December 27, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs and Bill Sitzmann

When the weather gets cold in Nebraska, make room in your kitchen for rainbow trout. Catch them from the shore before the lakes freeze over, and catch them through a hole in the ice (once a safe layer of ice has formed).

ice-fishing-2Many anglers will catch their limit in less than an hour. When the bite is hot, parents will be pulling fish off of children’s hooks faster than they can drop a line into the water. Daryl Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission since 1988, says there’s plenty of trout to catch in select Nebraska waters throughout the winter.

Bauer’s words were proven true by the crowds of anglers lining the banks at Standing Bear Lake this past fall. The number of anglers reeling in trout was almost as incredible as the number of darting and jumping trout visible from shore.

Game and Parks generously stocked rainbow trout in Standing Bear Lake, Benson Park Pond, Century Link Lake at Mahoney State Park, Lake Halleck, Hitchcock Park Pond, and Towl Park Pond. The commission intended to stock 265,000 trout statewide this fall and winter.

The trout are stocked from the Grove Lake Trout Rearing Station in Royal, Nebraska, where they are hatched and fed a specially formulated feed. Bauer says the feed is “not just junk food. It produces quality meat. These are quality fish.” The trout are raised until they reach about 10 inches in length, at which time they are ready to be stocked and caught. Bauer says it takes about 10 months to produce trout of this quality. When all is said and done, it costs about $1 to raise each trout. Funds come, in part, from fishing licenses. So, if you are licensed, you’re paying for trout.

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Catch them while you can, because Game and Parks does not intend for them to last after the winter. Bauer says trout are cold-water fish. He says Standing Bear will not be cold enough for the trout to survive in the summer. “If there’s any [trout] surviving in the summer, they will perish.” Bauer says that almost all of the trout are caught, and studies of tagged fish at Standing Bear show that 85 percent or more of the trout are being harvested before the water warms up.

Catching trout from the shore and through the ice is simple. Bauer tells anglers to keep in mind that these fish have been raised in a hatchery their whole life. “Their idea of finding feed is swimming around and waiting for someone to drop pellets on their heads,” he says. Bauer says that varieties of Berkeley PowerBait “smell an awful lot like the pellets the trout are reared on.”

A spinning reel with 6- to 8-pound test line is ideal, and the same rig can be used for both shore and ice fishing if you don’t have ice fishing gear. Bauer says his grandpa used his open-water rod through a hole and pulled fish through the ice. “You just have to stand a little further from the hole,” Bauer says.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov for more information. OmahaHome

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