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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 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 Nebraska panhandle will offer numbers of eating-size, 15-20-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 ideal as walleye habitats, but stocking does provide anglers with opportunities to catch walleyes from those waters.  Besides Yankee Hill, Youngman, Wildwood, and Zorinsky will be the best waters to catch walleyes in eastern Nebraska in 2018.  Lots of 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.

White bass

White bass also are open-water predator fish that thrive in Nebraska’s largest reservoirs.  The best white bass fisheries in 2018 will be found at Sherman, Calamus, and Harlan, three of the best every year.  Enders, Johnson, Medicine Creek and Swanson reservoirs have 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 besides the reservoirs already mentioned, look to Maloney, Whitney, and Lewis & Clark for some white bass larger than 15 inches this year.  Again 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

Wipers are white bass x striped bass hybrids, and like their parent species, they also 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.

Bluegill

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 numbers of 8-inch and larger bluegills as well, and there will be a bunch waters that will do that in 2018.  Small- to medium-size reservoirs across Nebraska 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 to catch some nice ‘gills.  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 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 2018 will be Duck, West Long, and Watts on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) as well as Frye and Walgren lakes.  In addition, sandpits like those on the Louisville State Recreation Area (SRA) will offer some excellent opportunities for quality-size bluegills this year. 

Crappies

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 like Holmes and Wehrspann as well as Czechland, Atkinson, and Johnson.  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; Blue, and Home Valley 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 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, waters with lots of bass may not necessarily be the best for producing big bass.  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 like Memphis, Wanahoo, Walnut Creek, Skyview, Burchard , Olive Creek, and Wehrspann will also be excellent for largemouth bass this year.  Interstate lakes and public pits like Louisville #3, East Hershey, Fremont Slough, Birdwood, Heartland Shooting Park, and Grand Island Rest Area will also offer some excellent bass fishing in 2018.  Sandhill 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 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. 

Channel catfish

Channel catfish are a popular fish 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 plan to fish  Burchard, Willard Meyer, Pawnee, Czechland, Davis Creek, Medicine Creek and Johnson this year.  Voluntary catch & 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 but trophy catfish, fisheries that took years to develop, that can be maintained by voluntary catch & 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 offers opportunities to catch other sunfish species like REDEAR SUNFISH at Jenny Newman, Wildwood, and Louisville SRA Pit #2.  SMALLMOUTH BASS can be caught at War Axe, Johnson, McConaughy, and Blue Lake, as well as the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. BLUE CATFISH can be found in reservoirs like Swanson, Pawnee, Medicine Creek, Elwood, and Branched Oak, but look to the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska for the biggest blue cats in the state–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, Branched Oak, and the Tri-County canal system.  All flatheads at Branched Oak must be released immediately after capture and anglers should consider releasing big flatties on other fisheries as well.  SAUGER fishing will be best on Lewis & 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 are a walleye X sauger hybrid and stocking is producing some excellent opportunities for anglers to catch those fish in Olive Creek, Meadowlark, Lonestar, Cunningham, and Willard Meyer reservoirs.  YELLOW PERCH always are a tasty and popular panfish; in 2018 some of the best yellow perch fishing will be found at Crane, Atkinson, Rat & Beaver, Frye, and West Long lakes in the Nebraska sandhills.  Sandhill lakes are some of the best NORTHERN PIKE habitats in the state as well, and once again 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 are too warm for 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”, and they are a great fish for beginning anglers as they are almost always willing to bite.  Bullhead fishing will be particularly good in 2018 at Yankee Hill, Czechland, Olive Creek, and Wanahoo.  On the other hand, the “king of freshwater sport fish,” MUSKELLUNGE, can also be found in Nebraska waters.  To catch this trophy, 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 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 trout x brook trout 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, Soldiers, 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 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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