck savagely, missing the lure. But, it waited for me to throw the bait in the same spot, and it struck again. Good fish, too. While working our way across the lake, we caught eight bass, each measuring over 15 inches long. We kept one for dinner and left the others for the families walking the edges of the lake. That night I noted our Lake No. 16 success in my fishing journal - a necessity for any angler who forgets as much as I do.
Nearly a year later, I boasted about the lake to my friend Rich, who had not fished there. From the beginning, our trip was different from the Father's Day outing. A gale arrived at the lake about the same time we did, and whitecaps slammed the side of the johnboat as we fought to cast. We looked for protected areas that might be out of the wind, only to find the swirling air precluded calm spots. We spent more time pointing and trolling than we did casting.
When we briefly found a spot where we could make more than one cast, we still didn't get any strikes. I looked up. The forecast had called for clouds and an afternoon
We left Lake No. 16 and moved to Lake No. 18, where trees on the northern side cut off the wind. Because the water was extremely clear, we backed away from the area we were fishing an extra 15 or 20 yards. But after an hour of catching nothing, we got back into the truck and looked at each other.
"There isn't any way I'm doing that again," I told Rich.
"It isn't worth it," he said. "We could just go get some lunch and just call it a day."
My stomach grumbled that that was the best suggestion it had heard all day.
"Let's ride by Lake No. 7 and 8 and see how the wind is down there," I said.
Even though the air conditioner at Rich's house was calling me, there were reasons I made this suggestion.
Two weeks earlier, my father had come to visit and we caught eight 15-inch bass from the Fremont lakes, six coming from Lake Number 7 and 8. Dad also caught a 32-inch
Lake No. 7 and 8 reminds me of places I have fished back home in Tennessee. Covered in moss, and with stumps and fallen trees throughout, the lake challenges every angler to cast around the structure and to keep a fish hooked after it strikes. Anglers lose a fair share of fish at Lake No. 7 and 8. But, there, you're fishing for the strike, to see the fish.
When I began accessing the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission web site, outdoornebraska.org, I found electrofishing surveys that biologists had conducted at a number of lakes, including Fremont Lake No. 16. It had the highest concentration of big bass at this SRA. But having battled the wind and sun on No. 16, the thought of such a lunker drew me to take a look nearby.
"What do you think?" Rich asked, as I scanned the lake through my binoculars from the truck.
Even though Lake No. 7 and 8 is down in a deep hole, from my vantage point, it looked too windy for the johnboat. But, like many times before, I tossed my analytical, left-brain idea out the door, and said, "Let's do it."
Rich nodded emphatically, "I'm with you."
We dropped the johnboat into clear water. I pointed out the spot where I had caught the pike a month earlier, and told Rich to beat the area to death with his frog-colored crankbait.
Then, something amazing happened. The wind suddenly died, disappearing as if someone had turned off a loud, annoying fan. Then, a layer of dark, almost ominous clouds covered the sun. I made a long, celebratory cast near a fallen treetop protruding from the
The bass cleared the log. I raised my rod tip higher, trying to keep the fish out of the underwater vegetation without pulling it out of the water. But, it broke the water surface anyway. As the bass threw its head from side to side in the air, I reeled as fast as I could, making sure I gave the fish no slack during its aerial maneuvers. The bass crashed back into the water, surfaced again, then went back under.
When I finally landed it, Rich asked, "What will he go?"
"About three pounds," I said.
"Do you think things could be looking up?" he asked.
"If that sun stays behind the clouds. With last night being the only rain we've gotten in awhile, we could catch some fish." I looked up. The layer of clouds seemed to be thinning and looked as if they might open again.
We moved to the next fallen tree. My lure hit, and a fish jumped, clearing the water, and struck my scum frog on its way back into the water. I sat down and fought it all the way back. The bass measured 16 inches, an inch shorter than the first one. At the next log, Rich caught a plump 15-inch bass.
"They will be at every log," I told Rich, and on that day for the next hour, I wasn't exaggerating.
We probed deadfall after deadfall, allowing the scum frog baits to dip into every crevice we could find. And almost every time, we found ourselves holding on as soon as the ripples had cleared.
About halfway down the lake, we could feel we were in them. The good thing about such a feeling is being able to stop the moment, experience the strike and revel in the fight. Too many times, a strike is unexpected and happens too fast to appreciate it. But on that day on Lake No. 7 and 8, we giggled with each strike like we were children throwing rocks into the lake awaiting the splash.
Then, we heard a big splash, like a kid jumping into the water, cannonballing his way to the bottom. Stopping our casts, we turned and watched a deer swim across the lake.
"What's she doing?" Rich said.
"You got me," I replied, and then saw a man on horseback approach.
"You boys catching them all?" he asked.
"Catching some good fish," I said as I cast.
The heavy covering of clouds began to break away. But, he wanted to talk. With each word he spoke, and each one we returned, I saw our chances of catching more fish slowly diminishing. I caught one bass while we talked. He laughed, called me a showoff and was on his way. As he turned down the trail, the clouds disappeared.
"We're going to struggle now," I said. I cast in front of a fallen tree, popping the scum frog, and a bass immediately called me a bold-faced liar. I sat down and turned to Rich, and said, "This is a big fish."
The bass cleared the water, contorting its body. As the fish went back in, I battled it mentally as much as I did with my arms and wrists. Out of the moss. Pull up gently. Away from that log. Catch up to it, catch up. Out of the moss.
The big bass gave me a clear shot near the boat, and I went at it as if I were going to punch him in the mouth and grabbed his lower lip with four fingers. You cannot go at a big fish with the thought of thumbing it.
As I snatched the fish from the water, I turned to Rich and saw glee in his eyes.
"That's a big boy," he said. The bass weighed five pounds, measured 22 inches long and was kind enough to pause for photographs.
"Are you going to keep him?" asked Rich.
"No. I'm going to keep the first fish we caught for dinner tonight. I have no use for this fish. Let someone else catch him."
We released the bass, and started on the other side of the lake. I made a long cast to another log. I told Rich I was surprised I caught a big fish after the sun had reappeared. As I spoke, a 4½-pound bass hammered the scum frog, further opening my mind to bass fishing opportunities at Fremont Lakes SRA, rain or shine.
After that bass, fishing did slow. The sun was at full force, and the wind kicked up. As we made our way to shallow water, we saw countless bass swimming between the water surface and the underwater vegetation.
"There are some big fish in here," Rich said. "And they are bigger when you get them out of the water."
Rich asked if we were going to try another spot.
"I'm satisfied, if you are," I said. "We'll add another new lake the next time we come here."
"That's not a bad idea. There's no way this trip could have ended better. About that invention idea …" he started to say, but I didn't hear the rest. A bass swirling near a deadfall had caught my attention instead.