We are going to list the top three lakes and rivers in Nebraska where we feel you’ll have the best chance at a huge cat. However, it’s hard to say that one particular body of water is better than another. By spending a little time on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website (http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/), you can easily locate other bodies of water that might provide easier access.
“I have been actively fishing for catfish across the nation and here at home for over 50 years,” says legendary competitive cat angler and Nebraska resident Jerry Walker. “The greatest thing about catfishing today is you don’t have to be a ‘pro’ or have an expensive boat to enjoy it. Sure, there is a science to finding and catching the biggest fish possible, but with abundant numbers and ease of access, it’s a wonder why more anglers don’t pursue these ornery critters.”
Walker believes that the hotter the weather, the better the fishing gets. For Nebraska waters, Walker prefers skipjacks, cut baits and blood baits suspended below a float or on the bottom. If he is fishing in a lake or reservoir, he suggests not using any weight and allowing the boat or float to provide the presentation with the motion it needs.
“In Nebraska there is no length limit, but there is a statewide bag limit of five fish per angler and a possession limit of 10,” says Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Fishery Outreach Program Manager Daryl Bauer. “There are a few management lakes where catch-and-release is required for the different species. For channel and blue catfish, all fish must be immediately released alive while on the following bodies of water: Fort Kearny SRA No. 2, Two Rivers SRA Lakes 3 and 4, Wildwood Lake, and Windmill SRA No. 3. Flathead catfish must be immediately released alive when on the following bodies of water: Branched Oak Lake, Fort Kearny SRA No. 2, Two Rivers SRA Lakes 3 and 4, Wild Wood Lake, and Windmill SRA No. 3.”
“Merritt Reservoir is the top catfishery in the state,” says Walker. “Maintaining an average of 18-25 pounds is definitely a possibility. I really feel this is truly a world-class fishery and is capable of producing some incredible catfish. You can catch big fish from the shore or from a boat and you can go out there on any given day and catch piles of them.”
Bauer believes Nebraska’s catfish population is rising in popularity because of their availability. He also says Merritt Reservoir has the potential for anglers to hook into a really big fish. Anglers won’t catch the quantity of fish that they might in other lakes, but those in pursuit of a trophy channel cat will find what they are looking for at Merritt. This reservoir is located in Cherry County in north-central Nebraska, southwest of Valentine. This lake butts up against the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest and is 2,900 acres.
“Calamus is known for big channel catfish as well,” Walker explains. “I would consider this lake to be the second-best in the state for larger fish. Numbers aren’t bad here; there is a healthy mix of trophy-caliber fish combined with good quantities of ‘eaters.’ You can expect to encounter fish in the 30-inch range on a regular basis.”
Bauer suggests this lake to all catfish anglers looking to tangle with a trophy or fill up the freezer. He reminds anglers that the upper half of the lake is a 5 mph, no-wake zone, but all boat sizes are welcome and a Nebraska Park Permit is required. The primary structure anglers should focus on is submerged trees and creek channels that attract the baitfish. Calamus is 5,200 acres in size and located in Loup County in central Nebraska
WAGON TRAIN LAKE
Bauer also recommends Wagon Train Lake, which is south of Lincoln and a smaller body of water. The fishing here is excellent for a variety of species, but especially channel catfish. Anglers can expect to encounter a top-end fish in the 12- to 15-pound range. This 315-acre lake is located in Lancaster County and has a no-wake rule, but no outboard size restriction.
“I love Wagon Train Lake for many reasons, but that’s the great thing about Nebraska catfishing,” Walker continues. “You can literally go catch your limit of five catfish from about any lake across the state. Nebraska’s catfishery is a great way to introduce the next generation to the sport of fishing as success rates are high and the action is usually pretty consistent.”
For anglers that are seeking the larger and more voracious flathead and blue catfish, both Bauer and Walker feel the river systems are the best bet, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. The Missouri is the most productive, with the Platt River being a tremendous resource as well. The many small, meandering streams that cut through the landscape are also amazing fisheries, but you need permission from the landowners to fish on these creeks.