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 six study components.
1. Omaha Angler Survey. Anglers were interviewed April through October on-site at Prairie Queen, Schwer, Halleck, and Standing Bear during 2019, at Benson, Flanagan, Fontenelle, and Walnut Creek during 2021, and at Zorinsky, Prairie View, and Lawrence Youngman during 2022. These interviews are intended to add to statewide angler survey datasets that are valuable for assessing changes in angler participation, catch, and harvest. These extended datasets allow for relational assessments of changes in angling participation while considering environmental conditions and management actions on large spatiotemporal scales. During 2019-2021, extrapolated angler effort estimates ranged from 1,100 hours of angling at Schwer to 34,933 hours of angling at Prairie Queen between April and October. Creel Clerks conducted 1,888 angler counts and completed 5,416 angler interviews during 2019-2021. We aim to use these datasets to improve our understanding of angler catch by building models with the capacity to predict angler catch.

2. Omaha Angler Effort. Anglers were counted at 22 public waterbodies in the Omaha 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. 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; four of these waterbodies received more than 60,000 hours, which is comparable to many large, rural fisheries in the state. Towl 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 during 2012. Angler effort generally peaked from May through July and remained low during winter months, likely given poor ice conditions.

3. Omaha Recreation Survey. Recreational anglers express a variety of behaviors and specializations, making angling forecasting and management difficult. During February-March 2020, we surveyed—in collaboration with the University of Nebraska’s Bureau of Sociological Research—a subset of Omaha residents that purchased a fishing license during 2019. We used mail-surveys (email and pre-paid envelopes) with an intent to quantify demographics, behaviors, and visitation rates to Omaha metropolitan waterbodies (and other prominent Nebraska waterbodies) during 2019. Behavioral differences are evident across the Omaha area. These mail surveys were also used with an intent to gather information about anglers’ recreational time-budgets (e.g., complementary or competing recreational activities to fishing). Use of time for recreation differs across the Omaha area. 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 73 Nebraska waterbodies during 2009-2019. 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 system use, guide the allocation of management resources according to expected system use, predict how changes in system size may affect the amount of use, and highlight how different user groups may interact with 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 anglers 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. Even so, 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.

6. Lake McConaughy Angler Survey. Lake McConaughy is an important fishery in western Nebraska. Anglers were interviewed on-site during daytime during April-October 2022 and during nighttime during April-May 2022. These interviews were in response to public concerns surrounding potential overharvest of walleye during the springtime walleye spawn, especially large individuals that are economically and ecologically important in the walleye population. The intents of these surveys were to document the relative amounts of walleye harvested during these two periods and to document the demographics of anglers for these two periods. Catch rates of walleye for walleye-seeking anglers during April 2022 were 0.5 walleye/hour fishing during nighttime and 0.2 walleye/hour during daytime. Analyses are ongoing to compare relative differences in catch and harvest between these important periods.