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Trout Stream Gem in Northeast Nebraska

A classic case of misrepresentation keeps occurring.

Folks continue to express their disbelief  to me that a crystal clear, cold, spring-fed trout fishing stream exists in northeast Nebraska. “No way,” they’ll say. “Impossible in farm country,” they’ll say. “You’re drinking, can’t be,” they’ll say.  “I’ve driven through there and never seen it,” they’ll say.

These are just some of the phrases people have uttered to me about the East Branch of the Verdigre (actual name is Verdigris) Creek flowing through the rolling hills of the 1,985-acre Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area just north and east of Royal, NE in Antelope County.

No more than a 3-hour drive from our home in Omaha, NE, this is a trout fishing gem, my stream paradise.

My wife, Polly Wagner, describes the creek as a “gorgeous pebble brook.” A friend, Morgan Sheperd, labels it “dreamy.”

My wife, Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE, is in the East Branch of the Verdigre Creek while holding grandson, Liam. Photo by Emma Wagner-Nichols of Elkhorn, NE.

I have always said the “Verdigre,” as many call it, is such a treasure that its environs and the proper quantity and quality of its water should be perpetually protected. Kudos to Nebraska Trout Unlimited in conjunction with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for efforts to improve stream conditions and enhance trout habitat along the creek.

The East Branch of the Verdigre Creek is one of Nebraska’s few Class A, cold-water trout streams. It is the easternmost trout stream in Nebraska where the ideal water temperature of 57 degrees is attained for trout to survive and thrive .

The water of the Verdigre Creek’s East Branch. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About 3-4 miles of this pristine cold-water stream supports rainbow and brown trout and some 2 miles are publicly accessible through the wildlife management area. Permission is required to enter private land along the stream.

Here is a brown trout. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Some 200 pan-sized, catchable (10-12 inch) rainbow trout are stocked weekly year-round in the creek by our fisheries biologists at the nearby Grove Trout Rearing Station, which is on and fed by the Verdigre’s East Branch. This weekly stocking in the creek supplements the naturally reproducing rainbows and browns that live in it. The Verdigre is popular with avid trout anglers and fly casters who have discovered it.

A broader perspective of the Verdigre Creek’s East Branch. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Fishable all year because the creek never freezes, the Verdigre offers some wonderful stream action for the rainbows and browns. I think it is an excellent stream to trout fish for beginners or novices.

Novice trout angler and oldest son of mine, Zach Wagner, displays a nice, colorful rainbow he caught in the East Branch of the Verdigre Creek in northeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

If you’re wondering what the creek’s dimensions and features are, it runs from 1o to 15 feet wide and its bottom is comprised mainly of gravel along with some sand and soft mud. The Verdigre Creek’s East Branch ranges in depth from a couple inches of water running clear over the gravel bars to roughly 3 feet in the water of the pools typically with a darker bottom. Aquatic vegetation like water cress is abundant this time of the year.

Aquatic vegetation (water cress) is shown the in the Verdigre. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Rated as a high-quality trout stream by our Game and Parks fisheries division, trout anglers can expect to find the rainbows and browns as they work their bait, lure or fly downstream into the series of pools, riffles, runs, undercut banks, aquatic vegetation seams and fallen trees.

Fallen trees in the Verdigre Creek, like the one in the background, provide good habitat and places to fish for rainbow and brown trout. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The trout almost always are pointing upstream to ambush prey or consume food that comes to them. Keep in mind there are as many different ways to fish a trout stream as there are trout anglers!

I fish a pool for trout on the bend or corner of the Verdigre Creek. Photo by Zach Wagner of Omaha, NE.

The number one thing to remember when fishing the Verdigre is to not spook the fish. They are wary. You can see them in the creek and they can see you! Stealth is critical. That translates to being quiet, keeping a lower profile, moving slowly and watching your shadow so it doesn’t cast across the spot where you want to fish (put the sun in front of you). I tend to not wade in the creek at first, carefully survey the scenario from land instead. Eventually though, I will wade. Take note that if you see silvery flashes in the water while wading and working a pool or stream feature, you have most likely disturbed the fish and they may not bite for a while.

What kind of equipment does it take to successfully fish the Verdigre Creek for trout?

Not much. Nothing fancy.

Truth be known, I am a simple trout fisherman.

This time of year I fish the creek wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of river sandals or even flip flops. You do not need expensive gear to fish the creek for trout either. A simple, light or medium-action  spinning or spincast combo loaded with clear line, a larger steel split-shot weight, a small #8 gold hook baited with a whole nightcrawler will work just fine. To catch-and-release your quarry, up size the hook to a #6, crimp the barbs on it and go with a longer shank version. If a trout has swallowed the hook, cut the line and gently return the fish to the water immediately! Catch-and-release fishing on the brown trout and the larger rainbows is highly encouraged for conservation purposes.

A quick photo is snapped by my son, Zach Wagner, before I release a pan-sized rainbow I had landed back into the cold water of the Verdigre. Photo by Zach Wagner of Omaha, NE.

If I forgot something on my trout fishing trip, is there a bait shop close where I can get supplies?

Yes. The Grove Lake Bait Shop. Owned and operated by Randy and Mary Erb, this is a fun, folksy, friendly place for a pit-stop . From the antique fishing lures on the wall to the American alligator that swims in the minnow tank, the bait shop does not disappoint!

Randy Erb and his the interior of his Grove Lake Bait Shop near Royal, NE are pictured. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Randy Erb holds the American alligator that lives in his large minnow tank at the Grove Lake Bait Shop just north of Royal, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Find out details about the Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area, trout fishing in Nebraska and the Trout Slam challenge, by visiting OutdoorNebraska.gov

A sign points the way to the Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area north of Royal, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

For a list of the attractions in the area, go online to VisitNebraska.com

Good fishing!

A close up of a beautiful rainbow trout caught by my son, Zach Wagner, in the clear, cold, spring-fed water of the creek. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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