10 Best Bass Fishing Lakes in Nebraska

Sharing is caring!

Nebraska probably isn’t the first state bass anglers think of when searching for the best bass fishing locations in America. However, there are many ponds and reservoirs with sneaky good bass fishing.

Let’s discover where you should plan your next bass fishing trip in the Cornhusker State!

Nebraska’s Top Bass Spots

It’s surprisingly difficult to narrow down Nebraska’s best bass fishing spots. Most top-rated waters are in western Nebraska; however, many excellent smaller impoundments around Omaha can have good bass fishing, including Lake Cunningham, Standing Bear Lake, Wehrspann Lake, and Zorinsky Lake. 

Lincoln also has several smaller but high-quality bass fishing reservoirs, including Bluestem Lake, Branched Oak Lake, Conestoga Reservoir, Olive Creek Lake, Pawnee State Recreation Area, Stagecoach State Recreation Area, and Wagon Train Lake.

Additionally, several of Nebraska’s canals and rivers, including the Missouri and Platte, can be quite good for bass including smallmouths.

Nebraska is home to three species of black bass: largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, but largemouth bass are the most prevalent and popular throughout the Cornhusker State and we’ve given them a bit of extra love in choosing which waters to include in this article.

Each species has unique habitat and food preferences, so you must adjust your approach accordingly.

The time of year you’re fishing will also drastically affect your approach. Bass spawn in the spring, so they’ll aggressively protect their beds in the shallows. In the summer, bass will either move out to deeper water or find a shady spot in cover to hide. Bass follow their food back to the shallows in the fall and retreat to deeper waters in the winter.

It’s important to remember that these are broad generalizations, and each day offers anglers new challenges. Adjusting your presentation (lures), colors, and water depths will help you consistently catch fish across Nebraska, regardless of weather conditions. 

Box Butte Reservoir

Box Butte is a 2,212-acre impoundment in northwestern Nebraska. Smallmouth and largemouth bass call this body of water home. Since this lake is used for irrigation, the water fluctuates quite a bit. Years of high water levels offer better fishing than years of low water levels.

When fishing for smallmouth bass, stick to the rocky areas in and around deeper water. I always do well using a chatterbait, Mepps spinner, or wacky rig when chasing smallmouth. Downsizing your lures will help you get a few more bites.

For the most part, if you want to catch largemouth bass, stick to the shallows. Largies will go deep in the summer’s heat and cold winter, but most of their time is spent near the shoreline.

Crankbaits, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, and a Texas Rig are my go-to lures for largemouth. 

Stay at the Box Butte SRA campsites to turn your trip into a fun weekend getaway. There are 40 campsites with no electricity and 14 padded sites with 30-amp and 50-amp hookups.

Burchard Lake

At 150 acres, Burchard Lake offers largemouth anglers an incredible opportunity in the southeastern part of the Cornhusker State. 

The excellent water quality at this impoundment keeps fish populations healthy, plus a fish habitat rehabilitation project completed in 2013 improved the fishing. 

When the water is up, I would begin in the northwest branch, where the two rip-rap points create a funnel. Bass are also caught off the main lake points in brush piles and stumps.

Topwaters, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, and Neko rigs work well here.

There is a nice concrete boat ramp on the northeast section of the lake. However, there is only somewhat primitive camping at the lake, and the nearest hotels are 32 miles away in Beatrice.

Elwood Reservoir

Located in the southwest part of the state, Elwood Reservoir is a 1,300-acre lake with a ton of points and small coves. Most anglers here target largemouth bass, but spotted bass were stocked in the lake for many years, and you might stumble across a school or two in the main lake.

In the spring, I would begin in one of the shallow coves with access to deep water, as these are the areas where the bass will spawn. Post-spawn, fishing the points is always a good idea; however, some fish will remain shallow throughout most of the year. 

I would keep my color selection as natural as possible on Elwood since the water is clear. Spinnerbaits, swim jigs, and Carolina rigs will be some of the best lures to use here. 

There are few camping and RV spots and cabins at the lake in a private campground just down from the boat launch; otherwise, you can stay in a hotel 20 minutes away in Lexington. 

Lewis & Clark Lake

Sitting along the Missouri River on the northeastern border with South Dakota, Lewis & Clark Lake is the second largest reservoir in Nebraska and is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass.

There are not many points to fish, so finding the underwater humps and drop-offs will be essential. In the rocky areas, I would toss a crankbait that mimics crawfish and bounce a jig down the drop-offs and ledges.

Smallmouth will be the primary bass you catch in the deeper and rockier sections of the lake, while largemouth will stay in the shallows most of the time.

The Missouri River itself also offers some of Nebraska’s best smallmouth bass fishing, along with excellent catfish fishing in both this reservoir and the river.

There are several campgrounds on the Nebraska side of the lake, including in the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area and other SRAs along the shore; otherwise, you’ll find the nearest hotels in Yankton, S.D. 

Lake McConaughy

McConaughy Lake is the largest reservoir in Nebraska and is known for incredible walleye fishing, but the smallmouth bass fishing is also worth testing the waters.

I would begin my search on some of the main lake points on the southeastern end of the lake and keep an eye out for any rock piles where smallmouth like to congregate. That said, don’t overlook the lake’s western end during the spawn since it’s shallow, and the water will heat up faster than farther east.

Spinners, chatterbaits, swimbaits, and jigs will all catch smallies at Lake McConaughy. I would keep my color selection as natural as possible with white, green pumpkin, and firecraw red as my primary options. 

There are several campgrounds, including Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area, and hotels in nearby Ogallala. 

Merritt Reservoir

Merritt Reservoir is a 2,905-acre impoundment southwest of Valentine, with islands and creek arms that offer anglers excellent bass fishing opportunities.

These clear waters create incredible bass habitat and produce 19-inch (5 pounds) and bigger largemouth. The clear waters also mean natural colors should work well, so I recommend using green pumpkin and white year-round and firecraw red in the spring.

The key will likely be finding vegetation and chunk rock and fishing the creek channels and depth changes with jigs, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, and Carolina rigs.

A few campgrounds are at the lake, including the Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, but the closest hotels are 30 miles away in Valentine.

Red Willow Reservoir/Hugh Butler Lake

Whether you call it Hugh Butler Lake or Red Willow Reservoir, the impoundment at Red Willow Reservoir State Recreation Area has plenty of giant largemouth bass.

The lake has two primary creek arms with a few smaller ones branching off them. In the spring, I would begin at the mouths of those creeks and work my way back toward the shallows to find out if the fish are spawning yet or staging nearby.

In the summer, I would find a ledge along a creek channel and search for fish. If I were struggling to find bass, I would return to the shallows, especially where there is a little vegetation or standing timber. 

In the fall, I would head for the depth changes near flats as the bass follow their food back to the shallows. In the water, the largemouth often suspend along the creek channels.

The typical lures will work here, but a flipping jig and spinnerbait in the standing timber are must-haves. If your moving lures aren’t getting bites, switch to soft plastic finesse setups like a Texas or wacky rig.

There are a few campgrounds at the lake; the nearest hotels are in nearby McCook. 

Sandhill Lakes

Technically, this area in western Nebraska has many lakes and is not a single body of water.

And yes, you might know that the Sandhill Lakes were hit hard with winter and summer kills in recent years. Still, several lakes in this area remain some of the best places to fish in the state, and the Nebraska Game & Parks Department has begun restocking efforts on many of the hardest-hit lakes. 

Bass are primarily found along the edges of these shallow lakes, which rarely get over 10- feet deep.

When visiting these vegetation-filled lakes, I would tie on Whopper Ploppers, topwater frogs, spinnerbaits, jigs, and Texas rigs. Dark colors such as black and blue work very well on these lakes. However, white and chartreuse or yellow can also get these bass biting.

There are about 40 lakes open to the public, and only a handful have a campground. The Sandhill Lakes receive less pressure than other lakes, so the fishing is often incredible here. 

Valentine NWR Lakes

Nine lakes (Watts, Hackberry, Dewey, Clear, Willow, Rice, Duck, West Long, and Pelican) are open for fishing on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, and they all have largemouth bass.

Recent fish kills also hit the Valentine Lakes, but the populations are back on the rise. 

Rice and Duck Lakes appear to have the best size and density of bass, but Dewey Lake has some big bass. Clear Lake had the lowest density of largemouth, as of the 2022 Fish Survey Report

Catching fish here will be similar to catching bass at the Sandhill Lakes; spinnerbaits, jigs, Whopper Ploppers, frogs, and Texas rigs will be some of the top performing lures, primarily when you use white and chartreuse, black and blue, and yellow lures.

We also have this refuge’s lakes listed among our picks for best ice fishing lakes in Nebraska

There is no camping at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, and the nearest hotels are in Valentine. 

War Axe SRA

Many might consider the 16-acre impoundment along Interstate 80 in south-central Nebraska a big pond, and that’s perfectly fine because there’s no denying this place has giant bass. The 21-inch minimum length limit is a testament to the size of largemouth found at War Axe State Recreation Area. 

The motor restriction also means this is the perfect place to unload your kayak and catch some big bass without worrying about being run over by a big boat.

Spinnerbaits, jigs, crankbaits, Texas rigs, and wacky rigs would be my go-to lures in green pumpkin or black and blue. A chatterbait, swimbait, or shaky head will also catch fish in this water body. 

First come, first serve primitive camping is available at War Axe, and the nearest hotels are in Kearney.

Catch More Bass

Learn the simple ways to catch bass with our simple fishing guide.