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Fishes of Nebraska

I will admit to you that my desks are not neat.  I subscribe to the theory that a clean desk is evidence of a warped mind.  Come to think of it, I have messy desks, AND a warped mind.  Anywho, I digress. . . . There are a couple of piles of books you will always find on my main desk, sitting to my left.  Forward left is a big pile of In-Fisherman magazines; I read them religiously.  Off to my far left is a pile of fisheries texts.  There are several books in that pile, but most of the stack is comprised of text books that provide fish identification keys, natural histories, distributions, and a whole lot more.  I reach for those all the time; two that I most commonly use have been The Fishes of Missouri by William L. Pflieger and Freshwater Fishes of Canada by W.B. Scott and E.J. Crossman.  Those are two texts that have been most helpful to me for fish identification and a whole lot more.

Some of you are curiously wondering why a fisheries biologist in Nebraska relies so much on fish identification texts from Missouri and Canada?  Well those two particular texts are very well done and thorough.  However, there certainly are Nebraska publications, all of them published by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, that have proved very useful as well.  Those books are located just a few steps away on my book shelf.

One of the oldest would be A History of Nebraska’s Fisheries Resources by David J. Jones.


That book is so old that it was published by the “Nebraska Game, Forestation and Parks Commission”, forerunner of the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, back in 1963.  As the title says, it has good information on the history of fisheries in Nebraska, species occurrences in different places and early fish stockings in the state.

In 1974 the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission published a booklet by the name The Fishes of Nebraska.  Jerry Morris, Larry Morris, and Larry Witt were the authors of that book and a couple of those gentlemen were still working for the commission when I started back in the late ’80’s.  That 98-page booklet had natural histories of the different families of fish in the state, color photographs of all of the species, and some basic range maps.


In 1987 the special edition of NEBRASKAland was The Fish Book.  Different chapters of that book were dedicated to different families and groups of fish found in Nebraska and were written by a number of different fisheries professionals in the state.  Ken Bouc from NEBRASKAland put it all together.


The Fish Book had a bunch of excellent color photos of fish, most of them underwater, photographed at our Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium.  Each chapter of the book has life histories of a variety of species followed by chapters on fishing for the various species in Nebraska and a chapter on the importance of water, aquatic habitat and fisheries management in our great state.  The Fish Book also included a basic fish identification key in the back, but did not include details on the identification of most of the minnow species found in the state.

All of those publications have been valuable resources to this pointy-headed fish biologist and hard-core angler.  But, I am writing this blog post because we now have something even better, a publication that many of us have been waiting for!  Just recently the new The Fishes of Nebraska book was published!

Front cover
Back cover

The 542 pages of this new book cover it all, this will be THE authoritative text on fishes of Nebraska.  The identification key and species descriptions are complete and include the latest research and information.  There again are color photographs as well as excellent illustrations.  There are range maps for each species based upon historic and modern documentation.  Natural history and habitat requirements are described for each species.

In addition there are chapters on “Geography, Geology, and Ecoregions of Nebraska”, “Human Impacts and the River Systems of Nebraska”, “Fish Collecting, Observations and Reporting”, and the “History of Fish Collecting in Nebraska”.  I have not read all of those yet, but what I have read is absolutely packed with invaluable information.  This is THE complete “fish book” for Nebraska that we have been waiting for, and I am thrilled.  I ordered a copy as soon as it was available.

Now this a text book.  It is a hard-core, pointy-headed reference.  If you are a student of Nebraska and its flora and fauna, you will want one.  If you are a fisheries professional, you will want one.  For those of you who are hard-core Nebraska anglers, it will be worth your investment.  Catching fish begins with understanding them.

Fishing is mostly about understanding fish.–“Aquaman”

You can order The Fishes of Nebraska through Nebraska Maps & More in the UN-L Marketplace, or of course on Amazon.

Let me add a few personal notes before I quit rambling. . . . I am honored to say that I know all of the authors.  Bob Hrabik and I had limnology together back in college.  We used to sit across the table from each other and discuss where the walleyes were biting (sorry, Dr. Holland, but let the record show I got an “A” in spite of our talking during class).  Steve Schainost is our rivers and streams program manager here at the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.  I have been in attendance at a few Nebraska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society meetings with Dr. Stasiak, and Dr. Peters was my major advisor at the University of Nebraska.  A huge THANK YOU to all, your dedication and passion make us proud!  Great job!

For the fun of it, check out the color photo for cutthroat trout! (wink, wink)

And you might recognize the hands holding the wiper too.

A big thanks to everyone who contributed photos as well.

One last story. . . . For ichthyological purposes, the left side of a fish is the side that is supposed to be displayed in photos and drawings.  Back in my graduate school days I was giving a presentation on my research project.  My graduate research dealt with grass carp, so naturally I had a photo of a grass carp on my title slide.  My major advisor at South Dakota State was sure to let me know after the presentation that I had mistakenly displayed the right side of the fish in my presentation.  You would have thought that I committed a felony equal to insulting the queen.

In graduate school your major professor and other professors on your graduate committee are quick to point out your shortcomings and mistakes.  That very much is part of earning an advanced degree and you have to learn to accept professional criticism without taking it personally.  But, there are some graduate professors that seen to take an almost perverse pleasure in their role.

The next time I gave the presentation, I used the same 35 mm slide of a grass carp in my presentation.  Except that time I flipped the slide so it would show the “left” side of the fish.

I wonder if official, pointy-headed, ichthyologists realize that the two sides of a fish are the same. . . . And, I wonder if they have a sense of humor, the ichthyologist that is?

Unofficial, amateur side of a rainbow trout.
Official, ichthyology side of a rainbow trout.

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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