Fishing Across Nebraska I-80 Corridor

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I t's 455 miles across Nebraska on Interstate 80 – about seven hours if you obey the speed limit and don't make any stops. But that's a long time to sit in a car, so you might want to stop to stretch your legs, let the kids play for a while and get something to eat. Or, you might want to do some fishing. If the latter is for you, there are plenty of opportunities to wet a line along Interstate 80 (I-80). Dozens of lakes are within casting distance or a few minutes drive of the interstate. In central Nebraska, they seem to be at every exit. Most of those waters, and many others, are yours to fish, and they are the reason for this guide. The lakes are perfect places for weary cross-country travelers to stop and fish for a while. You may not even need your own fishing tackle – it can be borrowed, free of charge, at several state parks and recreation areas along the way. The lakes are no secret to many Nebraskans – those making short trips across the state sometimes pack their rod and reel and a lunch, hoping to get a bite or two while having one. Also, the thousands of anglers who live in the many towns along I-80 have found that the freeway makes it easy for them to hop from one lake to another in search of the hot bite, and they can often be fishing only minutes after leaving home or work. Nebraska offers fishing permits for one day, three days or all year, so it doesn't cost travelers much to stop and fish for a few hours. Children less than 16 years old can fish for free, including nonresidents accompanied by an adult with a Nebraska permit. Permits can be purchased on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission web site at www.outdoornebraska.org, from Commission offices and at many tackle shops and stores that sell fishing equipment. All of the lakes listed in this guide have fishing regulations governing the number and/or sizes of fish that may be kept. Some may also restrict the use of live bait or allow only catch and release fishing. Boating regulations also vary from lake to lake. On most smaller waters, speed is restricted to 5 mph, no wake. Other waters allow only electric motors. Regulations can change from year to year, so you should pick up a copy of the current Nebraska Fishing Guide and Nebraska Boating Guide before hitting the water. They are available at Commission offices and wherever fishing permits are sold. Guides are also available on the Commission's web site. Types of Lakes Most lakes along I-80 are borrow pits, especially from North Platte to Grand Island where the interstate runs parallel to the Platte River. When I-80 was built, the easiest and cheapest route was the flat, wide-open Platte River Valley. Building the highway along the river was a challenge because of high groundwater levels and because there were no hills to provide fill material. Wherever road builders needed fill for an overpass or roadbed, they took it from the valley floor. Groundwater soon seeped into the borrow pits. Knowing this would happen, engineers and fisheries biologists collaborated to ensure that the pits were dug with fish and anglers in mind. The result was the creation of more than 50 clear, deep and productive fishing waters now known as the "I-80 lakes." Forty of them are open to the public. While the I-80 lakes are the most visible to travelers, there are plenty of other waters within a short drive of the interstate. In eastern Nebraska, flood- control reservoirs built to protect towns, cities and the interstate provide tremendous fishing opportunities and also support boating, jet skiing and other water sports. In western and central Nebraska, large irrigation reservoirs built to provide water for crops, generate hydropower and to cool coal-fired power plants also provide excellent fishing and boating. Other waters near I-80 include farm ponds, park ponds, oxbows and sand pits. The park ponds located in state or city parks and used solely for recreation will be of special interest, so several are included in this guide. Types of Parks Virtually every lake or park in Nebraska is named in a way that tells you something about its ownership and primary use. An understanding of these designations may help you decide which lakes would suit you best. The majority of the waters listed are owned and managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the agency in charge of managing the state's fish, wildlife and park resources. Areas designated as a State Park (SP) have the most accommodations and activities, including lodging, modern campgrounds, restaurants, swimming pools, hiking trails and horseback riding. Many state parks are vacation destinations. Park entry permits are required at these areas and can be purchased on-site. Fishing permits are also available. State Recreation Areas (SRA) are not as developed as state parks and amenities vary considerably. Most provide camping, drinking water, pit toilets and other basics. Outdoor water fountains and modern restrooms are usually closed for the winter months. Hunting is permitted on many SRA's from the Tuesday after Labor Day through the conclusion of the spring NEBRASKAland ● May 2006 21 The I-80 Lakes System JON FARRAR Lakes along the interstate provide excellent fishing for a variety of species. JON FARRAR

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