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Sandhills Winterkill Summary

Without a doubt this has been the most asked question recently.  So, I am going to spread this around as much as possible, as soon as possible:

Surveys indicate mixed bag on fish winterkill

Surveys by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission show many Sandhills lakes fared better than expected after a harsh winter led to fish kills.

Deep snow over thick ice this winter caused oxygen depletion in many of the region’s most shallow and vegetated lakes, causing fish and the plants they rely upon for survival to die.

As surveys are completed, Game and Parks is developing a stocking plan to replenish the fish populations where needed.

Anglers looking for the most recent information about winterkill surveys may follow the Nebraska Fishing Facebook page. They also can contact Game and Parks fisheries biologists at the Alliance, Valentine and Norfolk offices.

Surveyed lakes with severe winterkill:

Brown County: Cozad Lake at South Pine Wildlife Management Area, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tower Lake on Yellowthroat WMA.

Cherry County: Watts, Duck and West Long lakes on Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Cottonwood Lake State Recreation Area

Garden County: Smith Lake and Island lakes on Crescent Lake NWR

Rock County: Bassett City Lakes

Sheridan County: Smith Lake WMA

Surveyed lakes with partial winterkill:

Cherry County: Pelican and Hackberry lakes on Valentine NWR

Sheridan County: Walgren Lake SRA

Surveyed lakes with minor or no winterkill:

Brown County: Willow Lake WMA

Cherry County: Clear, Dewey and Rice lakes on Valentine NWR, Cottonwood-Steverson WMA, Shell Lake WMA

Garden County: Crane Lake on Crescent Lake NWR, Crescent Lake WMA

Grant County: Avocet Lake WMA

Rock County: Twin Lakes WMA

Lakes not surveyed with probable significant winterkill:

Garden County: Island Lake on Crescent Lake NWR

Rock County: Peterson Lake WMA

Sioux County: Agate and Boardgate reservoirs on the Oglala National Grassland

Lakes not surveyed with probable high survival:

Cherry County: Home Valley Lake

Grant County: Frye Lake WMA

Updated May 9 and May 2, 2023, to reflect updated survey results. Updated May 3, 2023, to add Facebook page where immediate updates will be posted.

There will still be some more waters sampled as we have time.  Since that news release went out I have heard that things look OK at Shell Lake, but we have not had time to sample there yet.  I will also mention that we suspect a significant die-off at DeFair.

A lot of sandhill waters were impacted last winter.  Where we go from here and what is done is going to be on a lake-by-lake basis.  We have already planned for more fish stocking this year and some of those fish are already in the hatcheries.  On other waters, the future may involve more intensive management activities even including rotenone renovations.  Those decisions will be made as we have time and as we learn more.

Let me also say this. . . . No, this ain’t good news on many of our favorite waters.  Yes, it stinks.  However, keep in mind that nature and natural systems are resilient and that is especially true for Nebraska’s sandhill lakes.  Environmental events play a large role in the dynamics of fisheries in those systems.  Fortunately, those sandhill lakes are incredibly productive systems and they will bounce back relatively fast.  Yes, the winter of 2022-23 is going to be felt for a while, but it will not be forever.  There are sandhill lakes that came through just fine and will continue to provide excellent fishing, now.  More will be coming back in the next few years!


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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