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Ice-fishing underway at some Panhandle lakes

Ice anglers gather for the Whitney Dock Club’s annual tournament at Whitney Lake in 2017. The tournament has been postponed this year because of too much open water and poor ice conditions.

ALLIANCE, Neb. – Many anglers have been enjoying the popular pastime of ice-fishing in recent weeks, even though mild temperatures have caused conditions to vary greatly throughout ponds and reservoirs in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Locations that have drawn anglers include Box Butte State Recreation Area, Smith Lake Wildlife Management Area, Frye Lake WMA, Walgren SRA, Island Lake on the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Chadron City Reservoirs.

Sean McKeehan, a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission conservation officer, said people should be careful no matter what lake they are fishing.

“While some lakes have no ice or a very thin covering, others have enough to support an ATV,” McKeehan said. “With so much variation – sometimes upon the same body of water — it’s extremely important for anglers to check ice frequently as they walk onto it.”

The Whitney Dock Club was compelled to postpone its annual fishing tournament at Whitney Lake from Jan. 9 to Jan. 23 because of open water and poor ice conditions.

Along with the varied ice conditions, so too are the reports of success. Box Butte, Smith and Island have each been producing panfish for anglers.

In addition to the safety consideration, McKeehan said anglers should study the Nebraska Fishing Guide for regulations. For instance, one special bag limit that is causing confusion is the northern pike limit at Box Butte Reservoir. While a daily bag limit of 10 pike is in effect at that lake, only three can be over 22 inches and only one of those three fish can be over 34 inches. The 2021 Fishing Guide can be viewed and downloaded at outdoornebraska.org with print versions available at NGPC offices soon.

Lake Minatare State Recreation Area and Winters Creek Lake have been off limits to the public as part of the North Platte National Wildlife Refuge’s annual closure, and will open Jan. 15. Both have fishable ice in certain areas. With high winds and above-freezing temperatures in the forecast, any open water is likely to deteriorate surrounding ice.

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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