Fishing in Nebraska|
For anglers, Nebraska is well known for its reservoir fishing. Lake
McConaughy near Ogallala (30,000 acres when full), Lewis & Clark reservoir
on the South Dakota border (30,000 acres when full), and Harland County
Reservoir in south-central Nebraska (13,500 acres when full) are the largest
reservoirs in the state. Smaller irrigation reservoirs in western and
central Nebraska, and flood-control reservoirs in eastern Nebraska, also
provide fishing opportunities, as do many farm ponds and sand pits across
Several years of drought in Nebraska, and
in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana that supply rivers
like the Platte and Missouri, have left Nebraska reservoirs less than full,
but most still provide excellent fishing. Catfish, largemouth and smallmouth
bass, white bass, striped bass, northern pike, crappie, walleye, yellow
perch, bluegill, sunfish, trout, carp -- depending on the reservoir, the
variety of available fish can be staggering.
Nebraska rivers, creeks, and natural lakes
also provide fun fishing, although they tend to be much less well known and
less utilized in Nebraska. Nebraska’s prairie rivers historically supported
a diverse population of fish, including northern pike, grass pickerel,
several species of catfish, bass, buffalo fish, and eels as well as smaller
darters, gizzard shad, minnows and dace. Paddlefish and sturgeon, both
ancient fish families, still ply the Missouri.
Nebraska also boasts over 1,300 natural
lakes, most of them in the Sandhills in north-central Nebraska, although
many are surrounded by private land without regular public access. Those
natural lakes host native fish, as well as native and non-native fish that
have been stocked in their waters.
Nebraska’s Fishable Waters
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s fisheries face major challenges. Continued water
development, both in Nebraska and in upstream states, continues to deplete
Nebraska streams. The flow in the 100-mile stretch of the Platte between
North Platte and Lexington has been cut to just 10-15 percent of its
historic level, as a result of municipal use, irrigation diversions and
groundwater wells upstream. Streams like Pumpkin Creek in the Panhandle, and
the Frenchman River in southwest Nebraska, have been dried up by irrigation
wells, the farmers who hold surface water rights to their flows left high
Nearly every major river system in Nebraska is polluted, typically by some
combination of runoff of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides from farm
fields and feedlots, bacteria and ammonia from out-dated municipal treatment
plants, and sediment from construction sites. Excessive sediment load in
most Nebraska streams has driven out many native fish species.
Meandering streams have been straightened, braided rivers been channelized,
streamside wetlands drained and urban streams armored with rock and
concrete. The result: fast-moving water, down-cutting streams, degrading
river banks, and destruction of fish habitat.
The Missouri River was once an enormously productive fishery, and supported
hundreds of commercial fishermen well into the early-1900’s -- before huge
dams upstream, and more than a century’s worth of work to straighten and
channelize the river and remove snags caused fish populations and the
commercial fishery to collapse.
Yet, there is hope. The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 promised to make
America’s rivers fishable and swimmable again by 1985. We are still working
to see that promise fulfilled, but Nebraska lags well behind other states in
surface water monitoring and watershed cleanup.
In 1984, the Nebraska Legislature authorized the Game & Parks Commission and
Nebraska Natural Resource Districts to apply for and hold ‘in-stream flow’
water rights, which would preserve what remains of natural river flows from
future development. To date, only two Nebraska streams have in-stream flow
protections, but the law has the potential to do far more good.
In 2004, Nebraska’s Legislature passed LB 962, the latest effort to
modernize Nebraska’s outdated water laws. While not perfect, the new law
should at least ‘slow the bleeding’ of stream flows in Nebraska, by slowing
future development in watersheds where irrigation, industry, and municipal
use has already appropriated available water rights.
Fish for the Future
The Nebraska Wildlife Federation continues 40 years of work to make sure
that future generations of Nebraskans will be able to catch fish in
Nebraska’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. For example:
laws that better protect stream flows needed for fish and
recreation, and oppose new efforts to roll back Nebraska’s in-stream
We are pushing our Department of Environmental Quality to improve its
surface water monitoring and watershed cleanup program, and pushing
our Governor and Legislature to boost much-needed funding for this important
In our Platte River Campaign, we helped represent
conservation groups as we negotiated a basin-wide agreement with three
states, the federal government, and water users, to protect remaining
Platte River flows and begin to restore flows needed for fish and wildlife;
Our Adopt A Stream program
over 220 Nebraskans in basic stream monitoring and
conservation techniques, through a state-wide series of workshops;
We continue to support acquisition and development of areas that
provide public access to Nebraska's public waters, for fishing,
canoeing, boating and other recreation.
We invite you to join us in our work to make sure that future
generations can enjoy Nebraska's water resources, by
becoming a member of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation!