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Trout have interesting history in Nebraska

This is the second installment in a four-part series of articles on spring trout fishing in Nebraska. Next week: 2021 spring trout stocking schedule.

By Larry Pape
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

LINCOLN, Neb. – Trout are more likely to be found in Nebraska than elephants. Prehistorically, though, this probably was not true.

The fossilized presence of mammoth in Nebraska is well described, but trout’s earliest recorded occurrence is from stocking by early Nebraska fish culturists and enthusiasts. Previous to about 150 years ago, there is little trustworthy information about trout swimming in the area now called Nebraska.

How and when trout arrived in Nebraska is an interesting story.

In the 1963 paper, A History of Nebraska’s Fishery Resources, by David J. Jones, there is an illustration titled Lewis and Clark Made the Earliest Fish Collections. While the Lewis and Clark collection included a fish they called “salmon,” it likely is the fish was something that appeared similar to trout, or was misnamed. Trout or salmon were not otherwise found in the lower Missouri River in other collections. Potentially cutthroat trout may have inhabited Nebraska as these are native to the east slope of the Rocky Mountains, but there is little evidence, folklore or tales of trout in Nebraska before settlement.

The Jones paper gives an interesting view of early fish management, both intentional and accidental. It shares the story of the earliest Nebraska fish stocking, although unintentional. A train with carloads of live fish traveling from the East Coast to California in 1873 derailed into the Elkhorn River east of Fremont. Brook trout were among the many varieties of exotic fish that escaped into the river that day, never to be seen again.

Until 1963, nine species of trout and salmon stockings were made in Nebraska: Atlantic salmon, brook trout, Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, artic grayling and Kokanee salmon. The Jones paper gives a detailed conclusion to many of these stockings, many of which did not continue. To download this paper, visit digitalcommons.unl.edu/nebgamepubs/31/.

Currently, four trout species are reproducing or being stocked regularly in Nebraska streams and ponds. The tiger trout is a fifth, but is a hybrid of brook and brown trout.

Rainbow trout are by far the most widely spread and stocked of all the trout. Rainbows are hardy and handle well in fish hatcheries. They are aggressive feeders, which makes them great for anglers to catch. Rainbows are stocked statewide in the fall and spring. Brown trout are natives of Europe and have established naturally reproducing populations in Nebraska because they are adaptable to variable habitats and temperatures. Brook trout are generally smaller and have found a niche, reproducing in cooler Sandhills and Pine Ridge streams. Cutthroat are recently being stocked around the state to offer a new species opportunity for anglers. All four of these species of trout are included in the Trout Slam, where an angler receives recognition for catching at least one of each of these trout (OutdoorNebraska.gov/troutslam).

Visit OutdoorNebraska.gov/wheretofish to view the publication Trout Fishing in Nebraska’s Streams for details on the statewide stream distribution of rainbow, brook and brown trout. That same site also has Nebraska Fishing Maps, a more detailed version that includes private and public locations of trout distribution, with notes on stocking management.

View fish stocking reports at OutdoorNebraska.gov/fishstockingreports for a fun way to explore the historic fish stocking database for any fish species and location in Nebraska.

About Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane is the news manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He can be contacted at jerry.kane@nebraska.gov or 402-471-5008.

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