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Cranes

Sandhill cranes have returned to Nebraska. More than 600,000 of these great birds will settle into the central Platte River valley in the next couple of weeks. It is a unique and awe-inspiring spectacle of nature. Make plans to see it if you can!

According to my personal seasonal clock, it is officially spring. Sandhill cranes are arriving in the valley and, regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil says, spring is here!

I’ve talked with quite a few people in Beatrice that have never seen Sandhill cranes. This is truly a world class event of nature and if you are an outdoor enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to see this migration at least once in your life.

From Beatrice, you will need to travel to the Grand Island, Alda, Doniphan area. It can be a “day trip” if you choose. All you have to do is look skyward and follow the cranes! An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 cranes will visit the Platte River valley in the next few weeks. The best time of the day to view cranes is late afternoon to dusk. Drive the backroads within a few miles of the river. You will find cranes!

Cranes are not bothered too much by vehicles. They do like to keep a “buffer zone” between themselves and anything else that could hide a predator. Often you can drive as close as 100 yards to them from them before they get nervous and move off.

Stay in your vehicle to observe the cranes. A human form on the ground is a sure way to get them to take flight. Nebraska is the only state in their flyway where they are not hunted, so they are very wary of humans. Remember, 98 percent of the cranes you’ll find will be on private property, so don’t drive out in fields without permission. Park well off the road and observe at a distance.

A good pair of binoculars would be a great thing to have with you. If you intend to take pictures of cranes, you’ll need a camera that has the ability to zoom out 6X to 10X at a minimum. More is better.

The sound of cranes is one of the most fascinating aspects to these birds. Their sound is very primal, particularly when you think that there is evidence that cranes have been coming to Nebraska for the last 10 million years. The sound of cranes makes me feel the need to be part of nature.

On average, cranes will be in the area a month or so before they continue north to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Don’t wait too long. Get out and enjoy a true spectacle of nature.

Sauger Fishing

The subject of sauger fishing has come up recently. Sauger are a freshwater family of fish that is related to walleye. They look so much like a walleye that it is sometimes difficult to tell what you’ve caught.

Sauger can be distinguished from walleyes by their spotted dorsal fin and the lack of a white patch on the lower tail. Unlike walleye, sauger have a rough skin over their gill plates and are generally darker with a more brassy color than walleye.

Sauger don’t grow as large as walleye. They generally average 1 to 3 pounds, but they do get bigger. Nebraska’s state record sauger was caught back in 1961 in the Missouri River by Betty Tepner, of Plainview. The fish weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces.

My first experience with sauger was in the Missouri River. A gentleman by the name of Jimmy Hall, from Nemaha, was a sauger master. He taught me most of what I know. The best place to look for sauger in big water like the Missouri is behind the wing dikes. Sauger will hold up in these areas, out of the current to rest. Drifting a fat nightcrawler along the bottom in these spots can be very productive. Other good baits include brightly colored lead-head bucktail jigs or twister tails, minnows rigged on a jig head, leeches and crayfish.

Sauger can provide some excellent angling opportunities and great eating! Light duty gear is the order of the day and fish slow. Have fun!

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