Anglers waiting for ponds and lakes to freeze over don’t need to idly stand by. There’s plenty to do in the meantime.

Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says taking care of some tasks now can prevent grief on the ice later. Here are some of his tips:

Fishing line – Ice-fishing for panfish typically requires lighter lines. Bauer recommends checking the line on your reels and replacing it frequently. “You probably need to replace them prior to every ice season and maybe even a time or two during the season,” he said.

Hooks – Bauer says sharp hooks are a critical part of ultra-light ice-fishing tackle. The sharper the hook, the easier it is to tip baits with wax worms or maggots. “With sharp hooks, those baits will be more natural – not all squished – and catch more fish,” he said.

Auger blades – Another item that must be kept sharp are ice auger blades. Check them now and sharpen or replace them, if needed. “Now is the time to do that, not when we have ice and you are wasting fishing time,” Bauer said.

Depth finder – Don’t forget to plug in your depth finder and see if the battery is holding a charge. The ice, again, is not the place to discover you need a new battery.

A couple other things to take care of are tackle and clothing. Go through your jig box and replace old favorites you are low on and pick up new ones. Get your ice-fishing clothing squared away. Check your boots and bibs. Make sure you have plenty of gloves and hand warmers. Bauer recommends a good pair of mittens.

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Nebraska awarded federal grant to fund feasibility study for wildlife highway crossings

The Nebraska Department of Transportation and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently were awarded a $400,000 federal grant to explore ways to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in western Nebraska along Nebraska Highway 71.

NDOT and Game and Parks will use the funding to explore the feasibility of bighorn sheep crossings in the Wildcat Hills region, where 18 of the 26 bighorn sheep collisions have been recorded between 2009-2023. This study will focus on reducing vehicle and property damage, as well as wildlife deaths.

“Because of the geography of this area, bighorn sheep regularly cross the highway here, an area near the entrance to the Wildlife Estates housing area,” said Todd Nordeen, big game research and disease program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “With the Heartland Expressway’s continued development, traffic between Rapid City, South Dakota, and Denver will continue to increase as will the risk of crashes — and potential bighorn sheep fatalities.”

Part of the grant funding will be used to purchase 10 new radio tracking collars to be placed on bighorn sheep to track their movements; three bighorn sheep in the region already have tracking collars. Data from their movements will be used to assess whether a wildlife crossing would successfully connect the sheep’s habitat — rocky escarpments found on both sides of the highway — and reduce collisions.

The study also will help determine the need for and potential cost of a wildlife crossing area, typically in the form of underpass tunnels, viaducts or overpasses across a highway, in addition to other possible mitigation strategies. If the study concludes a crossing is feasible, other wildlife in the Wildcat Hills would benefit. The area is home to two bighorn sheep populations, as well as elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, mountain lions and countless other mammals.

Should a crossing be warranted, it would be a first of its kind in Nebraska. Wildlife crossings have been built and utilized successfully in many other Midwest and Western states, including Colorado, California, North Dakota and Arizona. NDOT and Game and Parks would pursue additional grant money to support construction of any recommended crossing solutions or alternatives.

Doug Hoevet, NDOT District 5 Engineer said, “NDOT is committed to reducing all crashes on the highway system. This study allows us to partner with our fellow agency to evaluate the best way to reduce crashes while protecting a unique wildlife resource that is important to our area.”

The study is expected to be completed in 2024.

The funding for this study was made possible by the federal Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which makes $350 million available to states over a five-year period. It can support projects that construct wildlife crossings over or below busy roads, add fencing, acquire tracking and mapping tools, and more. In addition, the program supports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy, which sets a goal of achieving zero roadway deaths and serious injuries through a Safe System Approach to prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

Projects funded by this program will reduce wildlife crashes, which will in turn reduce associated economic impacts, such as loss of income, medical costs, property damage and a decline in productivity and quality of life, while simultaneously improving habitat connectivity to sustain the environment and improve the overall safety of the traveling public.

All but one dock pulled from Lake McConaughy

All but one dock will be pulled from the water at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area. This is due to wind, ice and blowing sand.

The only boat ramp in service is at Diver’s Bay. This dock will be pulled out when ice build-up on the lake or on the ramp and dock surface makes it unsafe to use. This dock also will be pulled halfway out of the water when forecasts call for winds to blow greater than 20 mph.