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“Grass is always greener”

A fishing buddy once told me, “I would venture that both your head and backside remain trimmed in your line of work”.  Boy, some days that is so true.  In fact it is so true that I saved the quote.

Our mission here at the Nebraska Game & 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.  Our fish, wildlife, park and outdoor recreation resources belong to all of us, belong to you, belong to me.  If you have a problem, I want to hear about it.

So, I hear all kinds of complaints and suggestions, many of them good, many of them things that need to be addressed.  I also hear a lot of complaining that goes something like this, “The fishing in ________________ (insert your favorite non-Nebraska state in the blank) is so much better than Nebraska.”  Now I am biased and it also is my job to promote the fishing opportunities we have in Nebraska, but I do not agree with that statement.  In fact that statement is usually guaranteed to “push my buttons”!  I am not saying that there are not some great fishing opportunities in other states.  In fact I have a list as long as my arm of waters around the country I would love to fish.  Each state offers its own outstanding fisheries and I wish I could experience them all.  But, I believe the attitude of fishing being better in other states may be an excuse for a bad fishing trip more so than being the truth.

I have always said that in Nebraska we may not have as much fishing water as some of our neighboring states, but Nebraska truly is a place where “north” meets “south” and “east” meets “west”.  The geography, land forms, and habitats are varied in Nebraska, and that is reflected in the diversity of fish and wildlife that can be found within the state.  We may not have as much water as some of our neighboring states, but somewhere in Nebraska you can find some good fishing for a wide variety of species.  In a typical year, my fishing partners and I will catch upwards of 20 species of sport fish from Nebraska waters.  Many years we catch everything from brook trout to flathead catfish, redear sunfish to muskies!

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Soldiers Creek brook trout
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Branched Oak flathead catfish
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Interstate lake redear sunfish
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Merritt muskie.

I am not sure comparing fishing between states is fair, it may not be an “apples to apples” comparison in all cases, and again, I am not saying that there is not great fishing in other states–THERE IS!  But, to counter those who think things are always better on the other side of the border, consider last year’s In-Fisherman Master Angler contest.  In-Fisherman has a program similar to our Nebraska Master Angler Program, but for most species the fish have to be even larger to qualify for an In-Fisherman Master Angler award.

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In 2013 there were 20 Nebraska fish entered in In-Fisherman’s Master Angler program.  For comparison, Colorado had 9 fish entered in In-Fisherman’s Master Angler program; Wyoming had 3, South Dakota had 1, Iowa 17, Missouri 8, and Kansas 4.  Nebraska had entries for nine species; rainbow trout, northern pike, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white bass, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and crappie.  Nebraska had the largest fish entered in five categories; largest rainbow trout caught & released in Region 1, largest channel catfish and largest flathead catfish caught & released in Region 1, and largest wiper caught & released and largest wiper harvested in Region 1.

There are a lot of variables in trophy fish programs and that makes comparisons difficult, but that is one way to compare fishing between states.  I looked only at the summary for the most recent year of In-Fisherman’s Master Angler program, and I am not saying that Nebraska has the best fishing in our part of the country.  I am saying that I have looked at other comparisons in addition to this one, and Nebraska ain’t as shabby as some complain, not by a long shot.  In fact, when looking at quality specimens of a variety of species, Nebraska is right up there.

You might also argue that I am only looking at trophy fish, big fish of a variety of species, and that is not a comparison between total fish caught in different states.  That is true, but I believe the quality of fishing, opportunity to catch quality-size, large fish, is important.  Anglers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, motivations and desires, and I am fully aware that catching big fish is not the ONLY motivation for folks to go fishing.  However, I have looked at several studies of angler motivations, and the opportunity or at least knowledge that big fish are out there to be caught is important to almost all anglers.  A film director, Robert Altman said, “I love fishing.  You put that line in the water and you don’t know what ‘s on the other end.  Your imagination is under there.”  Big fish fuel imaginations!

What confuses me is that I regularly talk to anglers from other states who are coming to Nebraska to fish, and with some of them I listen to the same complaints about their home state that I hear from some Nebraska resident anglers–“Wish my home state would do things like you guys do”?????  I have heard that from anglers from several of our neighboring states.

I also know anglers from several states that make regular trips to Nebraska just to fish!  Just last week I talked to a southern gentleman from Tennessee who is coming to Nebraska this fall to hunt and fish, and he and his brother-in-law cannot wait to get here!

I have come to the conclusion that regardless of which state you live in, all the smart, pointy-headed fisheries biologists work in other states!

Ha!

Trying to be diplomatic, each state is different!  Populations differ, resources differ, histories differ, politics differ.  I cannot explain why things are done differently in _____________________ (fill in the blank with your favorite non-Nebraska state), because pretty much all I know is Nebraska.  And, by the way, “There is No Place Like Nebraska”!

Yes, here we may be more conservative in many ways compared to some of our neighbors.  I believe that results from one thing I mentioned already–we do not necessarily have as much water, as much fishing opportunity as some of our neighboring states.  Therefore, we believe it is important to make the most of every fishery we do have, and we are more conservative in protecting those fisheries.  We try to satisfy the greatest number of anglers by providing a diversity of fishing opportunities.

Somewhere in Nebraska you can find some great fishing for one of your favorite fish, besides blue marlin that is, we still have no blue marlin habitat.  That does NOT mean that we will have everything for every angler in every body of water–when that is the management philosophy you end up with a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing.  We have to tailor our fisheries management strategies according to what the various habitats can produce.

We also do not have enough resources to be in the business of supplying all the fish folks want to fill their freezers.  If the oceans can be over-fished, there is not a body of water in Nebraska that cannot be over-fished.  Harvesting some of our catch is important, but maintaining quality fishing is equally important, and probably more so.

We are in the adventure supply business, and we are trying to make sure folks can make memories on Nebraska waters–I know I have memories, a lot of memories.  I will continue to share those with you and we will continue to do our best to be responsible stewards of the state’s fisheries resources!

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A Lake Ogallala rainbow–the largest rainbow trout entered in the catch & release, Region 1 category of In-Fisherman’s Master Angler program last year. I got to be “net man” and “camera man” for that fish!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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