I need a new lake to hammer some walleye. Eastern South Dakota did not treat me very well last year and it is not like it was 20 years ago when I first went up there to fish. The one advantage to the area is that there are a lot of lakes to fish all within a 30 mile radius of Webster, SD.
The Merritt Reservoir in northwestern Nebraska is an oasis amid the giant oasis of the sandhills. The second deepest lake in Nebraska is just a few miles south of the Snake River Falls and the Samule R. McKelvie National Forest. Surrounded by gentle bluffs, there exists 44 mils of tree-lined shores baked in sugar-sand beaches. The lake is 11 miles long, and with 3000 acres of pure waters, this is a fishing adventure land. Maximum depth is 111 feet with an average depth of 25 feet. This is outstanding and makes for excellent fishing. Water levels are stable, except during the summer irrigation season when they drop.
The source of water for the lake is an impoundment of the Snake River completed in 1964 by the Bureau of Reclamation. Boardman Creek is the only other significant tributary that supplies water to the lake. Another plus is the lake is 98% composed of sand. What do walleyes like? It is sand and running water. The more I read about the lake, it just kept getting better.
Weed growth develops in various coves and shallows from late spring until the summer draw down. Areas of submerged timber remaining from pre-impoundment years provide good habitat for fish. As reported a local organization constructs tire-reef that attract fish each summer. The local Fire Department has an on-going habitat improvement program using discarded Christmas Trees.
Sand, running water, and structure makes this lake an outstanding opportunity to spend some serious time this spring to catch some really nice walleyes. The lake also has Northern Pike, large mouth and small mouth bass. It appears that whatever you want to fish for, this lake has it all. According to the DNR this is the best walleye lake in the state.
It is big, but narrow. The question is what is the best way to fish it. Several recommendations were made as I reviewed all the information I could find on the lake. The walleye spawn the first week or two in April and it was advised to fish along the face of the dam in 18 inches to six feet of water. Floating minnow plugs such a Rapalas work best. It was also advised to fish in low light conditions.
The post spawn bite will heat up around the 2nd week of May. Suspending live bait just off the bottom in 7 to 10 feet of water along brushy banks and over the tops and near edges of submerged weed beds is a good pattern to work. Mid June was recommended to fish with leeches and night crawlers. As fall moves in and the lake is taken down for irrigation, the fish move deeper on flats humps and points. Trolled baits, it was said, work best in the late fall.
This is really interesting. Anglers at Merritt are allowed a daily bag limit of four walleye which may include one from 15 to 18 inches. The rest of catch has to be 18 inches or above. Only one fish can be over 22 inches. Now think about this and concentrate on four 18 inch walleye. It has been decades since I have had such success.
Another fish we like to catch and eat is the Northern Pike. Besides being a really fun fish to catch, They are excellent eating. Decades ago, my son and I fished with a local native guide in northern Manitoba. He cooked shore lunch for us and we always ate the walleye. He was always after a medium size northern, took out the Y bones and dined on fillet of northern pike.
After that we never threw a decent sized pike back again, and learned how to take out the Y bones. One of the first fish to turn on after the ice is out is the Northern. It can be caught in shallow water on spoons, spinners tipped with a minnow. Chartreuse or white is a good choice and the northern go for flash or a red and white daredevil. We have caught them deep, mid lake, and shallow. An outfitter decades ago told us when you find the northern, move off to one side or the other and there will be the walleye. Northern feed on walleye, but I believe they will feed on anything. Taking out the Y bones will leave you with a great eating piece of fish. Watch this link and see how it is done . (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS_cHdKS-_A)
The fishing descriptions and reports look like this is the place to go. Now, where do I stay and where do I eat, clean and store fish? Where to stay is important to me if you read my book, “How to Hunt Like a Gentleman.” The same concept applies to me now when it comes to fishing. You do not have to rough it in life to have great experiences. In fact, over the many decades that I have fished and hunted, I have found that not roughing it is the way to go. You just have a more enjoyable experience, plus, if the hunting or fishing stinks, you have still enjoyed yourself and those with you will have a better experience. Camping out sucks.
So now, I noticed that there is a trading post and a resort at the lake. You can find them on line or call at 402 376 3437. There is also the Water’s Edge Restaurant. I did not find anything on line for this business, but you can call at 402 376 5934. As I am writing this blog it is February and everything is probably closed. I will keep on checking as we get into March. You can rent a cabin at the lake and I believe you can store your boat in the lake at a slip if you rent a cabin. If you do not rent a cabin, there is a charge. Either way, this is a convenient way of not having to take the boat in and out of the water.
When we fish the glacial lakes in SD we do that a couple of times a day and it just gets to be a nuisance. When we fish this lake we are going to rent a slip and just leave the boat in the lake and pull it out when we leave. It is gentleman fishing.
Valentine, Nebraska is only 26 miles from the lake and the area is a tourist mecca for people that love the outdoors. The Niobrara River flows through the area and there is a plethora of campgrounds and outfitters for a really nice river experience. Finding a motel that caters to hunters and fishermen was not a problem. I talked with the people at the Trade Winds Motel in Valentine, and they have a place to clean and freeze fish plus they serve a free breakfast every morning. In addition, they have parking for my boat and trailor if I decide to pull it out every day. Follow the link to learn more about Valentine and the entertainment they offer or just go to the site visit Valentine. (https://visitvalentine.org/explore-here/)
All in all, this looks like a fishing adventure to spend a few days, and experience the beauty of the sandhills of Nebraska.
Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck. Hank
One of my favorite recipes.
- 1 or more walleye or saugeye fillet
- ½ cup almond meal (ground almonds
- panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
- salt and pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 fresh peach or pear, sliced
- splash of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, etc.)
Mix the almond meal with a little panko and the salt and pepper. Place fish fillet in egg wash then roll in almond meal/panko mixture. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil in a pan over medium low heat, then add fish and sauté about 4 minutes per side (depending on thickness). Remove the walleye to paper towels, turn heat to medium high and add the sliced fruit. Stir and fry for a minute then add 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and cook until butter browns. Add wine; reduce. Place fish fillet on plate surrounded by fruit and drizzled with sauce. Makes 2 servings. Once you open the wine, you will have to drink it. I recommend this recipe with a bottle or two of Tusker Beer if you can find it. I have a friend bringing us a supply for the summer from Sante Fe, New Mexico. I will post the place they bought it on my next blog.