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Top Places to Fish in Nebraska

With about 450 lakes and streams open to public fishing, deciding where to fish in Nebraska can sometimes be challenging. Daryl Bauer, Game and Parks fisheries outreach program manager, has provided some useful tips in the tabs below.

Walleye

Nebraska’s largest reservoirs are the state’s best walleye habitats and consistently provide the best walleye fishing. That is true every year, with some western Nebraska reservoirs looking particularly good in 2017. Minatare, Winters Creek and Box Butte, all in the Nebraska panhandle, will be particularly good for numbers of eating-size walleyes this year. Calamus, Harlan, and Maloney also will offer anglers good numbers of walleyes, while Merritt, McConaughy, Elwood, and Sherman will offer anglers an opportunity to catch a big walleye along with good numbers of fish. Smaller reservoirs in eastern Nebraska are less ideal as walleye habitats, but anglers will have some opportunities to catch walleyes from those waters including a shot at some big fish. Stagecoach, Czechland, Wagon Train, Yankee Hill and Wanahoo will be the best waters to catch a walleye in eastern Nebraska in 2017. Lots of walleyes were sampled at Big Alkali and Lawrence Youngman last fall, but most of those fish were only 10-15-inches long.

White bass

White bass also are open-water predator fish that thrive in Nebraska’s largest reservoirs. The best white bass fisheries in 2017 will be found at Swanson and Harlan, while Sherman, Maloney, McConaughy, and Calamus will also be good. Typically, the largest white bass are found in waters that have lower densities; look to Minatare, Elwood, and Lewis and Clark for some white bass larger than 15 inches this year. However, Calamus and Harlan will offer a few big white bass along with the numbers of fish that can be caught from those waters.

Wipers

Wipers are hybrids of white bass and striped bass, and like their parent species, they also are most successful in open-water habitats–Nebraska’s largest reservoirs. Waters that offer good white bass fishing can be some of the state’s best wiper fisheries as well. Calamus, Elwood, Minatare, and Swanson, will be the best Nebraska reservoirs for 20-inch and larger wipers in 2017. Sampling catch rates of wipers in the fall of 2016 were very high at Lake Maloney and Davis Creek, but most of those fish were less than 20 inches long. An even greater abundance of wipers was collected at Branched Oak Reservoir in the fall of 2016, but those fish were less than 15 inches long, and all wipers must be released at Branched Oak. Smaller waters are less ideal wiper habitats, but Stagecoach and Wagon Train reservoirs in southeast Nebraska support some wipers in excess of 20 inches.

Bluegill

Bluegills can be found in a variety of waters across Nebraska. Anglers can take their kids out to catch some “sunnies” on just about any small body of water, but if 8-inch and larger bluegills are the target, there will be a bunch of candidate waters in 2017. Small- to medium-size reservoirs across Nebraska will offer some of the best bluegill fishing again this year with Maple Creek, Iron Horse Trail, and Czechland heading the list. Summit, Maskenthine, Walnut Creek and Pibel, will also be very good for 8-inch and larger bluegills this year. Nebraska’s sandhill 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 sandhill lakes in 2017 will be West Long on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) as well as Frye and Smith (WMA) lakes. Sandpits and interstate lakes can also offer some excellent opportunities for quality-size bluegills; several pits on the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, and East Odessa interstate lake will be good pits to try this year.

Crappies

Crappies are another panfish that can be found in abundance throughout Nebraska, with anglers always on the lookout for waters that will produce fish larger than 10 inches. There will be numerous places in 2017 that will offer some very good crappie fishing with Blue Lake, Whitney and Sherman reservoirs heading the list. Small to medium-size reservoirs tend to be excellent crappie habitats and consistently produce some of the state’s best crappie fishing. In 2017 crappie anglers will want to spend some time on Walnut Creek, Yankee Hill, Czechland, and Wanahoo for some 10-inch-plus fish. Once again Nebraska’s sandhill lakes tend to have lower densities of panfish like crappies, but can offer some of the biggest, fattest, black crappies in the state; Cottonwood-Steverson, Home Valley, Island and Big Alkali lakes will be the best of the sandhill lakes this year for crappies.

Largemouth bass

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, sandhill lakes, pits, and ponds tend to be the best largemouth bass habitats. 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, waters with lots of bass may not necessarily be the best for producing big bass. So, 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, relatively lower densities of largemouth bass can offer anglers opportunities to catch bass larger than 15 inches. Lake Wanahoo and Pibel will offer anglers tremendous numbers of 15-inch and larger bass in 2017. Other small- to medium-size reservoirs like Iron Horse Trail, Skyview, Buckskin Hills, Grove and Hedgefield will also be excellent for largemouth bass this year. Interstate lakes and other public pits like Fremont SRA Pit #2, Windmill #3, and East Sutherland will also offer some excellent bass fishing in 2017. Sandhill lakes can also be good largemouth bass habitats and produce some beautiful, fat bass. Duck and Pelican lakes on the Valentine NWR will be the good bets for sandhill lake bass fishing 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/Open Waters program and are open to the public–refer to the Public Lands Atlas for those waters (can be seen at outdoornebraska.org). Public ponds like Redtail and Mayberry will be good largemouth fisheries in 2017, but anglers should know that catch and release will be needed to maintain quality bass fisheries in those small waters.

Channel catfish

Channel catfish are a popular fish in Nebraska, and are found widely across the state. Pawnee, Branched Oak, Sutherland, Davis Creek, and Prairie Queen reservoirs will all offer good numbers of 16-inch and larger channel cats in 2017. In addition, Wildwood, Burchard, Medicine Creek, Wagon Train, and Johnson reservoirs will be good for 24-inch and larger cats. Remember that all catfish have to be released at Wildwood Reservoir—the reason there is an abundance of big channel cats there. Voluntary catch and release of large, 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 of trophy catfish, fisheries that took years to develop, but can be maintained by voluntary catch and release. For a different experience, do not overlook Nebraska’s warm-water rivers like the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn, or Niobrara as they also are excellent catfish fisheries. There are some areas where public access is available on Nebraska rivers, and in addition, check out the Open Fields/Open Waters program for additional access to warm-water streams and rivers on private lands.

Other species

Nebraska is still the “mixed bag capital of the world” offering a diversity of fishing opportunities. Besides the species highlighted in the fish-sampling graphs, there are a variety of other fish that can be pursued.

In addition to bluegills, Nebraska has opportunities to catch other sunfish species like redear sunfish at Louisville SRA Pit #2, Wilson Creek 2X or Crystal interstate lake.

Smallmouth bass can be caught at War Axe (SRA), Johnson Lake, Lake McConaughy, and Blue Lake, as well as the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska.

Blue catfish can be found in reservoirs like Pawnee, Medicine Creek, Elwood, Swanson, and Branched Oak, but look to the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska for the biggest blue cats in the state, potentially some fish weighing triple digits.

Flathead catfish are another species of large catfish that can be found in the Missouri River as well as in reservoirs like Harlan, Sherman, or Branched Oak and the Tri-County and Loup canal systems. All flatheads at Branched Oak must be released immediately after capture and anglers should consider releasing those big cats on other fisheries as well.

Sauger fishing will be best 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.

Yellow perch are a very tasty and popular panfish; in 2017 some of the best yellow perch fishing will be found at Home Valley, Defair, Clear (Brown Co.), and Frye, lakes in the Nebraska sandhills. West Long on the Valentine NWR and small ponds on the Ogalala National Grasslands, Rock Bass and Boardgate will also offer some great perch fishing this year.

Sandhill lakes are some of the best northern pike habitats in the state and once again lakes on the Valentine NWR, Dewey, Pelican, and Hackberry, will be some of Nebraska’s most popular pike fisheries. Smith Lake WMA is another sandhill lake that will be good for northern pike this year, but do not overlook reservoirs like Box Butte, Merritt, and especially Wanahoo for pike. Reservoirs in southern and eastern Nebraska like Wanahoo typically are too warm for the cool-water northern pike, but Wanahoo is relatively new and has some pike habitat now. Remember that all pike are required to be released at Wanahoo.

Some anglers scoff at the thought of fishing for bullheads, but there are others who specifically target “yellow bellies”–they are a great fish for beginning anglers as they are almost always willing to bite. Bullhead fishing will be particularly good in 2017 at Czechland, Wanahoo, and Burchard reservoirs.

The “king of freshwater sport fish,” muskellunge, can also be found in Nebraska waters. To catch this large, toothy predator, anglers should target Merritt, Calamus, and Wagon Train reservoirs, as well as Fremont SRA Pit #20, and Grand Island’s L.E. Ray Lake. Nebraska also has waters capable of supporting cold-water fish year-round where anglers can find TROUT, rainbow, brown, brook, and even cutthroats. 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, Soldiers, and Ninemile creeks are perennial favorites among trout anglers. In 2017 the rainbow trout fishing at Lake Ogallala will continue to be good, and anglers might even catch some cutties from the White River in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge.

Download Daryl’s annual Fishing Forecast for a condensed version of this page.

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