Saturday, April 14, 2018

Nebraska's Best Walleye Spot

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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 the link below on how to take out Y bones.

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.  (

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.

Almond Crusted Walleye
  • 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.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Snow Geese Have Returned

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A couple of  decades ago the refuge at Desoto Bend was a stop over for the migrating snow geese and other birds.  I knew some farmers that cultivated some of the refuge and they were required to leave 1/3 of the crop on the ground.  Well to waterfowl, corn is like cocaine  and they will gorge themselves on it.  A beautiful facility was erected with viewing areas out over the water where you could come and see all the migratory wild fowl.  It went unused for several years, but now the birds are back. There is not a few thousand but hundreds of thousand of snow geese with some blues mixed in, and my wife and I drove up to DeSoto Bend to see the birds.  It was phenomenal.

Every year they go through, and now they are stopping at DeSoto Bend Wildlife Refuge just east of Blair, Nebraska. That is a 45 minute drive for us.  As they make their way up the Missouri river to their nesting grounds above the arctic circle, it is a sight to see.  The snow geese have become so plentiful that there are now no limits as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife want to thin the numbers before Mother Nature does. As they migrate they stay just south of the snow line.  As it melts off in the northern states they are gone and it may be only a few days but not over a week that they will be here.
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 Mother Nature is not very kind when it comes to thinning the numbers.  Some day there may a disease as they are thinned out. Hunting them in the fall at our blinds has not been very successful as they fly over in enormous flocks, flying very high, and going from refuge to refuge.

When stepping out of the vehicle at DeSoto, the first sound you hear is a high pitched yelping, that when multiplied by many thousands, will leave an indelible print on your memory.  When massed together they look like an enormous island of geese. Then all at once they begin to yelp, rise up off the water, swirl around and land back again.  We stood for an hour and watched this spectacle several times. 

I truly believe snow geese are smarter than other waterfowl.  If there is one important lesson that snow geese have learned and learned well, it is that there is safety in numbers.  When my friends and I began hunting the birds during the mid 1960s, snow geese migrated across Iowa in small flocks that usually consisted of anywhere from a dozen on up to 20 or so birds.  The migration was well distributed statewide, and the geese stopped wherever there were suitable marshes. 

How times have changed.  Today, most of the snow geese are hunted in open fields with big spreads of decoys and with the use of electronic calls.  They do not decoy as in the past.  If you do get them to start coming in, a 20 yard shot is about all you can get.  I really believe the snow goose is the hardest bird to deceive and that includes the wild turkey.  I had a chance to hunt in western Nebraska with an outfitter that specializes in snows.  They put out over 1000 decoys in wheat stubble and hunt out of layout blinds.  

DeSoto is not only a stopping off place for snow geese, but for waterfowl of all types.  There was also a migration of Trumpeter Swans which we were able to photograph.  They stayed at a considerable distance.  In addition, there were bald eagles everywhere in the trees. 

A decade or so ago, I had the privilege of hunting with Richard Hart.  It was great seeing the sculpture of the eagle he had made. 

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Good Hunting, Good Fishing and Good Luck.  Hank

It is almost time to head to the fields and whack on a big tom turkey. 

Turkey and Broccoli Almondine
  • 2 cups medium noodles
  • 1 package (10 ounces) broccoli (fresh or frozen), cooked
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup turkey or chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced Cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups diced cooked turkey
  • salt
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
  • Tusker Beer

Cook and drain noodles, put in shallow baking dish. Add broccoli to the noodles. Make a sauce with the butter, flour and liquids. Add cheese, Worcestershire and pepper; stir until cheese is melted. Add turkey and salt to taste; pour over ingredients in dish. Arrange broccoli blossoms on top and sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.  This goes really good with Tusker Beer or a really good Piesporter wine from Germany.  Our recommended brand is Hirschbach & Sohne Piesporter Michelsbers Riesling Spatlese.  It has a big stag on the front of the label.  Your choice the beer or the wine.  


Friday, March 16, 2018

Ducks and the WRP

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A close friend of mine who is an avid duck hunter is in the process of developing his own private duck hunting hole.  I hate to use the term old friends, but we have known each other for decades and he is an expert when is comes to hunting ducks and especially mallard ducks.  

His experience goes back to when he was thirteen years old and he hunted on a well known commercial hunting site and became a close friend of the owner, and still is.  He was the senior member in the club I belonged to for seventeen years.  Last year before the season, we lost the owner of the land we hunted on who also managed the club.  This club had been in existence for 25+ years and consisted of 80 acres with 40 acres of water and less than a mile from the Missouri River. It has a well and a pump to circulate the water,  so we always had open water even in the coldest of days.  The blinds buried in the ground were heated with comfortable padding for seating and hot plates for cooking. The best part of the hunt at this location was the dogs.  Some of the club members had outstanding dogs that were well trained.  We never lost a cripple.  This was gentlemen hunting at it's finest.  Read my book "How to Hunt Like a Gentleman."  There are real life experiences hunting ducks in the book. The book can be bought through Amazon or Lulu. 

I really miss those days of the bounty of ducks produced at this spot.  All I had to do was show up before shooting time, find a place to sit in the blind and wait.  I never had to get out.  The decoys were always located at the right location for the wind and conditions. There was always an excellent duck caller in the blind.   But with our leader gone, the family leased the blinds back to the club.  For club members like myself, that was a good thing.  They could have sold it.  This has been prime duck and goose hunting property for years and fully developed.  Still it just wasn't the same for me.  Several of my close friends also decided not to renew their membership.  I am looking at other options.

In the meantime, my friend decided it was time to live his dream of a place of his own design based on 40+ years of hunting experience and a lifetime of studying the habits of migrating ducks.  And so he found a place near the river that was in WRP and it was for sale.  

The question is, what is WRP? The information below is taken from The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) a division of the USDA.

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) was a voluntary program that offered landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided technical and financial support to help landowners with their wetland restoration efforts through WRP.
This program offered landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.
The goal of NRCS was to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.
Lands that were eligible for WRP:
  • Wetlands farmed under natural conditions
  • Farmed wetlands
  • Prior converted cropland
  • Farmed wetland pasture
  • Certain lands that had the potential to become a wetland as a result of flooding
  • Rangeland, pasture, or forest production lands where the hydrology had been significantly degraded and could be restored
  • Riparian areas that linked protected wetlands
  • Lands adjacent to protected wetlands that contributed significantly to wetland functions and values
  • Wetlands that had previously been restored under a local, State, or Federal Program that need long-term protection 
Lands established to trees through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were ineligible for WRP enrollment.

NRCS was committed to delivering all Farm Bill programs authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill and was eager to discuss with all interested parties about the many potential benefits that the WRP offered.

Former Enrollment Options

Under the easement options, the USDA paid all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance.
  • Permanent Easement: A conservation easement in perpetuity. USDA pays 100 percent of the easement value and up to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-Year Easement: An easement that expires after 30 years. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the easement value and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
  • Restoration Cost-Share Agreement: An agreement to restore or enhance the wetland functions and values without placing an easement on the enrolled acres. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-Year Contract: A 30-year contract option is only available on tribal lands. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.

Rights Retained By Landowners

Speaking generally, under the voluntary easement the landowner retains the rights to:
  1. control of access
  2. title and right to convey title
  3. quiet enjoyment
  4. undeveloped recreational uses
  5. subsurface resources
  6. and water rights
Wild sunflower.  A native to the area.
Looking southwest across the wetland
Looking south across the wetland  The trees at the south form the southern boundary. 

My friend will be buying the 80 acres provided approval is given by the government for the land changes and arrangement he wants to do to the ground.  The focus on the spot will be to provide ducks with a resting place and feed obtained from native moist soil annual plants.  These produce the most seed. The whole 80 will not be for hunting but only a few acres will be shallow flooded for hunting.  No permanent blinds will be built or sunk into the ground.  Instead  the hunters will hide in the natural grass lands of the prairie consisting of switch grass and other native grasses.  You will have to hide.
Barnyard grass, a native to the area.

Crawdad hole.  The holes are everywhere. 
Most importantly, the spot will not be hunted every day but only on certain days of the week and only with a limited numbers of hunters.  Ducks will have an opportunity to feed and rest, move on or stay until the weather drives them out.  This is a great way to give the birds a rest and still have some excellent hunting.
White Wing Stem


In the spring when the birds move north the area will provide a great place to stop, rest, feed, and possibly stay and produce more ducks.  

Canada Wild Rye
I usually only harvest a two day limit for the season of Mallards.  That is all we will eat during the next six months after the season closes.  There are other meats to dine on besides ducks.

Recipe of the Week

       Duck Fajitas
  •  four duck breasts
  • 1 box of frozen red, green and yellow peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 fajitas spices/seasoning packets
  • 1 pack medium sized flour tortillas
  • salsa
  • sour cream
  • tomato
  • cilantro
  • guacamole
  • shredded cheese
  • toothpicks

Cut goose or duck breasts into thin strips. Place in a skillet with a small amount of hot oil, cook thoroughly. Add fajita seasoning packet to duck. At the same time in another skillet sauté the frozen peppers with chopped red onion. Cook until tender. When both pepper and meat are done, place flour tortillas in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. This will warm the tortillas and allow them to separate easier. Take out one tortilla and add meat, peppers, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc. Wrap the fixings inside the tortilla and use a toothpick through the middle to hold it together. Accompany with Spanish rice and refried beans. Serve with Tusker Beer.


Good hunting, good fishing and good luck. Hank

Sunday, March 4, 2018

From Trash to Treasure

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January has made itself well known in the Omaha/Council Bluffs cities and it is really cold.  Fortunately most of the heavy snow has gone north of us, but winter is not yet over.  What is a person to do? Fortunately for me, my wife makes sure we have plenty of entertainment and it is my turn to do what she wants to do.  That is how I get to hunt and fish whenever I want to and squander money on equipment.  I really mean to say invest in hunting and fishing equipment.  Plus, during the winter months of the year I plan my next big game hunting events.  This can be from hunting alligators in Louisiana to shooting big game in the mountains or in Canada.  

This winter one our favorite places, Lauritzen Gardens, had an outstanding event planned for members and the community.  This is one place I really like to go as there is always something interesting taking place, plus the gardens are a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.  

Two artists have turned plastic pollution into a beautiful, powerful and educational exhibit.  This is a demonstration of how to rethink our use of plastics and change our own habits.  The amazing creations have been built from reclaimed materials. The displays had an affect on us and changed the way we look at art, plastics, and our environment. 

We first visited the exhibit in the glass enclosed conservatory at night.  The lighting was absolutely magnificent.  Because there were so many people, taking picture was next to impossible, so we came back on a Saturday afternoon when the gardens were not so crowded.  

The pictures below are of the art work and animals constructed out of plastics taken from trash. 

The penguins meet you as you enter the door.
Then you see this magnificent bird. 

Another beautiful bird made from plastic throw aways

My favorite, the rooster. 
Different angle of a beautiful  work of art. 

The whale was one of our favorites. 
Picture the jellyfish at night and you can see the beauty.

The dolphins are magnificent. 

In the main building. 
I can't pass up a picture of a koi.

An evening and an afternoon at the Gardens is well worth the time invested.

Good hunting, good fishing and good luck.  Hank

Stay Warm