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 2024


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 are 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 their behaviors locally at smaller waterbodies. It is important for us to understand angler behavior in metropolitan areas because 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 eight 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, at Zorinsky, Prairie View, and Lawrence Youngman during 2022, and at Flannagan and Cunningham during 2023. 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.

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 receive the most fishing effort. Most anglers access waterbodies from the bank rather than from a boat. Half of the waterbodies surveyed receive more than 20,000 hours of angling effort; four of these waterbodies receive more than 60,000 hours, which is comparable to many large, rural fisheries in the state. Towl and Halleck receive the most angler effort per unit of area, with approximately 7,500 angler hours per acre. Angler effort generally peaked from May through July and remained low during winter months, perhaps because of 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) 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. We used these surveys to also identify sociodemographic variables that might be used to predict days spent on recreational fishing, and to identify recreational activities complementary to fishing. Participation in recreational fishing does not differ across the Omaha area, yet participation in other recreational activities (e.g., fitness and woodworking) does differ among anglers across the Omaha area. This knowledge is useful to managers, as it provides valuable insights on current angler activities and could help predict future angler activity based on 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 anglers exert over 4,750,000 hours of effort 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, we have little understanding of the types and frequency of activities that occur on the refuge and the sociodemographic characteristics of visitors. 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. We interviewed anglers on-site during daytime hours during April-October 2022 and during nighttime hours during April-May 2022 and 2023. 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 purpose of these surveys was 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 fishing during daytime.

7. Ogallala. Lake Ogallala (and its associated canal and rive) provides a unique trout fishery in western Nebraska. However, this fishery has limited resiliency toward invasions by the common carp that is established in the upstream water supply (i.e., Lake McConaughy). We surveyed anglers during 2023 to gather baseline data for use in future evaluations of management actions designed to reduce the biomass of the common carp population in Lake Ogallala.

8. Economic valuation of recreational fishing. Economic values of individual fisheries are important pieces of information, especially for prioritizing management actions and allocating limited resources. We teamed up with Dr. Max Melstrom, an economics professor at Loyola University Chicago, to develop a model to assign economic values for public reservoirs throughout Nebraska.