Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Angler behavior in response to management actions on Nebraska reservoirs -- Part 3

January 2019 - December 2023


Participating Agencies

  • Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Recreational angling, a billion–dollar industry, is the most influential factor structuring fish populations in inland systems. Given its importance and the reliance in North America on sportspersons to fund conservation activities (i.e., the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation), natural resource agencies invest substantial resources to manage angler-fish interactions to ensure long-term sustainability. Arguably, most of our current understanding and management efforts of recreational fisheries have been directed toward larger fisheries in rural environments. These waterbodies are highly visible resources and often attract many anglers from long distances. However, we know less about anglers in urban environments and how they interact locally with smaller waterbodies. It is important to understand angler behavior in metropolitan areas because the distribution of people on the landscape is becoming more urbanized. We anticipate that urban fisheries function differently than their rural counterparts.

Project goals are to understand 1) the participation patterns of anglers on multiple spatial and temporal scales; 2) how participation patterns of anglers’ influence fish populations and associated communities; 3) how management actions influence angler participation patterns and, in turn, fish communities; and 4) interactions and feedback mechanisms between and among angler groups and fish communities.

The project currently has five study components.
1. Omaha Angler Survey. Anglers were interviewed April through October on-site at Prairie Queen, Schwer, Halleck, and Standing Bear during 2019, and at Benson, Flanagan, Fontenelle, and Walnut Creek during 2021. These interviews are intended to add to statewide angler survey datasets that are valuable for assessing changes in angler participation. These extended datasets allow for relational assessments of changes in angling participation while considering environmental conditions and management actions on large spatiotemporal scales. In 2019, extrapolated angler effort estimates ranged from 1,100 hours of effort at Schwer to 34,933 hours of angler effort at Prairie Queen between April and October. Creel Clerks conducted 944 angler counts and completed 2,773 angler interviews in 2019.

2. Omaha Angler Effort. Anglers were counted at 22 public waterbodies in the Omaha metropolitan area from February 2019 through January 2020. In addition, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission continued angler counts at 10 of the waterbodies from April 2020 through October 2020. Angler effort was highly variable with most angler effort occurring in west Omaha. Larger waterbodies typically received the most fishing effort. Angler effort generally peaked from May through July and remained low during winter months, likely given poor ice conditions. Most anglers accessed waterbodies from the bank rather than from a boat. Half of the waterbodies surveyed received more than 20,000 hours of angling effort with four of these waterbodies receiving more than 60,000 hours – comparable to some of our larger, rural fisheries in the state. Towl Pond and Halleck received the most angler effort per unit of area, with approximately 7,500 angler hours per acre. This magnitude of angler effort broke a previous record set at Bowling Lake in Lincoln, Nebraska.

3. Omaha Recreation Survey. Recreational anglers express a variety of preferences, motivations, and specializations across Nebraska, making angling forecasting and management difficult. We surveyed 2019 angler license holders in Omaha during February and March 2020 using mail-surveys (email and pre-paid envelopes) in collaboration with the University of Nebraska’s Bureau of Sociological Research, with an intent to quantify demographics, preferences, motivations, and visitation rates to the Omaha metropolitan waterbodies (and other prominent Nebraska reservoirs) during 2019, and to gather information about anglers’ recreational budgets (e.g., complementary or competing recreational activities to fishing). We understand that demography changes across a region, but it is unclear whether angling behaviors change wiht this demographic gradient. We are working to understand the heterogeneous nature of angler behavior across Nebraska by evaluating responses across residential tapestries, or geographic regions with similar demographic characteristics like average age and median income. Tapestries with similar demographics are expected to express similar predominant angler behaviors like number of days fished, targeted species, and gear used. Data gathered in this study will be combined with historic data already collected by the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission) and used to compare patterns in angler participation between urban and rural fisheries. This information may also be used to assess responses of anglers to periodic management actions (such as fish stockings). We believe this knowledge will be useful to managers, as it will provide valuable insight on both understanding current angler activity and predicting future angler activity according to demographic characteristics and landscape changes (i.e., urbanization) across a region.

4. Understanding Variation of Recreational Angler Effort. Waterbody size (i.e., surface area) accounted for 60% of the variance in angler effort across 73Nebraska waterbodies between 2009 and 2019. The relationship between the size of a resource and the amount of use the respective resource receives can be utilized by natural resource managers to produce broad-scale estimations of resource system use, guide the allocation of management resources according to expected resource system use, predict how changes in resource system size may affect the amount of use, and highlight how different user groups may interact with resource systems of various sizes. For instance, utilizing the waterbody size-angler effort relationship allows us to predict that over 4,750,000 hours of angler effort are exerted annually on public waterbodies in Nebraska. The relationship between waterbody size and angler effort also differs based on how angler access the waterbody (i.e., via the bank or a boat). Boat angler effort increases at a higher rate as waterbody size increases compared to bank angler effort.

5. Recreational Use of Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is an important social-ecological system that provides a variety of recreational opportunities for visitors. However, the types and frequency of activities that occur on the refuge and the sociodemographic characteristics of visitors are poorly understood. We used 789 completed surveys (from 2,251 distributed windshield surveys; 35% response rate) to understand participation and potentials for social conflicts and ecological impacts of hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching (including touring, hiking, photography, and environmental education) groups. The fishing group was the predominate group (78%) on the refuge from July 2017 to July 2018. Social and ecological intensities varied across lake types (e.g., fishing vs. non-fishing) and seasons, highlighting intense impact areas and periods on the refuge. Accounting for the diverse recreational activities and social and ecological intensities will allow managers of Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and other social-ecological systems the ability to concomitantly preserve ecological resources, prioritize conservation efforts, and minimize visitor conflicts.