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Private Waters Program

Pond Management Handbook | Pond Management Guide Series

Providing . . .

  • Management Assistance for Lakes, Ponds, Pits and Streams
  • Technical assistance for developing or restoring aquatic habitat to produce quality fish populations
  • Fish for private waters stocking program
  • More fishing access to private waters
  • Water quality and fish community assessments

What are Private Waters

Private waters represent an appreciable portion of Nebraska’s fishable waters. Included are flowing waters (excluding the Missouri River), private natural lakes, privately constructed lakes, private sandpits and private farm ponds.

Flowing Waters

  • Consist of 13 river basins — about 2,130 rivers and streams.
  • Approximately 23,700 miles of flowing water — mostly through private property.
  • 41 Class A coldwater streams account for 565 miles of flowing water that support naturally reproducing trout.

Natural Lakes

  • There are an estimated 1,500 privately owned Sandhills lakes (but less than half support fish).

Privately Constructed Water Bodies

  • There were 27,500 farm ponds constructed prior to 1968.
  • There were 3,200 sand, gravel and silt pits (15,200 water acres) active from 1900 to 1993.
  • Numerous farm ponds and sandpits have been constructed in recent years.

Importance of Private Waters

Private waters provide a substantial amount of fishing, produce quality fisheries and are important habitats for native wildlife species.
  • A mail survey of 1994-1995 licensed anglers indicated: 25% fished private impoundments; 23% fished streams/rivers/canals, and 5% fished Sandhills lakes.
  • The 1998 Nebraska Annual Social Indicator Survey indicated 23% of all angling occurred on private waters.
  • 26.5% of all 1999 Master Angler fish came from private waters.
  • Seven fish species and one freshwater mussel species that are threatened or endangered inhabit rivers/streams.

History of Private Waters Management

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has always provided management assistance for private waters, although the extent of involvement has varied over the years.
  • Prior to 1967, only fish stocking and some technical assistance were provided to pond owners
  • In 1967, the Commission established a farm pond biologist position whose duties were to streamline stocking procedures. This resulted from the increasing requests for stocking and technical assistance to pond owners, and the need to develop/provide farm pond management literature and presentations.
  • In 1978, the farm pond biologist position was eliminated due to a drastic decline in pond construction/fish requests. Those responsibilities were transferred to district fisheries biologists who were extensively involved with the management of numerous public lakes.
  • On Jan. 1, 2000, a private waters program was established and a private waters specialist position was created to handle the numerous requests for stocking and various types of fisheries management assistance.

Private Waters Program Function & Services Provided

District fishery biologists and the private waters specialist work closely with owners of private waters and assist them with fish management and stocking requests to:
1. Provide technical assistance for developing or restoring quality fish populations:
  • Conduct preliminary contact to discuss requests.
  • Make a site visit when necessary.
  • Provide management information and produce management publications on farm ponds, sandpits, natural lakes and flowing waters.
  • Explain various federal and state programs regarding conservation and habitat improvement such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Bufferstrips, NGPC’s WILD program.
2. Conduct water and fish community assessments:
  • Make a preliminary verbal assessment of the problem.
  • Determine the likelihood of the contact collecting necessary information.
  • Conduct a water monitoring/fish population survey (University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension personnel available for water quality analysis).
  • Prepare an analysis of collected survey data and follow up recommendations
3. Provide fish for private waters:
  • Determine if a request meets minimum requirements.
  • Mail out stocking policy and application.
  • Conduct site inspection and submit request, if water body qualifies.
  • Coordinate stockings.
4. Increase fishing access to private waters:
  • Develop a listing of public stream access sites available for public access and provide new access sites when possible.
  • Work with owners to increase public usage on larger bodies of water.
  • Stress the need to obtain permission from owners on all private waters.
  • Develop a program that could offer compensation to owners who allow unlimited walk-in public access.
  • Develop a program to provide assistance for pond construction/habitat modifications in exchange for public fishing for a specified period of time.
  • Acquire additional memorandum of understanding agreements on desirable private waters.
Improvement of water and land management in the watershed will enhance existing fisheries and promote proper development and management of new fisheries. This will provide more quality fishing opportunities for anglers and improved environmental conditions that will benefit all associated wildlife.

Inquiries about the Private Waters Program should be directed to fisheries biologists while those regarding conservation practices and NGPC’s WILD program go to wildlife biologists in district offices listed in the Fishing Guide and/or to:

Jeff Blaser
Private Waters Specialist
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
2200 N. 33rd St./PO Box 30370
Lincoln, NE 68503-0370
Phone: 402-471-5435
e-mail: mailto:jeff.blaser@nebraska.gov
(Leave a return phone number so we can contact you)

Direct inquiries about water quality analysis program to:

Katie Pekarek
kpekarek2@unl.edu
UNL Cooperative Extension Service
216 S. 9th St.
Sweard, NE 68434
Phone: 402-643-2981

Inquiries about various conservation practices and cost share potential for constructing/restoring ponds can also be directed to local Natural Resources District (23 field offices) or Natural Resources Conservation Service (81 field offices).

Minimum requirements to receive fingerling bass and bluegill for Private Water Stocking Program include:

  • One-half surface acre or larger.
  • 25% of the pond at least 10 feet deep (exceptions at biologist’s discretion).
  • No other fish present at the time of stocking (with the exception of recently stocked channel catfish).
  • Minimum water clarity of 8 inches.
  • Fencing to exclude livestock from the pond required under certain instances.
  • Owner controls access. State fishing regulations apply.

More About Private Waters

The issue of private waters raises several common questions. What constitutes a private pond that doesn't require anglers to have a valid fishing license? The only exception to the requirement of a valid licence is when a body of water is entirely on private land, has been entirely private stocked with private hatchery-reared fish and doesn't connect by inflow or outflow with other waters outside the pond owner's property. An unlicensed angler who catches fish from such a body of water and wants to remove them from the premises must have a written statement from the pond owner listing the pond owner's name and the number of fish taken.

Each year, the owners of new or newly renovated private ponds across the state apply to the Commission to be stocked. These ponds are inspected by a district biologist. Those meeting minimum requirements receive largemouth bass and bluegill from state hatcheries. Receiving state hatchery fish doesn't mean these ponds are open to the public, however. Anglers are still required to obtain permission before fishing. Private ponds provide some of the best bass and bluegill fishing opportunity to Nebraska anglers. Stocking bass and bluegill fingerlings cost the agency little and is easily justified considering about one-quarter of all licensed angler days are spent on private ponds.

Anglers must observe statewide bag and possession regulations. A valid fishing license is required of those of an age requiring a fishing licence, including the pond owner. If they wish, pond owners may restrict anglers to more restrictive regulations. It is important for anglers to remember that it is a privilege to fish private ponds, and they must respect the land they are on and the pond in which they are fishing.

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