The fish species in a reservoir depends on its size, age and location. Many midsize reservoirs are home to both shoreline-oriented and open-water fish species.
Largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie are mainstay species in midsize reservoirs. Because weedlines - favorite haunts for fish - are not present in many midsize reservoirs, these familiar species can be a challenge to find.
Walleyes, white bass, wipers and other open-water predators are not ideally suited for midsize reservoirs, but they do well in the large, deep lakes.
Locating submerged structure is the key to finding fish in these reservoirs. Fish-attracting structure might be brush piles placed in lakes to serve as fish habitat or rock riprap placed on the faces of dams, jetties and banks to lessen wave erosion.
In most midsize reservoirs, erosion and silting have created a wide band of shallow mud flats ringing the shoreline - areas not preferred by fish. From a bank, an angler might cast as far as he or she can and put the lure in just a few feet of water. Dams and jetties offer shore-bound anglers easy access to some areas of deep water. Anglers who are willing to wade, whether dressed in chest waders or in shorts and an old pair of tennis shoes, can also reach deep water.
A depth finder will help boat anglers locate suspended fish, bottom contours, brush piles and former creek channels. Contour maps are not readily available for most lakes. But, if they can be found, such maps offer clues about where to look for fish even after years of wave action and sedimentation have softened the topography.
The terrain features might be hiding spots for ambush feeders such as walleyes and largemouth bass. "If I can find anything - even a bump on the bottom of the lake - it helps," said Rich Vestecka, a dedicated largemouth bass angler from Lincoln. "These lakes don't have a lot of bottom contours."
An old adage says 90 percent of the fish are found in 10 percent of the lake. This is often true in midsize reservoirs. Those who spend hours fishing a lake, studying it and learning where fish hide at different times of the year will catch more fish, more often.
"Try a spot for 15 minutes or a half-hour. If you haven't caught anything, it's time to move - unless you're falling in love with the scenery," said Clarence Olberding of Lincoln, who regularly fishes for bluegill and crappie in southeastern Nebraska lakes.
Vestecka has the same philosophy for largemouth. "I'm the run-and-gun type," he said. "Some guys will fish on a tree for an hour, if they catch one or two fish. I'd rather go to 10 or 12 spots and catch fish."Largemouth Bass
Vestecka was in high school when the Salt Valley lakes were built and, then, stocked with fish by the Game and Parks Commission. "We had no clue how popular they'd be," he said.
But after reservoirs filled and the fish grew, fishing there became popular. About the same time, the Bass Angler's Sportsman's Society (B.A.S.S.) was founded and bass fishing
As midsize flood-control reservoirs have aged, bass clubs have worked to keep them productive by adding brush piles as habitat. Vestecka concentrates his fishing near the brush and at the remains of natural timber.
He also looks for bottom contours, which largemouths use both as ambush points and corridors to move from one part of a lake to another. Vestecka said, "If you locate the contours or break lines on the bottom of the lake, that's where the fish are going to be." He also fishes near riprap and rock points.
In spring, Vestecka heads for spots where the water warms quickly. But he doesn't get too excited until the water temperature is at least 50 degrees. Bays, coves or rock riprap, especially on a lake's north side, are good spots to look for bass.
Because most midsize lakes are cloudy, their waters warm quickly. With the rising temperature, fish move to the shallows to search for food.
In other waters, bass migrate to areas where creeks flow into a lake. But, because silting has created large mud flats between creek mouths and deep water, bass in midsize reservoirs usually don't behave this way, Vestecka said.
Bass spawn in late-April or May. They prefer shallow flats, 2 to 6 feet deep, with a sand or gravel bottom, but will use a hard bottom if no sand or gravel is available. Males arrive at spawning areas first, and they prepare nests.
As a catch-and-release fisherman, Vestecka doesn't fish the spawn because he doesn't want to pull males off the nests, which they aggressively guard. "In a clear lake you can see them on the nest and they're relatively easy to catch," he said. "They're harder to find in midsize reservoirs because the water's not clear enough."
After the spawn, males protect the nests while the females head to deep water. "This is the toughest time in the world to catch quality fish," Vestecka said. "They're tired and they go out and suspend."
A week or two after the spawn, female bass usually begin feeding again. They return to the shallows and provide some fine fishing, Vestecka said. At this time, fish are found near shoreline vegetation or structure.
When the water reaches 70 degrees in late spring or early summer, largemouths go to deep water or find a structure that provides shade, but they return to shallow flats to feed. At this time, Vestecka said fish can be found nearly anywhere. Unlike bass in deepwater lakes, largemouths in shallow, midsize reservoirs don't suspend in deep water during the summer. In most cases, water temperatures are constant throughout these reservoirs and bass will relate to structure at various depths, Vestecka said.
In fall, the lakes cool and largemouths move to shallow, warm water. That's where the food is, and, with winter on the way, the fish are in the mood to eat. From mid-September through early-November, fishing is best in mornings and evenings, but it is good any time of day. Vestecka said, "They're not worried about resting, they just eat."
When fall hunting seasons open, many anglers put away their fishing poles and miss the best bass fishing of the year. Those who stay on the water have less competition.
Vestecka uses jigs (see page 112), usually with pork, plastic or other trailers (page 111), throughout the year. Early in spring, when fish are sluggish, a slow presentation is necessary. The rest of the year, when fish are more aggressive and will take spinnerbaits (page 112) or crankbaits (page 111), he still sticks with jigs. Over the years, he's found spinners and crankbaits will catch small fish, but big fish are caught using finesse lures such as jigs.
"Big fish aren't that aggressive," he said. "Small fish will chase anything, but big fish find ambush points. If you find a stick poking out of the water, there's a good chance there is a fish there with its eyes shaded. Big fish are fish of opportunity. Little fish make opportunities. Jigs also best imitate crayfish - a favorite food of bass. Even if crayfish aren't present in a lake, they'll still eat them.
"Everybody has his favorites," he said. "But what it boils down to is using what you have confidence in. Fishing is 60 or 70 percent luck and the rest is knowledge. I've always said that I'd rather be lucky than good."
Vestecka still uses proven bass baits such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater lures (page 113) and plastic lizards or worms (page 112). "Never rule out anything," he said. "Keep an open mind and adapt to the fish. The fish will tell you what they want."
Spinnerbaits work best when fish are active, especially in the fall, but they can be productive year-round. They allow an angler to cover a lot of water in a short time.
During the spawn, plastic lizards work well. Plastic worms, a staple in most bass tackle boxes, are good choices when conditions dictate a slow presentation.
In the spring and fall, when fish are actively feeding, a popper, buzzbait, jerk bait, frog or other topwater lure (pages 112 and 113) sometimes works.
When water is cold in early spring and late fall, bass are less active and small lures are best, Vestecka said. The same is true during summer, when lakes are full of small baitfish. Large lures work best in late summer and early fall.
Weedless spoons, such as Johnson Silver Minnows (page 111), are effective when fishing in or near vegetation. They give off enough flash to attract fish in clear water, but often don't have enough vibration to attract fish in cloudy water. A pork or plastic trailer will add more action to these lures.
Crankbaits work well for active fish in areas free of vegetation. Pick a lure that runs at the proper depth and match the speed to the activity level of the fish. When fish are active, use a fast retrieve, and, when fish are sluggish, use crankbaits that suspend.
Whenever Vestecka fishes a new lake, the first question he asks is: What is the prey base? The answer tells him the color of lure to use. If the main prey is gizzard shad, as is the case in many midsize reservoirs, he fishes with gold or silver lures. He fishes silver in lakes with crappies, and green or orange baits in bluegill lakes. Black, brown, blue and orange - all color phases of crayfish - are all good for jigs, Vestecka said.
Live baits such as nightcrawlers, minnows and especially crayfish work well for largemouths. But, many catch-and-release anglers don't use bait. Too often the bass swallows the bait, making it difficult to release the fish unharmed.
Most bass anglers use bait-casting tackle. But spinning equipment also works, especially for finesse techniques, like casting a Carolina-rigged (page 109) plastic worm to deepwater contours during summer.
Because largemouths are often caught in weeds or brush, heavy line is needed to prevent a hooked fish from breaking it. But, many anglers use line that is heavier than necessary. Light line is easy to cast and is less visible to fish. In lakes where small fish predominate, anglers enjoy the fight more when they use light tackle.Bluegill and Crappie
Ken Neeman of Waverly and Clarence Olberding of Lincoln fish almost exclusively for bluegills and crappies in southeastern Nebraska midsize reservoirs. They've been doing it long enough to know when and where to catch fish.
"We've fished these lakes enough to pattern them," Olberding said. "With trial and error, you start to pick up a pattern. The key is to know the lake. People who hop and skip around from lake to lake are not as consistent as those who fish one regularly."
At ice-out, bluegills are typically found in deep water near creek channels or other structures. Fishing might be slow, but large fish can be caught at this time. Fish also are found along the submerged portions of riprap-covered dams.
In late-April or early-May, bluegills start to move into shallow water, especially around emerging weedbeds, where they actively feed. Fishing is best early and late in the day because the fish move back into deep water during midday.
Depending on the size and location of the reservoir, bluegills spawn in late-May or early-June. Males clear bowl-shaped areas in 2 to 6 feet of water where females deposit eggs. The males guard the nest. This is often the easiest time to catch male bluegills, which attack almost anything that comes near the nests. In clear-water lakes, spawning beds are easy to find,
After spawning, bluegills move to deep water and suspend at intermediate depths. At this time, fishing is difficult. "You just have to move around until you find them," Neeman said.
Bluegills stay in deep water - from 10 to 20 feet - throughout the summer. They may suspend in open water or hang near brush, trees, vegetation or bottom contours. During summer, a boat is almost a necessity. "You don't catch them in shallow water at all in the heat," Neeman said.
By September, water temperatures cool and fish move to shallow water again. Riprap areas can be productive during this time. Later in fall, as the water cools, fish return to deeper water.
Neeman and Olberding fish with waxworms year-round. These larvae are a staple for ice-fishing and are easy to find at bait shops during winter. Most Nebraska bait shops don't carry waxies during summer, but they are available through mail order.
Neeman and Olberding started using waxworms after watching another angler catch about five fish for every one they picked up on their nightcrawler-tipped jigs. Neeman thought, "It can't make that much of a difference." So they ordered some waxies, and, the next time out, they fished side-by-side, one with a waxworm and the other with a nightcrawler. The waxworms consistently outproduced nightcrawlers and it has been their bait of choice ever since, Neeman said.
On a line weighted with a split shot, waxworms or nightcrawlers can be used on a small jig, teardrop or plain hook. Because bluegills have small mouths, the hooks must be small; a No. 8 or No. 10 is a good choice. If the hook is too big, fish are likely to steal the bait without being hooked.
These setups can work whether or not fish are actively feeding. To locate fish that are close to the bottom, allow your bait to sink to the bottom and slowly jig it toward you. When fish are suspended between the surface and bottom, vertically jig the bait or suspend it with a small slip-bobber.
During spring and summer, fish come to the surface morning and evening to feed on insects. During these months, flies are good baits, whether they are fished on a fly rod or with spinning tackle (page 110) using a casting bubble. Insects, such as grasshoppers or crickets, are also effective.
When fish are actively feeding, especially before the spawn, a Beetle Spin or similar jig-and-spinner combination works well. Small tube jigs or jigs with plastic twister tails or grub bodies (page 112) also are hard to beat.
Catching bluegills requires finesse. Olberding and Neeman use light spinning tackle with 6-pound-test monofilament line. Many anglers use 4-pound line and some even use 2-pound line but, according to Olberding, big bluegills often break light line on brush.
Although both white and black crappies are in midsize reservoirs, the white crappie populations are larger. Many techniques for catching bluegills also work for crappies. However, crappies spend more time around brush and rock, and they are also found near bottom features, especially drop-offs.
Rock covers dams and jetties at most midsize, flood-control reservoirs. That makes locating fish easier, especially for bank anglers. Most of these reservoirs are devoid of natural rocky areas, but where they are present - even very small areas and especially next to deep water - they will hold crappies.
Crappies spawn in early- to mid-May, usually on rocks but sometimes in vegetation. After spawning, the fish move into deep water. In summer, the fish follow gizzard shad
During evenings throughout the year, anglers catch fish in the shallows. Night fishing, using lanterns or floating lights, is productive during summer. The light attracts insects, which attract baitfish, which, in turn, attract crappies. Night fishing is also a great way to beat the summer heat.
Minnows, jigs with feather, bucktail hair or plastic tails, or jig-and-minnow combinations are the preferred crappie baits. Beetle Spins and Roadrunners (page 112) also catch fish. Slip-bobbers work for fish suspending near brush piles. Light line and tackle are preferred.
For both bluegills and crappies, jigs as light as 1/64 ounce are commonly used, with 1/16-ounce jigs perhaps the most popular. Use jigs heavier than 1/8 ounce only when wind makes it difficult to control lighter jigs.
Bluegills and crappies are the species most sought by ice anglers on midsize reservoirs with good reason - they are the most easily caught.
As in other waters, a teardrop lure baited with a waxworm (page 74) is the best bait for bluegills and a small minnow is best for crappies.
For bluegills, creek channels, brush piles and submerged vegetation are favorite habitats. Crappies are found in the same haunts, but they also suspend in deep water and feed on zooplankton. They are sometimes caught 10 to 15 feet under the ice in 20 to 30 feet of water.
Ice-fishing for crappies is the best in bays as soon as the ice is safe. Later in winter, when they move to deeper water and suspend, the best fishing is at night.Perch and Temperate Bass
Members of the perch family - walleye, sauger, saugeye (a walleye-sauger hybrid) and their cousin, the yellow perch - are not ideally suited for midsize reservoirs. Neither are the temperate bass - white bass and the white bass-striped bass hybrids called wipers.
These lakes are typically too warm. Water also flows through them quickly; in a year or less, most midsize lakes have a complete exchange of water. When water leaves, so do fish, which are frequently flushed through outlets.
Fisheries managers have recently found that sauger might do better than walleye or saugeye in these lakes. A native of the Missouri River, sauger adapt to these turbid waters
Unlike walleyes, which spawn on rocks, sauger spawn on the hard mud or clay bottoms that are prevalent in midsize reservoirs. Because of this behavior difference, sauger spend less time than walleyes near dams, where fish can be flushed through the outlets. Saugeye stocking in these lakes, which was no more successful than the walleye effort, has been discontinued, but some saugeyes are still present in some lakes.
Stocked white bass have done well in midsize reservoirs and now reproduce naturally. But their growth rate in these waters is not as rapid as it is in large reservoirs. Sought by many anglers, wipers are being stocked in more lakes. They help control shad, and, in Salt Valley lakes, white perch populations. The white perch, also a member of the temperate bass family, has caused problems in the Salt Valley lakes since it was accidentally introduced in the 1960s; it competes with walleye and other species for food and has become overpopulated and stunted.
Yellow perch live in a few eastern midsize reservoirs, but they are better suited to cool, clean waters in the west.
Walleye, wiper and other open-water predator species will eat bluegills and crappies, but they prefer shad, if they are available. Finding shad can be an angler's key to finding open-water predators.
"Look for structure and look for shad," said Brent Hollinger, who fished Branched Oak Lake near Malcolm regularly before recently moving to Eustis. "They love shad."
Bauer said open-water fish typically are found near drop-offs, points, creek channels and other areas in deeper water where they can ambush prey. Because of silting and the way flood-control reservoirs were built, structure is relative. "If you don't have much structure, a 6-inch or foot drop is significant," Bauer said. "Fish will relate to that. Generally these lakes are fish bowls, so any little change could be important. That could be a change in bottom content or the hardness of the bottom if you've got an area with more sand or gravel than clay."
In spring, fishing for open-water species begins as soon as the ice melts. Walleyes, often the first fish of a new season in an angler's creel, are frequently found in deep water near dams, Bauer said. When fishing is slow, walleyes require a delicate presentation, usually with live bait like a jig-and-minnow combination or a Lindy rig (page 109) and a minnow. Walleyes are not aggressive in cold water, and their bites might be difficult to detect.
In late-March, male walleyes move to spawning areas, which in flood-control reservoirs typically are areas with rock riprap on dams and jetties. This gives bank anglers their first chance of the season to catch a walleye.
In midsize reservoirs, the walleye spawn peaks in early-April. Casting a jig with spinning tackle and light line is a good presentation, as is trolling or casting shallow-diving crankbaits. The best fishing is at night, but male walleyes can be caught during the day.
Sauger spawn on hard mud or clay bottoms in late-March. Bauer said sauger concentrate in a few areas and are difficult to find. "I don't know where we'd start looking for them," Bauer said, noting that biologists and anglers are just beginning to learn how the species behaves in Nebraska reservoirs.
Bauer said the best fishing for open-water species begins at the end of the walleye spawn and lasts until June. After spawning, walleyes leave their rocky beds and can be found throughout a reservoir. White bass and wipers become active as the water warms. Bauer cautions anglers not to fish too deep at this time.
Strictly bank anglers, Bruce Condello, his father, Frank, and cousin, Craig, have found that from late-April to early-June is the only period they consistently catch open-water species.
"Fish are hungry in the spring," said Bruce Condello. "Mid-May is the best time to catch white bass and walleyes in the shallows. For wipers, it's late-May to early-June."
The three Lincoln men spend many days fishing the Salt Valley lakes for walleyes, white bass and wipers. They don chest waders and head for a dam, wind-blown point or
Unlike many anglers, the Condellos prefer wind. It's the first thing they check in the weather forecast, and, when the wind doesn't blow, they're disappointed. "Give us any 15- or 20-mph wind, northwest, south, anything," Bruce Condello said.
Many anglers curse the wind because it makes fishing difficult. Whether in a boat or casting from the bank, wind puts slack in their lines, making bites difficult to detect. It's easier for anglers to cast with the wind to their backs, but there probably aren't as many fish around to take the bait. But wind-driven waves also concentrate zooplankton and other microorganisms that baitfish feed on in shallow water. Where there's zooplankton, there are shad, and where there are shad, there are game fish.
Bruce Condello said he sometimes uses a lipless crankbait at night or when water conditions indicate a need for a large-profile lure or noise to help attract fish. But most of the time, the Condellos fish with jigs. A Roadrunner or a hand-tied bucktail jig is about as fancy as they get. "I like to keep it nice, clean and simple," he said. "It's a lot more satisfying."
The Condellos make their own jigs, using heavy-duty hooks on jigs for wipers, which can straighten most commercially made wire hooks. "Use the lightest jig you can fish in the conditions," Bruce Condello said. Typically, that's 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jig, but on windy days they also use a 3/16-ounce jig - a size not available at most stores.
Their favorite body is a Fuzz-E-Grub (page 112). They use the largest size to get a long feather tail, and, if necessary, trim the body to fit their jig. Chartreuse is their favorite color for walleyes, white-and-pink for wipers and white or white-and-red for white bass.
Bank erosion has created shallow flats around most lakes. The Condellos reach deep water by wading. "If you want your jig to be in 6 feet of water you have to be throwing from 3 feet," said Craig Condello. "You can catch fish from shore, but your entire cast is in productive water when you're wading. From shore, it's only productive for the first quarter of your cast."
To find fish, the Condellos vary the speed and depth of their retrieves. Wipers and white bass look for baitfish silhouettes above them. Bruce Condello believes that aggressive fish are close to the surface, and he fishes there first. He allows little time for a jig to sink before beginning his retrieve. If he doesn't catch a fish, he'll let the jig sink another second or two, gradually increasing the time until he's fishing on the bottom. If he has covered an area casting in a fan-shaped pattern and doesn't catch fish, he moves down the shore until he does.
"Locating fish is easier with two or three people," he said. "If one gets a fish the others can move in. These are schooling fish."
The Condellos' luck from the bank diminishes when the water temperature reaches about 70 degrees and the fish move to deep water. That's about the time Hollinger does his best wiper fishing from his boat.
Hollinger had his best luck on wipers at Branched Oak Lake trolling crankbaits. "The reason I liked to troll is there's no structure and the fish are scattered. Trolling is effective because you can cover a lot of ground and, hopefully, run into a fish, " he said.
After catching wipers on jigs at Harlan County Reservoir, Hollinger decided to try them at Branched Oak, where vertically jigging with Roadrunners near drop-offs proved effective. When there isn't enough wind to create a slow drift, he trolls moving the jig slowly across bottom structure.
By late-June, open-water species are more difficult to catch. Bauer said, "It has a lot do with the shad population. Shad spawn starting in late-May. Once the young start showing up in the summer, open-water fish have food coming out their ears. That makes them hard to catch." When the shad move to open water, walleyes, wipers and white bass follow. When sportfish are suspended in 20 to 25 feet of water chasing shad, they can be tough to catch, according to Bauer.
When shad are found, vertical jigging below the baitfish school can be effective. In large reservoirs, gulls diving to the surface sometimes lead anglers to spots where white bass and wipers are chasing shad. White bass and wipers also chase shad to the surface in smaller reservoirs, but boat traffic often scares the baitfish before gulls and anglers can find them.
Fish, especially white bass, return to shallow water in fall. Some follow shad to the warmer bays. Fishing wind-swept shores with jigs often works.
Ice-fishing for white bass, wipers and walleyes isn't productive on midsize reservoirs. Bauer speculates that is because of the number of shad still available. As water cools and shad begin to die, the sportfish can get plenty to eat by chasing down weakened shad.Catfish
Of all the game fish that swim in Nebraska waters, catfish, especially channel catfish, are well suited to midsize reservoirs. Compared to other fish, catfish have poor eyesight and must rely on other senses. Because catfish use smell and taste to feed, turbid waters don't limit their search.
Nebraska is home to eight members of the catfish family. Anglers often see channel and flathead catfish, and black and yellow bullheads in midsize lakes. Channel cats are especially abundant.
Most catfish are scavengers. Their bodies are covered with taste buds, most notably the barbels that anglers affectionately call whiskers. They cruise lake bottoms looking for dead fish, frogs or anything else that is edible. The exception is the flathead catfish, which rarely eats anything but live fish.
Channel cats and bullheads can be caught on live bait such as minnows and nightcrawlers. They will take a jig or crankbait if the opportunity is presented, but most catfish anglers use something with an odor or, in some cases, a lot of odor.
"They're scavengers. They're not after live bait. They're trying to get something dead," said Larry Wackel of Crete, who spends many summer evenings watching poles from his lawn chair on the shore of any of a number of area lakes.
Wackel's bait of choice is turkey liver. Chicken liver works fine, he said, but turkey liver has more gristle and stays on the hook better. Wackel also uses nightcrawlers at times. When he's after big channel cats, he'll use dead bluegills or creek chubs.
"A cat has a big nose," Wackel said. "Its sense of smell is really touchy. If something is fresh and bloody, it has more smell." He said fresh liver is the key. He's found that frozen turkey liver that has been thawed is not as effective as fresh liver.
The number of catfish baits has grown in recent years, thanks in part to national publications touting the catfish's sporting and table qualities - something many Nebraskans have long known. Most new baits are variations of old standards, including cheese, blood bait and dip or stink bait.
In 1980, nearly 70 percent of all Nebraska anglers fished for catfish and it's still one of the most popular sportfish in the state.
"Catfishing is different," Wackel said. "It's laid-back fishing. With [largemouth] bass, how many hundreds of different lure styles and colors are there? With cats,
Many anglers choose spinning tackle for channel catfish, but spin-casting or bait-casting (page 110) gear works as well. The possibility of catching a big fish, and the catfish's penchant for heading for deep cover when hooked, dictate the use of heavy rods and line.
Wackel uses 8- or 10-pound-test for channel cats. He sets his drag loose and doesn't rush the fish to shore, a method that allows anglers to land big fish on light line. He usually rigs his line with a 1/4-ounce slip sinker (page 109) and a No. 4 hook on a 2-foot leader.
Wackel prefers to let the line sag while waiting for a bite. "If you try to cinch the line up, it will drag into the moss. Wherever it lands, just let it lay," he said. Using a slip-sinker allows the fish to run a bit before it feels the weight; the more time a fish has to get the bait in its mouth, the better the odds of getting a good hook set. Sharp hooks are essential to penetrate a catfish's hard mouth. Wackel regularly sharpens his hooks with a file.
Ice-out is one of the best times to catch channel catfish, which emerge from deep water and cruise the shallows for shad and other fish that were caught in the ice. At that time, shad pieces or shad gizzards are good baits, and wind-swept shores, where dead fish are washed into the shallows, are good places to fish. Using a flat slip-sinker, sometimes called a river sinker, rather than an egg-shaped sinker prevents waves from rolling your line onto shore on very windy days.
Wackel said he has the best luck in early- to mid-May when water temperatures rise. According to Wackel, the best fishing is at night, when fish cruise the shallows. Deep water can be productive during the day. Bank-fishing and drift-fishing from a boat are both effective techniques.
Fishing for flathead catfish requires a different approach, and more patience. Wackel has a few 30-pound flatheads to his credit, but he figures he spends about 100 hours fishing to catch one.
"It isn't a fast-action sport like bass or crappie," he said. "Normally it's just hours of waiting. But I still throw out a few lines for them. I still try."
A superior predator, the flathead cruises the shoreline looking for food or lies in wait for an ambush.
Flathead anglers use live, 6-inch bluegills for bait; chubs and goldfish also work. Wackel uses a 4/0 to 8/0 hook on a leader long enough to allow the baitfish to swim above the weeds and a weight heavy enough to keep it from swimming away.
Night is the best time to fish for flatheads. Heavy tackle and line are musts for the angler who hooks one of these brutes and wants to land it.Pike
Northern pike were a staple when midsize reservoirs were new, but only a few lakes hold them today. These fish need cool, clear water-a combination not found in most midsize
Pike are aggressive predators that take a variety of lures. Spinnerbaits and in-line spinners are favorite pike baits, as are big spoons.
Randy Erb, who grew up across the road from Grove Lake near Royal, still lives there and runs the bait shop his grandfather opened when the lake was built in 1950's.
Erb uses big creek chubs for pike in Grove Lake, once home to the state's record northern. He'll fish for them in the shallows with a bobber or, on the bottom with a quick-strike rig-a steel leader tipped with a treble hook and equipped with a second hook that slides up and down the leader. "It allows you to have two hooks in the bait so if they're hitting short or hitting heavy, you've got a hook to handle it," Erb said.
Pike often swallow the hook, making it difficult to extract without injuring the fish. When that happens, Erb cuts the leader and lets the fish go. He releases all pike and bass because he believes they help keep small lakes like Grove in balance.
Pike start feeding actively in shallow water as soon as lakes thaw in spring.
In summer, pike seek cool, deep water. Because they are less aggressive then, Erb returns to live bait. If the fish are suspending, he might fish a creek chub below a large bobber. If fish aren't biting, Erb drifts or slowly trolls, putting bait in front of more fish and hopes for a bite.
When the water temperature cools in fall, pike start eating for winter. With active fish, Erb switches to spinnerbaits. Live bait or dead smelt work well for pike through the ice.