Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal.
VALENTINE, Neb. | Heavy clouds wrapped themselves around the Sandhills landscape as Steve Isom guided his boat along the face of Merritt Reservoir dam.
It was 5:30 a.m. and Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., and I stood in the back of the boat hurling shallow diving crankbaits hoping that one of the fat walleyes for which Merritt is known would latch on.
Alewives, the primary forage base for the walleyes, were there in high numbers. We could see them on the depth finder and occasionally one of us would snag one of them. They were running five to seven inches long, and were so thick all a walleye would have to do is open his mouth and one would swim in.
But the walleyes were not interested in opening their mouths. A week earlier, Steve, who lives in Valentine, a mere 35 miles to the north, had taken some people out and they limited here with the biggest fish hitting 9-and-a-half pounds.
Unsettled weather was making us work for our fish.
It had been 4 a.m. when my alarm went off that morning. It was raining heavily as I stumbled across my motel room to make the coffee. I felt a rumbling and thought, “Is that a tornado?” I went to the window and looked but all was calm except for the rain.
Later I would learn that a 3.3 Richter scale earthquake had struck with the epicenter just seven miles southeast.
The rain had quit just a few miles south of town, and it didn’t appear that Merritt had more than a sprinkle, although its water levels are very high due to the precipitation in the area this spring.
On our third pass down the dam’s face, Steve set the hook into a good fish and Gary netted the 21-incher.
That was encouraging, but the big question was, “Will there be more?”
Merritt Reservoir is 11 miles long and has 44 miles of shoreline. It was created by damming Snake Creek back in 1964 for irrigation purposes. It backs up over 2,900 acres at full pool, but drops considerably during the summer months. There are two main arms in the lake, the Snake Creek arm and the Powderhorn Creek arm.
It is Nebraska’s most prolific walleye reservoir and because of the abundant forage of alewife, perch and a variety of minnows, the walleyes grow fast and are always fat.
While walleyes steal the limelight, good populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass go almost untouched. Northern pike, muskellunge, white bass, black crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and bullheads are also plentiful.
Two more passes down the dam did not yield any more walleyes so we ran down the lake to a series of sandy points coming off the shoreline. Arrowhead weeds grew off the shallow tops of the points and we started at the 8- to 12-foot depth trolling Lindy rigs tipped with crawlers or leeches.
We caught a good number of walleyes doing this, but they were small. Gary put one in the boat that measured almost 17 inches. We also caught a few white bass and a channel catfish.
The daily limit for walleyes here is four which may include one from 15 to 18 inches. You may have all four fish over 18 inches, but only one can be longer than 22 inches.
While we stayed at the Trade Winds Motel in Valentine. There are lots of facilities at the lake. There are eight campgrounds (two with electrical hookups and one with ADA accessible shower), one dump station, vault toilets, picnic shelters, two fish cleaning stations, five boat ramps with lighted parking lots, and an area concessionaire, Merritt Trading Post Resort, which provides permits, groceries, fee camping with RV hookups, boat rentals, fuel, cabins and guide services.
For more information on Merritt Reservoir check out: merritttradingpost.com.
While the walleye fishing was not on fire because of the weather, we had a great time fishing a beautiful reservoir tucked into a Sandhills landscape. The weather has plagued our fishing all spring, but we’ll be back for another round featuring Merritt Reservoir’s fat walleyes.
More outdoor information is available at http://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/