A young man bends over running water with a fishing pole.
Fishing at Rocky Ford on the Niobrara River.

NPS Photo



Fishing is allowed on the Niobrara National Scenic River, and gives visitors the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the river and its natural beauty. Reminiscent of the traditional use of the river by Native Americans and Homesteaders who settled on the banks, this year-long activity is an integral part of Nebraska’s history.

The Niobrara River, much like the land along it, is spectacularly diverse, and is in fact the most diverse body of water in Nebraska, species-wise. For this reason, the Niobrara has plenty of opportunities for all sorts of anglers. Here are a few of the most popular game species in the river:

  • Channel catfish: Ictalurus punctatus, native to the Americas, these fish enjoy low-light, slow-moving waters full of nooks and crannies. These fish are not picky, and will eat just about anything you throw at them, with live bait caught from the river itself being a great option. Catfish are good eats too! Flathead (Pylodictis olivaris) and blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) are also common catches.

  • Trout: Brown trout (Salmo trutta) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), both non-natives, prefer cool, moderately deep water. Brown trout are active day and night, and are voracious predators. Expect a fight. Both species are particularly fond of insect larvae, including waxworms, mealworms, butterworms, and black soldier fly larvae. Those with sensitive palates be aware, the brown trout’s strong taste is considered unpleasant by many.

  • Bass: Largemouth (Micropterus salmoides) and smallmouth (Micropterus dolomieu) are not hard to find along the Niobrara. Any bass fisherman will tell you that these two are tough fighters, and love to hang out around shallow water cover. That being said, it’s recommended to catch-and-release these fish, especially the bigger ones. It is also not recommended to eat either species, and the Niobrara River Basin currently has a consumption advisory on largemouth bass for high mercury levels.

  • Crappie: Both white (Pomoxis annularis) and black (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) crappie are found in the Niobrara. White crappie prefer murky water with little vegetation and love bait fish, with black crappie being found in clear, slow-moving water with plenty of cover, maintaining a diet primarily consisting of insects and insect larvae. Crappie usually don’t have many restrictions, but the Department of Environmental Quality of Nebraska reports higher-than-average mercury levels among black crappie.

Northern pike, common carp, sauger, grass pickerel, and river carpsucker have all been reported in the river as well.


Visitors fishing within the Niobrara National Scenic River must follow the fishing license requirements in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Nebraska. Licenses are required for all participants above 16, and those under must be accompanied by someone with a license.

The Nebraska Game and Parks website has plenty of information on special applications and many useful guides, including their yearly Fishing Guide. Ideal spots along the Niobrara, alongside prohibited fishing practices and bag limits, are all located within this guide. Licenses can be purchased here or locally at the Valentine State Fish Hatchery, the Sinclair Gas Station, and Wright’s Bait Shop.

Fishing Regulations

Fishing shall be in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Nebraska. (36 CFR 2.3). For state fishing regulations go to the Nebraska Department of Game and Parks website.

The fishing regulations apply to all “finfish” found in the park. Other taxa, including amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans (e.g. waterdogs, crayfish) are not considered “fish” for the purpose of NPS fishing regulations and addressed by NPS regulations governing “wild life” (36CFR2.2).

These fishing regulations apply, regardless of land ownership, on all lands and waters within the park that are under the legislative jurisdiction of the United States.

Prospective fishers should be aware, the land around the Niobrara National Scenic River is owned by a collection of organizations and private owners. Ensure that if you choose to drop your line on private land that you have permission from the landowner.

For those using live bait, the Northern redbelly dace, finescale dace, blacknose shiner, and Topeka shiner are all considered threatened or endangered and should not be collected.

The following are prohibited:

  • Fishing in fresh waters in any manner other than by hook and line, with the rod or line being closely attended.

  • Possessing or using as bait for fishing in freshwaters, live or dead minnows or other bait fish, amphibians, non-preserved fish eggs or fish roe, except in designated waters.

  • Chumming or placing preserved or fresh fish eggs, fish roe, food, fish parts, chemicals, or other foreign substances in fresh waters for the purpose of feeding or attracting fish in order that they may be taken.

  • Commercial fishing, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law.

  • Fishing by the use of drugs, poisons, explosives, or electricity.

  • Digging for bait, except in privately owned lands.

  • Failing to return carefully and immediately to the water from which it was taken a fish that does not meet size or species restrictions or that the person chooses not to keep. Fish so released shall not be included in the catch or possession limit: Provided, that at the time of catching the person did not possess the legal limit of fish.

  • Fishing from motor road bridges, from or within 200 feet of a public raft or float designated for water sports, or within the limits of locations designated as swimming beaches, surfing areas, or public boat docks, except in designated areas.

  • Introducing wildlife, fish or plants, including their reproductive bodies, into a park area ecosystem. This includes the discarding and/or dumping of bait and bait buckets.

  • The use or possession of fish, wildlife or plants for ceremonial or religious purposes, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law, or treaty rights.

Fish Consumption Advisories in National Park Waters

For visitors curious about safety concerns surrounding fish consumption, the National Park Service maintains information about Fish Consumption Advisories and Mercury and Toxins in Nature.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Unfortunately, the Niobrara is not immune to the effects of the introduction of invasive species. Asian carp and round gobies threaten the stability of multiple ecological niches along the river, outcompeting native fish. However, one of the most economically impactful invasive species is the zebra mussel, whose dense reproductive patterns cover substrate, block pipelines, and clog water intake. They also easily outcompete and choke out native clams and mussels.

Due to the potential harm these species can do, the United States Geological Survey recommends keeping up good boat hygeine and avoiding transporting water from live wells and bait buckets to different bodies of water to prevent further spread.

Fishing Throughout the National Park Service

We invite you to visit the Fish and Fishing website for more information about fish and fishing in the National Park Service. You will learn about conservation, different fish species, and parks that offer fishing.

Last updated: November 23, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

214 W US Highway 20
Valentine, NE 69201


402 376-1901

Contact Us