Barbs and Backlashes

What do you want? by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
January 26, 2010, 10:08 am
Filed under: Fishing | Tags:

Let me share some thoughts that have been running through my head recently.  Maybe in my rambling I will make a point or teach a thing or two in the process.  Please do not think there is a specific event or discussion that has prompted this, because there is not, but what I am going to address should be of interest to all anglers and underlies a lot of the discussions you hear amongst anglers.  So, bear with me while I ramble for awhile.

One of the first things I learned in Fisheries Management 101 is that a “fishery” is made up of 3 parts:  the fish and other aquatic organisms, the habitat, and humans.  I have often said that a fisheries manager will usually discover that managing the aquatic organisms, fish, and aquatic habitat is the easy part; managing the human dimension of a fishery is where the real challenge lies.  By the way, that is why I am such a believer in informing, educating and communicating with anglers–that interaction is critical!

So that brings me to the question I posed as the title of this post:  “What do you want?” or what do anglers want?  As you might guess, pointy-headed fisheries biologists have surveyed anglers many times to determine their motivations and desires.  Those studies are always very interesting.  One thing I have concluded from angler surveys is that there is no such thing as the “average angler”.  Fishing is such a diverse and varied activity and has a diversity of meanings to a diversity of anglers.  There are common motivations and desires among anglers, but no two anglers view their sport exactly the same nor desire the same outcomes from their fishing.  Anytime anyone starts to stereotype anglers in any way I see red flags.  What may be true for one angler may be completely the opposite for his or her buddy.  At best you may be able to group anglers into different groups that have similar motivations and desires, but even then there is a lot of individuality and diversity within groups.

What do anglers want?  That depends on who you ask.  Some of them want big fish, some of them want lots of fish, some of them do not even care if they catch any fish because they just want to “get away from it all” or enjoy some time with friends and family.  If you follow what I am saying, you might conclude that satisfying anglers is a lot like “herding squirrels”–you cannot make everyone happy.  I believe the best way to satisfy the greatest number of anglers is to try to provide a diversity of fishing opportunities.  If we can accomplish that, we will satisfy the greatest number of a diverse group of anglers.  Fortunately, in Nebraska, with our geography and natural resources, we have a great diversity of fishing opportunities for everything from brook trout to flathead catfish; bluegills to muskellunge.  Many years I will catch all four of the species I just mentioned and a lot more from Nebraska waters.

How does a fisheries manager produce a diversity of fishing opportunities?  For one he or she has to evaluate each habitat and determine the kind of fishery it is capable of producing.  A wise manager will try to capitalize on the “strengths” of each water body–it would be a waste of time to try to produce a blue marlin fishery in a water body that is not capable of supporting blue marlin.  Maximizing the production or potential of each body of water may require management strategies that are tailored to each specific body of water.  Maximizing the potential of each body of water may require different stocking strategies, different habitat enhancements and even different harvest regulations for each body of water!

Let me again ask, “What do you want”?  Fisheries managers are often torn between trying to keep regulations relatively simple and managing each body of water separately.  I will be the first to admit that at times things could be simplified.  But, even though blanket regulations may be simpler and easier to understand, the trade-off might be less potential to produce quality fishing opportunities.  Is that good enough?

I have joked that it is easy to know what anglers want–they all want “big fish and more of ’em”.  That is not necessarily the case as some anglers will place a much higher value on catching big fish than others.  BUT, I would argue the the potential to catch big fish is an important component of almost every fishery.  Part of the attraction and excitement of fishing is the unknown.  Each time that bobber goes under you just never know; the next bite could be the catch of a lifetime.  So, “What do you want”?  Do you want to at least have a chance to catch big fish?  Do you want to at least have the confidence that some big fish are available?

If you want big fish are you willing to give up some harvest?

Let me use an example.  Nebraska’s sandhill lakes have proven to be exceptional habitats capable of producing big panfish.  In fact those sandhill lakes have been some of the best in the country for honest-to-goodness 1-pound+ bluegills.  Those sandhill lakes that produce big bluegills may not produce as many bluegills as other habitats, in fact in many cases sandhill lakes may not have even 100 pounds of bluegills per acre.  For sake of illustration let us say there are 100 pounds of bluegills per acre of a 300-acre lake.  Maybe 10% of that bluegill population would be comprised of 1-pound and larger bluegills which would add up to about 10 pounds of big bluegills per acre.  In a 300-acre sandhill lake that would be a total of only 3000 1-pound and larger bluegills.  How many anglers might fish a 300-acre lake in a year especially if it has a reputation of producing big bluegills?  Let us say there was an average of only 5 anglers per day, relatively light fishing pressure for any body of water in Nebraska; that would add up to nearly 2000 anglers in a year.  Now, what if each one of those anglers kept 1, 1-pound bluegill?  That would be 2000 of those 3000 big bluegills harvested by anglers.  I know on many days not everyone will catch a 1-pound bluegill, but on good days a lot more than 1 per angler could be harvested.  And keep in mind that in any fish population there will be some natural mortality that will take at least a few fish each year.  You can see that it would not take much harvest to have a significant impact on the numbers of big bluegills in that hypothetical population.  Of course that population would likely be producing, growing, new 1-pound bluegills all the time, but would it be able to keep up with the harvest of big fish?

“What do you want”?  If you want big fish you might have to release most of the big fish you catch so they can be caught again.

The mission of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is stewardship of the state’s fish, wildlife, park, and outdoor recreation resources in the best long-term interests of the people and those resources.

To accomplish that purpose, the Commission plans and implements its policies and programs efficiently and objectively; maintains a rich and diverse environment in Nebraska’s lands and waters; provides outdoor recreation opportunities; manages wildlife resources for the maximum benefit of the people; and attempts to help Nebraskans appreciate their role in the natural world.

The last two paragraphs are the mission statement of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, word for word.  Let me point out that nothing there says anything about feeding people or producing fish and wildlife for subsistence.  In today’s world most of us pretty much utilize our fish and wildlife resources for recreation.  Of course I would argue that harvesting some fish that we catch is an important part of our recreation, we should maintain that tradition and it is part of the “maximum benefit of the people”.  Fresh fish are darned good eating and are good for you.  But “What do you want”?  Do you want more and more fish to harvest?  Do you want quality fisheries with more emphasis on catching and less on harvesting?

Yes, I know, I am up on my soap-box again, but I hope my rambling prompts some thinking and evaluation.  It is impossible to make every fishery be all things to all anglers.  We have to make choices in the management of each fishery, and I hope anglers understand some of the trade-offs that go with those choices.  I also hope anglers realize that their motivations and desires are important and they do have an impact on our resources.

Ponder that the next time you are waiting for your bobber to go down.  GO FISH!

"Big fish and more of 'em"


16 Comments so far
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Thank you Daryl!

This should be required reading for anyone fishing a Nebraska Sandhills Lake.


Comment by Sandbilly


Thanks for asking… Personally, I don’t care to harvest (occasional appetizer is nice). I don’t care how complicated the regulations are (just let me pack my cooler with my beverage of choice (my soapbox issue):). I would certainly support slot limits.

I would want you to manage each lake so that it produces quality fishing with the possibility of catching a trophy. Manage the fishery towards whatever species might be best suited for that body of water.

Tight Lines – Chris

Comment by Chris H.

I contend Nebraska should be like Manitoba and institute a “one master angler” limit per YEAR.

If you keep a master angler, you must sign your license as soon as kept, and that’s it for the year.

If you want to mount more, buy a replica. If you want to eat more, well, shame on you.

Comment by Todd


Way back in 1992 we revamped our entire Master Angler program to encourage more catch & release of those trophy fish. Prior to 1992 there were a handful of species you could measure and immediately release and still qualify for a Master Angler Award. After Jan. 1 of 1992 we established minimum lengths for every species of fish that was eligible for a Master Angler Award so that every one of those trophy fish could be caught, measured, immediately released and still qualify for the MA Award.

At that time we also changed the rules so that anglers could receive only 1 MA Award per year, per species for fish that were kept, and those fish that were kept must meet the minimum weight to qualify for the MA Award. Anglers could receive as many MA Awards as they want for fish that were caught and released.

From year to year we have as many or more largemouth bass entered in our Master Angler Program as any other species. Most years largemouth bass are #1. Nebraska’s best largemouth bass habitats are some of our smaller bodies of water–pits and ponds. Those smaller bodies of water and big largemouth bass in those small bodies of water in particular would be very vulnerable to being over-harvested. But every year over 80% of the largemouth bass entered for MA awards were caught & released! I believe that is one big reason that we continue to have a lot of MA largemouth bass caught in Nebraska year after year!

I agree with you on the graphite replica mounts. The graphite replicas in my opinion are better quality mounts; they will last longer, can be hung anywhere, and if damaged will be much easier to repair. The “kicker” is you can catch, photograph and release that trophy catch and still have a great mount!

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

I love to catch fish you name it. Each time of the year dictates which species i go for more diligently than others. I want big ones i want those big ones for my wife, son, son inlaw, daughters, and my grandkids to enjoy years from now.We need the small ones with great genetics to become big ones, anglers must be just as diligent at releasing fish as they are at catching them. We need a certain amount of harvest as well.
Can we have a trophy Bluegill lake in eastern nebraska. Can we have a trophy trout stream in nebraska. Can we have a trophy crappie lake in northern nebraska. can we have a trophy perch lake in southern nebraska?I want my fish now and in the future.

Comment by Maryl

I want to see more common sense in how lakes are managed. The recent announcement about creating better fishing access at certain lakes made by Greg at the river city show is a step in the right direction. I used to fish and camp at Branched Oak a lot. But since the draw down and drought when all those trees were planted in the water near the gazebo and in front of the adjacent camping area near the jetties it is impossible to bank fish from those areas. And those jetties are another sore subject with me. Do they need to waste so much lime stone on those jetties? Do they need to be so tall that they stick 5 feet out of the water that you have to break your neck trying to land a fish? How about doing something more constructive. Make them to stick out of the water 2 ft during normal pool and use boulders no larger than a softball for the final layer then cover with large gravel that you can walk on. Some of the jetties at Summit are worthless because they’re to far from the nearest parking lot and the water near them is too shallow. Speaking of Summit the handicap parking near the boat ramp is poorly marked making it too easy for people to block off. $50 for 2 more signs and posts would really help in that corner but then again a wheel chair bound person would never be able to land a fish there because the jetty is too tall. And Some of the best places there where the bank is flat and low to the water are all lined with trees so close together that they’re choking each other out. Trees that were planted by game and parks.

Comment by JEFF

Good Point Jeff

Comment by Richard

Whoa, wait a minute. All those trees that were “planted in the water” at Branched Oak were not planted!!!! When reservoirs are drawn down, there is a bunch of terrestrial vegetation that voluntarily grows on the exposed bottom substrates; cockleburrs, willows, cottonwoods, smartweed, you name it, it grows on those fertile exposed bottoms. And guess what, WHEN THAT TERRESTRIAL VEGETATION IS RE-FLOODED IT PROVIDES SOME OF THE BEST FISH HABITAT YOU CAN ASK FOR!!!!!! The Branched Oak fishery is benefitting from the draw-down and re-flooding right now! Eventually all that flooded vegetation will be gone, a lot of it has decayed already, and there will be less shallow water habitat for fish.

I spend lots of time fishing the jetties at Branched Oak; have caught a ton of fish off of them. In fact you can find a photo of one I caught last October in one of my previous blog posts, All of those flooded trees will be full of crappies this spring!

The jetties we have placed in reservoirs around the state have been placed to protect shorelines and in some cases boat ramps. We expect that an additional benefit will be additional shoreline fishing opportunities but those jetties were not designed just for anglers. In some cases jetties have been built to withstand water level fluctuations, wind and waves; that means those jetties have to be relatively large and tall in some cases. I can think of one jetty in the state right now that was designed that way, but still was not robust enough to withstand a hard NW wind! We do everything we can to make those jetties angler friendly, but that is not the only consideration in their design. We will keep trying to make them better.

Another strategy that can be employed to protect shorelines is “soft-engineering” that includes vegetation on and above the shoreline. We have a new Angler Access Program that will improve shoreline access for anglers where possible. However, we will not sacrifice aquatic habitat to accomplish that. If shorelines are unprotected and eroded, then shoreline access still will not be good AND the fishing will suffer as well.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Daryl,thanks for giving me the opportunity to voice an opinion.

First off,altough many like catch and release there are many whom do not,which is fine with me,but why can’t we all get along,if you want to release your fish or keep them do so and quit making laws and rules to protect one party or the other. It’s not bad to eat a fish, or release one,it shouldn’t even be a issue,much less a thing we have to force on others. I would like to see more education on selective harvest,myself,being posted in places where anglers will see it,explaining how being picky about what you keep will increase fishing opportunities for everyone.
Second,overdevelopment! Can we just leave some lakes natural without crowding the anglers out with party campers and fancy campsites? I realize that others have the right to have fun at the lake too, but can we not keep a buffer strip open between the campsites and tent sites,that will allow people to fish the shoreline without being in someones campground? Maybe a 50 yard shore to campsite buffer would also help keep some trash out of our lakes?
All in all I understand that the NGPC is trying to please as many people with it’s limited rescources as possible,just don’t forget about the rest of Nebraska west of Lincoln,and get/let volonteers have a more active role in helping out at the states waters.
thank you, Don

Comment by Don

I will continue to “pound the selective harvest drum”! Angler attitudes have changed a lot in the past 20 years and many have chosen to harvest fish in moderation and when they choose to harvest some fish they will target the sizes and species of fish that are most abundant and can withstand some harvest. In most cases that will mean taking home a few panfish for a meal of fresh fish and choosing to harvest small to medium-size fish regardless of species (as long as it is legal to harvest those small to medium-size fish). Large fish, even large panfish, may be the best candidates for release because they are least-abundant and are much more valuable in the water than on someone’s table.

Many debates seem to move towards extremes and unfotunately that is true for catch & release fishing. Some folks become catch & release “Nazis” who would not consider the harvest of any fish and think poorly of anyone who would harvest a fish. Others still live in the “catch all you can and can all you catch” world of yester-year. That debate will continue to rage, but I believe more and more anglers are understanding the selective harvest philosophy and practicing it!

However, we will always have some fisheries that have enough angling pressure that there will be a need for special harvest regulations. Sure, if everyone practiced the same selective harvest philosophy you might not need the regulations (and there are lots of examples where VOLUNTARY catch & release already has improved the quality of fishing), but in some cases there simply is enough fishing pressure that strict harvest restrictions will be necessary to protect the fishery and produce quality fishing.

I cannot address the development of Parks areas. I will pass your comments along, but would also encourage you to share your thoughts with the Parks personnel in charge of the areas you reference. There is no doubt that access to the water and fishing is a primary recreational use of any of our Parks areas where there is water!

I would also encourage you to contact Game & Parks personnel in your area and ask about volunteer opportunities! Most of our personnel can use an extra hand to accomplish something!

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

I believe the game and parks need to stock some different catfish out here in the west. I mean we have some of the biggest lake in the state within a 45 minute drive of me and all there is to catch is Channels. Lake Mac, Swanson, Sutherland, Enders, Box Butte, Medicine Creek, Red Willow and Harlan all have the potential to produce a world record blue cat, but none of them have blues in them. Why??? And what about putting in some Flatheads in these said lakes, all of these bigger resivours could produce state and world records. It frustrates a cat fisherman like me that I need to drive all the way to the Missouri to catch a blue.
Don’t get me wrong I love to catch fish and I don’t care what breed it is. In fact taking the kids bluegill fishing is about my favorite thing to do.
And my last thought is: We need to send some money out here to these lakes in the west. The state of Ne doesn’t stop in GI. I mean in August last year I went to Enders to go fishing and the weeds were so big I needed to bring a mower so I could get my camper parked. I understand that you guys refrubished Lake Ogallala but wow that one lake out here in 5 years. Send some money out west.

Comment by jrgriffhusker

We have expanded the stocking of blue catfish to more reservoirs in recent years. We stocked some blue cats in Minatare in 2007, Box Butte in 2007 and 2008 and Swanson in 2008 and 2009. Keep in mind that both blue catfish and flathead catfish are large, top-of-the-food-chain predators–you cannot just throw them in anywhere as they could have significant impacts on those fish communities that are already established–fish communities that already have established populations of both catfish and other large predator fish.

I am NOT saying that stocking blue of flathead catfish in those waters would have negative impacts, but I am saying there is potential and if nothing is broke why fix it? In my opinion we sometimes stock too many species of fish in our waters. How many species are needed to provide quality fishing? The more species that are stocked the better the chance that there will be “a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing”.

Flathead catfish are present in all the Republican basin reservoirs, Enders, Swanson, Red Willow, Medicine Creek and Harlan. In fact there are some B-I-G flatheads caught from those waters every year. Likewise there are flathead catfish in Sutherland, Maloney, Jeffrey and Johnson. In fact the Tri-County canal system and associated reservoirs from Johnson upstream are some of the very best flathead fisheries in the state.

I can tell you that we even have flatheads in a couple of interstate lakes in the North Platte vicinity and in fact my second or third-largest flathead ever was caught & released on one of those lakes (a 35-40-pound fish).

Why not stock more waters with flatheads? Well I already referred to the fact that they are large predators that can have an impact on other fish, but they also are very much warm-water fish that may not thrive in western and northern Nebraska waters. We have stocked adult flatheads in McConaughy in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999. To my knowledge those stockings have NOT been successful in establishing flathead catfish in McConaughy.

We have completed Aquatic Habitat Projects all over the state. You can see status reports on all of those projects here, . Believe me, when that program was completed both the state legislators and our board of commissioners insisted that we complete projects all over the state. Western Nebraska was NOT over-looked. We have completed Aquatic Habitat Projects not only at Lake Ogallala but also Enders, Rock Creek, Minatare, Smith, and Sherman. Boat access and shoreline protection projects have also been completed at Harlan and Red Willow.

Again I cannot comment on the condition or status of Parks areas, but I would encourage you to talk to the local personnel on those areas to see what is going on and how you can help.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Hey Daryl,

I am just a novice at fishing even though I have fished off and on for many years. I have caught very few fish myself as have my wife and children. But thankfully they still enjoy fishing but what we really want is just to be able to catch more fish while fishing from the bank. We have released the few little fish that we have caught. If we were to catch a “trophy” fish, we would release it since just the experience of cathching a trophy fish would be satisfaction and memory enough! If we could have what we want, we would like to be able to catch a few fish that we could take home to eat. The limit allowed could be low but if we could catch some fish when we go – that we would make it worthwhile for us. Thank you for all the good work you do.


Comment by Tom

This is my first time reading your blog and I have enjoyed it. Your Mission statement seems right on and I feel thing have gotten better in Nebraska fishing over the years as a whole.
This year I have fished 4 states and enjoyed them all. I hooked a walleye in Minnisota that would have been my biggest fish but got off as it was netted. I love to eat fish and keep some but it this record “for me” fish would have made it in the boat, the out come for the fish would have be the same. More and more people see this as important to maintain good fishing. Set reasonable limits and most of population will support it.
On another note I have recently started bow fishing and found the sport enjoyable and I believe benificial to the fisheries as a whole. I see bow fishing as a selective harvest rather than killing off the whole lake and restocking it. I know I’m new to this sport but there seems to be some resistance to support it.
I keep thinking that there should be discussions between NE Game and Parks and Bow fishers of NE, org. to help in waters that have these issues.
Love your blog, keep up the good work!

Comment by Mike Hinrichs

There is no doubt that bow-fishing can at the least utilize a resource that does not get much utilization–rough fish. Can bow-fishing be an alternative to a total chemical renovation to eliminate rough fish? No, because bow-fishing will never get all of the rough fish and any survivors can quickly repopulate. Bow-anglers can certainly take all they want though!

The Bowfishers of Nebraska are a relatively new organization. We have already worked with them on a couple of projects including the change in bow fishing regulations that now allows shooting from lighted boats, and we are continuing to work with them.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Your right,they did mention that you worked with them on the night fishing. I’m going to have to try that this year! Thank-you and please keep working with them. Though they are new I think they will have a bigger following. If I wear a bowfishing shirt and have 3 times the people commenting and say they are a bow fisherman also.

Comment by Mike Hinrichs

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