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Fort Robinson pond project boosts fishing opportunities

New angler access improvements at the lower Ice House Pond make it a more attractive site for bank anglers. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

CRAWFORD, Neb. – Northwest Nebraska has regained a few fishing spots this spring.

Construction has been completed on the first phase of a $2.8 million renovation project to the ponds at Fort Robinson State Park. Improvements have occurred to all but one of the Grabel Ponds, Cherry Creek Pond, the Cherry Creek diversion pond, and the lower Ice House Pond. All but Cherry Creek Pond is stocked and ready for fishing.

Fishermen cast from one of the new angler access features at the lower Ice House Pond. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

The most obvious improvements to the ponds, each of which has less than three acres of surface area, are new structures such as fishing piers and ramps for launching kayaks and canoes.

Many other significant changes are below the water’s surface. Workers deepened the ponds, replaced water control structures, created fish habitat features, and developed access points for anglers.

Park visitors enjoy a Memorial Day outing at one of the new angler access features at Grabel Ponds.(Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

The four Grabel Ponds became three as the two southernmost reservoirs were joined with a riprap-lined channel.

The renovations mean anglers now have more convenient places to wet a line, and the improved fish habitat will result in inviting targets to cast bait and lures.

The improvements are funded from the Game and Parks Commission’s Aquatic Habitat Program, which consists of money raised from the sale of fishing permits, and federal Sport Fish Restoration Program dollars generated from taxes collected from the sale of fishing equipment.

Mike Morava, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regional park superintendent, said the improvements are already proving to be popular and will serve park users for generations to come.

“Fort Robinson’s ponds have long been a destination for anglers. These improvements help make them accessible for people of all ages and abilities, and are sure to make the fishing even better,” he said.

A new sheltered fishing pier and kayak-canoe launches are among the improvements at Grabel Ponds (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

He said only minor dirt work remains between a couple of the Grabel Ponds. All of the ponds are at or near optimal water level and they are open to the public.

Al Hanson, Game and Parks Northwest District fisheries supervisor, said staff has been working on another final stage of the improvements – getting fish in the water. He said all but Cherry Creek Pond have received fish, and those will be stocked soon.

In late April, the Grabel Ponds received stockings of about 2,500 10-inch rainbow and tiger trout. In addition, more than 500 5-inch brook trout were placed in the Cherry Creek diversion pond and upper Ice House pond in early May. The Ice House Ponds retained a population of largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bluegills during the construction process.

Park visitors enjoy the view from the new pier at Cherry Creek Pond on Memorial Day. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)
A ramp for canoes and kayaks is fully visible May 19, as Cherry Creek Pond was being filled. The pond’s new fishing pier can be seen in the distance. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

Hanson said stockings of more trout, smallmouth bass and bluegill are on the schedule, and information will be added to Nebraska’s online stocking database when they are delivered: outdoornebraska.org/fishstockingreports.

In all, Fort Robinson has 10 ponds, along with fishing opportunities on coldwater streams in and near the park.

The second phase of the project will include renovations to the largest reservoir at the park, the 15-acre Carter P. Johnson Lake, and Crazy Horse Pond, a walk-in site downstream of Soldier Creek from there.

Hanson said phase two encountered early delays from the permitting process, but he expects construction to begin sometime next spring. Carter P. Johnson Lake also is receiving trout stockings this spring.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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