Your guide to Nebraska’s waters
With about 450 lakes and streams open to public fishing, deciding where to fish in Nebraska can sometimes be challenging. Our annual fishing forecast can help.
The forecast contains research statistics and graphs to explain sampling information for important sport fish species sampled across Nebraska from the previous year along with useful tips from our fisheries division staff.
Take your fishing to the next level
Below is a breakdown of the forecast by species. Discover the best waters to fish for 17 different species and other useful tips.
Nebraska’s largest reservoirs are the state’s best walleye habitats and consistently provide the best fishing. Merritt Reservoir will top that list this year, but other perennial favorites like McConaughy, Sherman, Minatare, and Calamus will also be good.
Lake Winters Creek in the Panhandle will offer numbers of eating-size, 15- to 20-inch walleyes this year, as well as Yankee Hill in southeast Nebraska. Anglers targeting big walleyes should plan trips to Merritt, Elwood, McConaughy, and Sherman.
Smaller reservoirs in eastern Nebraska are less than ideal as walleye habitats, but stocking does provide anglers with opportunities to catch walleyes from those waters. Youngman, Wildwood, and Zorinsky will join Yankee Hill as the best waters to catch walleyes in eastern Nebraska in 2018. Several walleyes were sampled at Oliver and Skyview last fall, but most of those fish were less than 15 inches and need some more time to grow.
Enders, Johnson, Medicine Creek and Swanson reservoirs will have high numbers of white bass next year, but most of those fish will be smaller than 12 inches. Big white bass can be found in waters that have lower densities, so also look to Maloney, Whitney, and Lewis and Clark for some white bass larger than 15 inches this year.
Smaller reservoirs are not ideal habitats for open-water white bass, but East Twin will offer anglers some opportunity to catch white bass in southeast Nebraska.
Wipers are white bass-striped bass hybrids and, like their parent species, they are most successful in open-water habitats – Nebraska’s largest reservoirs McConaughy, Elwood,Medicine Creek, and Calamus will offer the most wipers for anglers 2018.
The wiper population in Branched Oak Reservoir has made a rebound in recent years, and Red Willow and Davis Creek will be good, too. Jeffrey and Maloney reservoirs also will offer good numbers of wipers in 2018, but most of those fish will be less than 20 inches long. Anglers looking for trophy wipers in 2018 will find McConaughy and Elwood hard to beat.
Bluegills can be found in a variety of waters across Nebraska, and anglers can take their kids out to catch some “sunnies” on just about any small body of water. Our state can produce many 8-inch-and-larger bluegills, as well; several waters will do that in 2018. Small- to medium-size reservoirs offer some of the best bluegill fishing every year, with Olive Creek, Leisure, Maple Creek, and Meadowlark topping that list.
Ponds like Crystal near Ayr and Jenny Newman in Platte River State Park also will be good spots. Anglers are reminded that all fish must be released while fishing at Jenny Newman. Some other waters that will be good for 8-inch-and-larger bluegills this year will be Wildwood, Lone Star, Wanahoo, Walnut Creek, and Verdon. Nebraska’s Sandhills lakes offer lower densities of bluegills, but can produce some trophy ’gills, with the biggest fish in excess of one pound.
Anglers should remember that bluegills that big are rare fish and worthy of having a picture taken and then returned to the water. The best Sandhills lakes in 2018 will be Duck, West Long, and Watts on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) as well as Frye and Walgren lakes. Sandpits like those on the Louisville State Recreation Area (SRA) will offer some excellent opportunities for quality-size bluegills this year.
Crappies are another panfish that can be found in abundance throughout Nebraska, with anglers always on the look for waters that will produce fish larger than 10 inches. There will be numerous places in 2018 that will offer some very good crappie fishing, with Sherman, Davis Creek, Wanahoo, Branched Oak, Wildwood, and Whitney reservoirs heading the list.
Other waters that will be good for crappies in 2018 include urban reservoirs such as Holmes and Wehrspann, as well as Czechland, Atkinson, and Johnson. Sandhills lakes tend to have lower densities of panfish such as crappies, but can offer some of the biggest, fattest, black crappies in the state; Blue and Home Valley lakes will be the best of those lakes this year for crappies.
Waters that offer stable water levels, clean water and an abundance of shallow-water cover, especially aquatic vegetation, are those in which largemouth bass thrive. In Nebraska, small reservoirs, Sandhills lakes, pits, and ponds tend to provide the best of that habitat. Some of those waters can have high densities of bass, which tend to produce excellent panfish fishing as largemouth bass keep panfish numbers in check. However, when looking at the sampling data for the best bass waters, those with the highest numbers of bass may not offer the best opportunities to catch fish larger than 15 inches. On the other hand, lower densities of largemouth bass can offer anglers the best opportunities to catch bass larger than 15 inches.
Pioneer Trails near Aurora and Walnut Creek #2A near Crete will offer anglers tremendous numbers of 15-inch-and-larger bass in 2018. Other small- to medium-size reservoirs such as Memphis, Wanahoo, Walnut Creek, Skyview, Burchard, Olive Creek, and Wehrspann will also be excellent for largemouth bass this year.
Interstate lakes and public pits such as Louisville #3, East Hershey, Fremont Slough, Birdwood, Heartland Shooting Park, and Grand Island Rest Area will also offer some excellent bass fishing in 2018. Sandhills lakes can also be good largemouth bass habitats and produce some pretty, chunky bass; Walgren Lake and Hackberry on the Valentine NWR will be good bets in the Sandhills this year.
Private pits and ponds always produce some of the best bass fishing in the state, and many Nebraska anglers have permission to fish at least one of those privately owned waters. In addition, some private pits and ponds have been enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program and are open to the public. Refer to the Public Access Atlas for those waters.
Channel catfish are popular in Nebraska, and are found widely across the state. That will be demonstrated in 2018, as some of the state’s best channel cat waters will be found from Zorinsky and Branched Oak in eastern Nebraska to Sutherland in the west central and Oliver in the southwest Panhandle.
In addition, Prairie Queen, Enders, Lone Star, Powder Creek, Harlan, Big Indian 11A, and Lake North will all offer good numbers of 16-inch-and-larger channel cats in 2018. For 24-inch-and-larger cats, anglers should fish Burchard, Willard Meyer, Pawnee, Czechland, Davis Creek, Medicine Creek and Johnson this year.
Voluntary catch and release of trophy catfish is a practice that should be considered by anglers on any Nebraska water as it takes years to grow channel cats to that size. For example, Box Butte, Merritt, and Calamus reservoirs have lower densities but trophy catfish, fisheries that took years to develop, that can be maintained by voluntary catch and release.
For a different experience, do not overlook Nebraska’s warm-water rivers such as the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn, or Niobrara. There are some areas where public access is available, and in addition, check out the Open Fields and Waters Program for additional access to warm-water streams and rivers on private lands.
Nebraska also has waters that support cold-water fish year-round where anglers can pursue a Trout Slam catching rainbows, browns, brooks, and possibly even cutthroats and tigers (brown-brook hybrids). Most of the cold-water trout streams are found in western and northern parts of the state; the East Branch of Verdigre Creek, Long Pine, Soldier, and Ninemile creeks are favorites among trout anglers. In 2018, the rainbow trout fishing at Lake Ogallala will continue to be good, and anglers might even catch some cutthroats from the White River in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge.
Redear Sunfish – In addition to bluegills, Nebraska offers opportunities to catch other sunfish species, such as redear sunfish at Jenny Newman, Wildwood, and Louisville SRA Pit #2.
Smallmouth Bass – The top waters will be War Axe, Johnson, McConaughy, and Blue Lake, as well as the Missouri River in the northeast.
Blue Catfish – Try reservoirs such as Swanson, Pawnee, Medicine Creek, Elwood, and Branched Oak. Look to the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska for the biggest blue cats – some weighing in triple digits.
Flathead Catfish – This large catfish can be found in the Missouri River, as well as in reservoirs like Harlan, Sherman, Branched Oak, and the Tri-County canal system. All flatheads at Branched Oak must be released immediately after capture. Anglers should consider releasing big flatties on other waters, as well.
Sauger – The best sauger fishing will be on Lewis and Clark Reservoir and the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska, but Johnson Reservoir and the Tri-County canal system also have good numbers of sauger.
Saugeye – Stocking this hybrid cross between a walleye and sauger is producing some excellent opportunities for anglers to catch those fish in Olive Creek, Meadowlark, Lonestar, Cunningham, and Willard Meyer reservoirs.
Yellow Perch – In 2018, some of the best fishing for this popular and tasty panfish will be found at Crane, Atkinson, Rat & Beaver, Frye, and West Long lakes in the Sandhills.
Northern Pike – Sandhills lakes are some of the best northern pike habitats in the state as well, and lakes on the Valentine NWR – Dewey and Hackberry – will be some of Nebraska’s most popular pike fisheries. Reservoirs in southern and eastern Nebraska are typically too warm for cool-water northern pike, but Wanahoo is relatively new and has some pike habitat now. Remember that all pike must be released at Wanahoo.
Bullheads – “Yellow bellies” are a great fish for beginning anglers, as they are usually willing to bite. Bullhead fishing will be particularly good in 2018 at Yankee Hill, Czechland, Olive Creek, and Wanahoo.
Muskellunge – To catch this “king of freshwater sport fish,” anglers should target Merritt, Calamus, and Wagon Train reservoirs, as well as Fremont SRA Pit #20, and Grand Island’s L.E. Ray Lake.
Fisheries guide and reports
Each year, Nebraska Game and Parks publishes a number of guides and reports with regulations and sampling reports. Visit our guide and reports page to view the current Fishing Guide, stocking reports, sampling reports and more.