I still remember as a kid in Nebraska Ice Fishing with my Dad.
In addition to things like sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing in Nebraska, ice fishing is one of the great things to do here in the Good Life in the winter.
We’d often go to a place like Chalco or to a friend’s lake cabin and I would last a total of 10 minutes enjoying to jig the line before I got bored, decided I’d rather be boot skating (our version of “ice skating”….just with snow boots!) and would start to complain that I wanted the hot chocolate.
While I MUCH prefer summer (ok, actually FALL) fishing (what can I say, I’m pretty sure I’m not a native Nebraskan in a prior life…I HATE the cold!) that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great Nebraska ice fishing opportunities.
But, ice fishing in Nebraska can be a little bit different than other locations due to the types of lakes we have here, so here is your complete guide to Ice Fishing In Nebraska, including what gear you should have, some tips for novices, how to get your Nebraska game and fish license and, of course, where are the best places to go ice fishing in Nebraska!
What You'll Find In This Artcile
- 1 What Gear Do You Need For Ice Fishing
- 2 Nice To Haves
- 3 Tips and Things to Know about Ice Fishing in Nebraska
- 4 When To Go Ice Fishing In Nebraska
- 5 Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Nebraska
- 6 Great Lakes For Fishing Near Omaha and Lincoln
- 7 Others Lakes to Consider
- 8 Why Not Ice Fish At Calamus, Lake McConaughy or Ogallala?
- 9 Fishing Tournaments In Nebraska
- 10 Find A Nebraska Fishing Guide
What Gear Do You Need For Ice Fishing
There is actually not a TON that you actually NEED to go ice fishing in Nebraska, but there is still some essential gear if you want to get out on the ice. We’ll start with the must-haves and move onto the nice-to-haves.
Nebraska Fishing License
If you want to (legally) fish, you’ve got to get a Nebraska Fishing Permit . The cost of fishing license in Nebraska is pretty cheap, at just under $30 for the year, but there are lots of different options available.
For example, there are residential and non-residential permits. There are also one-day permits as well.
There is even a lifetime fishing license in Nebraska if you know that you love to be out on the water! Or, choose the 3 or 5-year options.
Love to hunt? Get a fishing and hunting combo license!
Obviously, there are quite a few moving parts here, so check out the site to see which Nebraska fishing license is best for you.
You can buy a Nebraska fishing permit here, at the official Nebraska Game and Parks site.
You’ll obviously need a way to get through the ice so you can start fishing. If you are just starting out, you can get a relatively cheap, but quality one, like this. Or, if you know you’ll be drilling a lot (that’s what she said???) then I recommend a gas auger.
Best Electric Auger: Ion Eskimo
Ice Fishing Rod
As a kid, I just thought that my dad had a special kids pole for me when we ice fished! Turns out, those little poles are SPECIFIC to ice fishing! (who knew!?)
There are a lot of options to choose from, but since Nebraska mostly has a lot of panfish, I recommend getting an ultralight pole like the Frabill. If you know you’ll be targeting walleye or trout, consider a medium pole and if you are going after bigger fish, like pike, get a heavy pole.
Best Pole For Ice Fishing In Nebraska for Panfish: Frabill
The saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Although, if you’ve ever been out on a windswept prairie lake in the middle of Nebraska, I’d argue against this!
But, in all seriousness, the right clothing is a game changer as far as how comfortable you can stay out in some pretty cold weather:
Layer 1 Base Layer: Opt for something moisture wicking, like these particular long underwear.
Middle Layer Insulation: This is your toasty layer! I’ve never gone wrong with a Columbia fleece jacket.
Outer Layer Wind and Waterproof: Especially in Nebraska, you are going to need something that keeps that wind from cutting through you. There are plenty of great waterproof winter coats, like this top-rated one, or even ones specific for ice fishing
A quality pair of insulating overall bibs will go far when out ice fishing! Here is Amazon’s top-selling pair.
Smart Wool Socks
Smart wool socks are a winter outdoorsmen’s dream come true for toasty toes! We all know that once your feet get cold, so does the rest of our body! Add a pair to your Amazon cart now.
You’ll want really heavy duty, rubber soled, thick boots when ice fishing. Boots that reach mid calf or even knee high are perfect. Add a pair of Yak Trax for super easy ice walking.
Neck Gaiter and Balaclava
A neck gaiter is one of those great layering options that is so simple to add or remove but can make a world of a difference on a cold, blustery day. Alternatively, just get a balaclava, which will protect both your face and your neck from the wind and cold. Here’s the one I recommend.
Again, going the layering route is going to serve you so well! Get a good pair of neoprene fishing gloves for handling the fishing duties, but a nice, thick wool mitten to wear while hanging out to keep you super warm.
You can go as big or small as you want with this. But, considering that with ice fishing, you typically are up and moving from hole to hole, you’ll want something lightweight and easy to carry.
Bait, Spoon, and Lures
Depending on where you are fishing in Nebraska and what fish you are targeting there is going to be different bait and lures ideal for different fish. Consider things like:
- Spoons in the shallow lakes of Nebraska
- Bigger lure for fish like walleye
- Smaller lures for fish like perch and panfish
Here is a fantastic guide to figuring out what lures to use for the best ice fishing experience.
Also note that many lakes, for example, Crescent, do not allow for live minnows. Check for these regulations for the particular lake you are going to ahead of time.
plastic lures Ratsos and Shrimpos
Nice To Haves
Back when I was a kid, we literally just stood on the ice, or if we were lucky, my dad would share a chair with us! (Hence the wanting to get up and move around or drink hot chocolate…I was cold!) There are some fantastic portable options making it easy to move from hole to hole.
Any experienced ice fisher knows that safety ALWAYS comes first! Ice spikes aren’t mandatory, but for less than $10 and the comfort of knowing that if something were to happen that you’d have a way to get out of the frigid waters, it’s silly NOT to have a set.
For less than a cheeseburger, this isn’t an absolute necessity, but for so cheap, having an ice scooper is well worth having to get the ice chunks out of your hole. I particularly like this extendable one.
Ice Fishing Heater
Nothing can dampen your spirits like being frozen down to the bone! Get an ice fishing heater, like this compact portable one for smaller shelters, or splurge and get bigger ones for extra heat and comfort.
My Dad often jokes that you don’t need these fancy schmancy contraptions. However, once you start using one, you are probably going to be hard pressed to go back to the old ways of constant drilling and endlessly trying to find the fish.
Other gear you can consider are things like sleds to easily pull gear, buckets to use as a cheap and easy way to sit down to relax, pliers to remove those stubborn fish and flashlights.
Tips and Things to Know about Ice Fishing in Nebraska
No matter where you choose to ice fish, safety should absolutely be your top priority.
Due to the composition of a lot of our lakes, the ice isn’t always as stable as you might think it would be.
Here are a few quick reminders:
- Carry some ice spikes with you, just in case. Even just recently, emergency personnel had to pull a man out of Wanahoo.
- There should be 4 inches of clear ice (6 if you are on a snowmobile)
- Cracks, holes, and water flows: It isn’t entirely uncommon to have moving water under some of the lakes in Nebraska due to the rivers that flow into them. Be careful of “springs” and “ice rot” and don’t forget the old saying, “Thick and Blue: Tried and True. Thin and Crispy: Way too risky!”
Go Where You Know
We all know that fish love ledges, cover and drop-offs. Since you can’t see these well in the winter (without that fancy schmancy gear), go to a place that you’ve fished well at in warmer months.
In fact, if you know you want to get out on the ice in the winter, go scouting in the fall. If you’ve had luck getting some fish in the fall, go there first in the winter!
If you are heading out on a lake that you’ve never been on before, if you have a flasher, you can drill numerous holes. Go in a line and start with shallow to deep holes and see what you can find!
Unique Lakes in Nebraska
There are a lot of sand-pit like lakes here in Nebraska that are basins, basically “bowls.” Therefore, there may not be a ton of coverage and ledges, which means the fish will roam the bottom during winter months. This is especially true for crappie and bluegill.
Another thing to take note of is the often shallow lakes. This is helpful to know as far as what bait you need. For example, you’ll find a lot of panfish here in Nebraska, such as crappie and bluegill. This is not to say that you can’t find some good bass, catfish, perch, walleye, trout and other fish in particular lakes though (more on this below in the Lakes to Ice Fish In section)
Augers: Also note that due to the shallow waters, having an auger can sometimes scare off those fishies.
Tip: It’s not uncommon for bluegill and crappie to move deep during the hard winter months, but then move back up as you start to head out of the season. You can often find crappie doing a “suspension” of sorts, typically about halfway down. Having electronics makes it a cinch to take the guessing game out of just how far down the fish are that day.
Don’t Eat Bananas
Yup, you read that right! It’s actually more for you superstitious folk fishing on boats, as the rumor goes. Since that isn’t an issue in the winter, you can take the risk yourself and see if you catch anything on a day you bring along a banana. (No, seriously, I’d love for someone to report back on this!!!)
When To Go Ice Fishing In Nebraska
While I’d love to get into a heated debate with you about Global Warming, let’s just all agree that Nebraska winters have been getting wonky! There have been winters recently where we have barely gotten any snow at all and I’ve grilled in the middle of December! And then others where we
suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a polar vortex! (Get it together Nebraska!!)
So, unfortunately, there is really no good, hard rule as far as ice fishing season in Nebraska.
This is why hanging out with the experts on the different Nebraska Fishing Forums is a good idea. People hop on all the time giving their own reports, advice, and collaboration on ice fishing. Here are my two favorites:
- NEFGA (Nebraska Fish and Game Association) Forum
- Ice Shanty Nebraska
- Nebraska Ice Fishing Report: You can find this year’s report here or look at the NEFGA site for the most up to date reports.
Tip: A GREAT time to ice fish is when the temperatures are just slightly starting to warm up (but obviously still have SAFE ice!) The fish metabolism will be starting to rev up as the waters start to get warmer, meaning they will be easier to find and they’ll be looking for a meal!
Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Nebraska
Alright, so now that you know when to go and what to bring, let’s chat about WHERE to go!
Whether you are looking for some bass fishing in Nebraska or want the adventure of catching wipers, if you want to take the kids out with you, or just for a fun day out on the ice, here is some of the best fishing in Nebraska in the winter months
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Lakes
There are tons of different lakes within this refuge, all offering a great selection of different species. Some of the favorite lakes to go to within the system are
What You Can Catch:
What’s great about these lakes is the wide variety and great sizes of fish available.
- Huge largemouth bass
- Giant Bluegills
Note: There are special regulations for the refuge. Read the Brochure Here to ensure you are within the laws.
Address: 39983 Refuge Rd, Valentine, NE 69201 (off of Highway 83 along the 16B Spur. Follow signs.)
Phone: Call ahead for ice conditions (402)376-3789
Merrit Reservoir has long been a favorite hotspot for year-round fishing in Nebraska. In fact, if you are wanting walleye fishing in Nebraska, this is the place to go!
What You Can Catch:
- Channel Catfish
Address: Merritt Reservoir SRA Valentine, NE 69201-1904
Get some good, strong-smelling bait and get ready for a blast as you try to catch some elusive (and huge) wipers. These hard-hitting and fast fish can be a blast to reel in if you are ready!
What You Can Catch:
Tip: Elwood is very large, be cautious of the conditions of freezing and be sure you have safe ice before heading out
Address: “3 miles North of Elwood” (Follow US-283 to Elwood Lake Dr in Bethel)
Crescent National Wildlife Refuge
The Sandhills of Nebraska is a stunning region in and of itself. Head to Island Lake (open year around) or Crane and Smith (Nov-Feb) Lakes in the Crescent Refuge, for great fishing opportunities in a beautiful area of Nebraska.
What You Can Catch:
- Largemouth Bass
Address: 10630 Rd 181, Ellsworth, NE 69340
Phone: (308) 762-4893
Great Lakes For Fishing Near Omaha and Lincoln
This can be a tougher lake to figure out, but when you do, you can be rewarded with some really nice sized channel catfish as well as bass. It’s also a great place to go if you are taking the kids out for some ice fishing.
What You Can Catch:
Address: Go onUS-6 W. Take N 84th St to Holmes S Shore Rd
Being so close to both Lincoln and Omaha, in addition to the fact that there is some great cover and the panfish are plentiful here, it’s a local favorite for sure. It’s also another great spot for kids and families to throw a line into.
What You Can Catch:
Address: Exit toward Wahoo/NE-92. Turn left onto US-275 E. Take NE-92 W to the lake in Center, NE
Phone: (402) 443-1037
This newer Rec Area is within Papillion city limits and is a great place for a quick day out for some ice fishing. Since they have purposefully and thoughtfully created an underwater habitat (sunken trees, cove enhancements, etc) there is some great coverage. You can even find their lake bottom and fish habitat maps here, making it easy to know right where to head for good fishing (and good sizes)!
What You Can Catch:
Address: 12915-12955 Cornhusker Rd, Papillion, NE 68046
Chalco Hills at Wehrspann
Another quick drive from Omaha (in Papillion) is a long time favorite, Chalco and since it is regularly stocked, you are sure to catch a few!
What You Can Catch:
Address: 154th St & Giles Rd
If you are looking for great trout fishing Nebraska, Standing Bear is a great location, as it is regularly stocked for trout.
What You Can Catch:
- All the usual panfish
Address: 6404 N 132nd St, Omaha, NE 68164
Others Lakes to Consider
Two Rivers is another good trout location.
Wagon Train is particularly good for perch.
Fremont SRA is great if you are looking for big ol kitties!
Burchard has good coverage and a great night bite!
Why Not Ice Fish At Calamus, Lake McConaughy or Ogallala?
Calamus, Big Mac, and Ogallala are some favorite spots for fishing in the summer, so one might think they should head there when winter kicks in as well.
You actually want to avoid Calamus due do it’s sandy bottoms, springs and river overflow . It makes for too much ice shifting, which creates incredibly unstable conditions and huge holes. The big problem is that it can be fantastic and thick in one spot, and just inches in another. So a lot of people have false confidence and find themselves in tough situations that could have been avoided.
Lake McConaughy is so huge that the wind swept area and ice is simply just not stable.
Lake Ogallala receives seepage from Big Mac. These water movements create unstable ice conditions and thin ice.
Fishing Tournaments In Nebraska
If you’ve got a bit of a competitive streak, there are plenty of fishing tournaments in Nebraska each year.
Find the updated list of all the fishing tournaments in the state here.
Find A Nebraska Fishing Guide
Whether you are new to the sport or are looking to shake things up a bit with a true expert, there are a few fishing guides in Nebraska that can help you out.
A day out with a fishing guide is also a great gift for that angler that seems impossible to shop for as well!
Omaha and Eastern Nebraska Fishing Guide: DAB Fishing
Southwest Nebraska Fishing Guide: Steve Lytle
Nebraska Walleye Guide: http://www.nebraskawalleyeguide.com/
So there you have it, some of the best ice fishing in Nebraska!
But, clearly, there are more. So time for you to tell us in the comments: where has been some of your favorite ice fishing spots?
Know an angler who should try some new ice fishing locations in the winter? Share this with them!