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Fall Fishing Review

I love to hunt and trap in addition to fishing.  However, there is so little time and so much to do in Nebraska’s great outdoors, so it is natural that we develop our favorite activities.  If you have been reading my blog at all, you know mine is mostly fishing.  I love fish and fishing.  If I could design my fantasy calendar, it would be 3 months of spring turkey hunting, 3 months of fall fishing, and 6 months of ice-fishing (did I mention that I REALLY like to ice-fish?).  Of course we cannot control time or the calendar as we would like, but I come very close to meeting my 3 months of fall fishing every year.  Let me give you a recap of the fall of 2013, show some pictures, tell some stories, and explain a little bit of why I love fall fishing so much.  Some of the fish and stories you are about to see have been in my blog before, but I am going to include them again here to give you a complete review of my time on the water over the past few months.

One reason I am so fond of fall fishing is because I believe it is one of the prime times each year when I have some of my best chances to catch BIG fish.  I love big fish, big specimens of a variety of species turn my crank.  I have blogged about my strategies for catching big fish before, Big Fish and More of Them, and I believe fall is one of the best times when several of those strategies come together.  Fall is such a productive time because fish feed in the fall to get ready for winter, and in the case of many species, to produce eggs and milt for next spring’s spawn (Fall Spawning?).

Many Nebraska waters still have an abundance of natural prey going into the fall and that can make the fishing more challenging, but the fact is there is less prey available in the fall than in the summer, and the fish are feeding.  At times a person has to work to catch fish in the fall, but the pay-off can be some of the biggest, fattest, prettiest fish of the year.

I also believe fall is such a productive time for catching fish, big fish, because fish movements and behavior are more predictable in the fall.  Sometime during the spring and early summer, almost all species of fish found in Nebraska, with the exception of brook trout and brown trout (Fall Spawning?), will spawn.  For a few weeks during those spawning periods, fish behavior is dictated mostly by the urge to reproduce.  Fishing for any species of fish tends to be more difficult during the spawn period.  In the fall, there is no worrying about the influence of reproductive behavior on the fish.

I often say that predator/prey dynamics drive the aquatic ecosystem (it is a fish eat fish world), and that is most true during the fall.  Figure out what the fish are preying upon and where there is an abundance of that prey and you will be well on your way to catching fish most of the time, especially  in the fall.

In many ways my strategies for autumn are the reverse of my early spring strategies.  For example, in early fall while the water is still warm, I target warm-water species of fish.  I told you about this fish in an earlier blog, Finally Got One!

FallFlathead2013

And here is one my son caught. . . .

FallFlathead2

Over the years I have learned that my success catching big flatheads from the shore, or while wading, really tapers off once water temperatures fall into the mid-50’s F or cooler.  If you have a boat and have located the small, specific spots where flatheads gather to spend the winter, you can bounce jigs or other vertical presentations off their heads in colder water and get some of them to bite.  But, if you are targeting roaming, actively-feeding, relatively shallow-water flatheads in the fall, you better do it early because as the water cools they move deeper and feed a lot less frequently.

This may offend some of my bass fishing buddies, but honestly I do not spend a lot of time targeting bass in the fall.  I end up catching them anyway while I target other species.

FallLMB

That brings up a point:  I said earlier that predator/prey dynamics drive the whole aquatic ecosystem.  On many Nebraska waters you will find a variety of predator fish feeding on the same prey, and that means you might catch a variety of predator fish from the same locations on the same baits.  I may not specifically be targeting largemouth bass, but that does not mean I shake ‘em off my hook when I get one!

As the water cools, I shift my focus to cool-water species.  I told you earlier about this fish as well, Got Another One!

Wanahoo Pike Fall 2013

Now I have to tell you about this fish, another fish my son caught.  This wiper was foul-hooked when we landed it, and I do not know if it actually hit the bait and then the hooks dislodged from its mouth during the fight, or if it just plain was in the wrong place and got foul-hooked.  Regardless, I like the photo and it is an example of another cool-water species that can provide some excellent fishing in the fall.

FallWiper2013

You can probably see that fish was a little beat up and not in the best of condition.  I wonder if it was nearing the end of its road, and in fact did just “get in the way” and got foul-hooked?

Walleyes are another cool-water species that can provide some excellent fishing in the fall.  I did not get a chance to visit some of our state’s best walleye waters this fall, but believe me, I heard some reports from several anglers who had excellent success catching big walleyes from several Nebraska reservoirs this fall.

My son and I did transition to catching some of these this fall. . . .

FallMuskie1

 

FallMuskie2

 

FallMuskie3

The largest of those three muskies was 41 inches, and of course Daniel, my son, ended up catching the biggest.  My turn is coming!

Muskies have been called “the fish of 10,000 casts”, and yes, you are going to work for those fish anytime, anywhere.  But, if you have some ideas where to fish and how to target them, muskies are not necessarily next to impossible to catch.  The first one that Daniel is holding above was caught on his first cast that day!

While we were targeting muskies, another one of these showed up. . . .

FallBass2

 

Finally, as the water cools even more in the fall, I transition from cool-water species to cold-water species, trout.  Here is what a 26-inch, Nebraska rainbow looks like. . . .

FallTrout1

That fish was a P-I-G.  All I could say was “Wow!” over and over again.  What a special fish!

FallTrout2

I caught some trout too, maybe not as big as Daniel’s, but just as purdy. . . .

FallCuttie

Look close at that last trout, it was a cutthroat!  A beautiful, fat, 17-inch cuttie, my biggest ever, including those I have caught in Montana!

I should mention I caught some nice panfish this fall as well, especially some nice black crappies, but sorry, I did not snap any photos of those.

How late in the fall did we fish?  Well here is a clue, when you  start seeing this, . . .

IceInGuides

Ice in the rod guides

and this, . . .

FloatNearIce

Yes, that is an ice shelf behind my float.

. . . it is about over.  Some of those fish were caught within the last week.

How did we catch them?  Well, if you have been reading my blog, I have told you all about it before, Check out the digital NEBRASKAland, Trout Presentations that will Work Anywhere.

I know some of you are thinking that I ain’t doing nothing but bragging and it is not fair to give you this report now when our fall fishing has come to a close.  No, I suppose not, but I will tell you that there were days this fall that I did not catch fish, and there were times when I caught fish on one trip and got blanked on the next.  If I had gone on the internet and told you all about catching fish as soon as I got home to the computer, you very well might have rushed to my spots and got skunked.  That is why I hate “outdoor reports”, they don’t mean nothing.  Do your homework, spend your time on the water, make your own reports.

Right now I have some spots in mind I will be trying as soon as the ice is safe.  That is another advantage of fishing in the fall!

If you know me very well, you know I will make this point before I quit:  Here is what we did with ALL of those fish. . . .

BigTroutRelease

Go back and read my strategies for big fish in the previous blog post I referred to, releasing big fish is an important part of those strategies!

Think there is no good fishing in Nebraska?  BALONEY.  I challenge anybody to put on a pair of waders, put in some time fishing in the fall, and catch the variety of fish, and big fish, that my son and I caught here in good ole Nebraska!

I cannot wait until next fall!

 

 

About Daryl Bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

5 comments

  1. Nice work and great photos, I only matched your success in icing up the eyes on my fishing rod, that was impressive.

    I have to say though in most of your photos your wearing waders. What is the 2013 -2014 regulation under Aquatic Invasive Species that states, “Felt sole boots or waders are not allowed to be used on Nebraska waters.” I forgot to ask about this topic when it was first published. Is there something I’m missing or misinterpreting with this new law?

    I will have my waders pried from my cold dead feet if that truly is the case.

    • Ray,

      Felt-soled waders are no longer allowed in Nebraska and many wader manufacturers are phasing out felt-soled waders. The felt on the bottom of those boots is pressed into the mud and bottom substrates, takes some time to dry, and has been implicated in the spread of several invasive species that we do not want.

      Daryl B.

  2. While on a backpack trip in the San Juan mountains in July my 12year old grandson landed a 23″ cutthroat from columbine lake. A lake that a ranger told us held no fish because at 12200′ it froze to the bottom in the winter.

    • Bob,

      That was a BIG cutthroat your grandson caught!

      That is one thing I love about fishing–you just never know!

      Daryl B.

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