You may not immediately think about fly fishing when you think about this heartland of America filled with corn fields and…well, not a whole lot else. Surprisingly though, the state does engage in an active trout stocking program, which allows anglers of all kinds to do what they love most – drop a line in and wait in hopeful anticipation for that telltale tug.
While it may seem like a well-kept secret, Nebraska does harbor many beautiful, bountiful rivers and streams that serve as angling paradise to fly fishermen. Most of these are tucked away in the north and western portions of the state, where colder waters can sustain a trout population.
This waterway, situated in central northern Nebraska, receives annual stockings of browns and rainbows by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. While natural reproduction is hampered by the lack of high-quality spawning habitat in the river, the stocked trout offer anglers fly and other fishing opportunity between the Wyoming border and the Box Butte Reservoir. Public access is available via Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Much of the water flows through private property, so permission must be obtained from the landowners.
Another local favorite, this tributary of the Niobrara serves as a fertile ground for natural reproduction in both rainbows and browns. The best place to fish is between the public access at Seven Springs and Camp Witness. As you travel further downstream you’ll encounter even larger fish, but past the Bone Creek confluence the populations become scarce.
Northeastern Nebraska is home to this perennial favorite of anglers throughout the state. The few miles that support a trout population offer riffles, pools, and runs, ideal for the fly fisherman seeking a classic trout stream experience. At 10-15 feet wide and featuring some pools as deep as three feet, the Verdigre is a haven to naturally reproducing browns and rainbows as well as 200 catchable rainbows that are stocked weekly by the Grove Trout Rearing Station. This stream may not offer the largest trout but for a serene, scenic angling experience it can’t be beat. Public access is available via the Grove Lake WMA.
This creek is situated in south-central NE and is the ideal rainbow fishing ground. Three miles out of the 22 miles of drainage provide a hospitable habitat for the stocked trout. Public access is available throughout the Elm Creek WMA, the rest of the creek flows through private property. Pools and runs abound, and aquatic vegetation thrives, offering fishermen a lovely environment in which to cast a line.
This reservoir for water coming from the Kingsley Dam at Lake McConaughy is nestled in the southwestern area of the state, just kitty corner from where Colorado juts in. While it’s not a traditional trout stream, the area has proven extremely rewarding to many anglers – yielding trout over 20 inches in length. The state stocks rainbows in Lake Ogallala, making it a wonderland for those seeking catchable sized fish.
At the bottom end of the lake there is a Nebraska Public Power diversion dam, forming a North Platte River tailwater. A mile of this stretch also serves as a fruitful trout fishing area for rainbows and browns, although it is not stocked, due to the fish that escape from Lake Ogallala. These two areas sit within a state recreation area and offer plenty of public access.
Nebraska offers year-round fishing. Spring at the Kingsley Dam brings walleye who are ripe to strike as they prepare for spawning. Summer is a productive time at Lake Ogallala, during high irrigation flows. Fall and winter are also lucrative as flows are good after the irrigation season.
In May, the Box Butte Reservoir in the northwestern corner of the state holds a glut of pike. Remember, anywhere bait fishermen can cast, you can cast too. Many fish species besides trout can be caught on the fly.
Nebraska streams tend to be fairly low-key, without a lot of whitewaters or chest-high depth, although some pools can reach four feet so it’s a good idea to go with chest waders if possible. You’ll also want a wide-brimmed hat, a rain jacket with a hood, a vest or small pack, sunscreen, bug spray, polarized sunglasses to see into the water, and your nippers and other accessories necessary for cutting line.
A standard 4-6 weight rod with 9-foot leader will do for most of Nebraska’s fly fishing locations. For the larger fish in Lake Ogallala you may want a 6 to 8 weight. Keep a wide variety of flies on-hand, including scuds, BWOs, caddis, streamers, tricos, midges, and baetis. Terrestrials can come in handy particularly in the fall when nothing else seems to work – hoppers, ants, and crickets should be a staple in your fly box.
As for boots – leave the felt-soles at home this time. Nebraska has banned this type of wader due to the risk of spreading didymo and other nuisance invasive species that can have deleterious effects on the fish and other wildlife habitats within aquatic environments.
Nebraska requires all residents and non-residents age 16 and over to carry a fishing permit. These are available at a cost of $29.50 for residents and $61.50 for non-residents. There are also one-day and three-day options for both residents and non-residents, as well as combination hunting and fishing permits. Disabled veterans may obtain a free fishing permit. Nebraska also offers reciprocal licensing privileges for South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri – holders of fishing permits in any of these states may fish the Missouri River in their own state as well the waters across the river in the other state.
There are trout limits that apply statewide – the bag limit is five, with a possession limit of 12, and no more than one fish may be longer than 16 inches.
Whether you live in the Cornhusker State, are planning a vacation through the area, or are visiting involuntarily on a business trip, don’t leave your rod at home. Even though it may not be rife with classic fly fishing opportunities, the state does have plenty to offer those who just want to relax and cast a line out.