Angler Behavior in Response to Management Actions on Nebraska Reservoirs - Part II

Recreational angling, a billion–dollar industry, is the most influential factor structuring fish populations in inland systems. Given its importance and the reliance in North America on sportspersons to fund conservation activities (i.e., the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation), natural resource agencies invest substantial resources to recruit and retain anglers. However, there is little understanding of the motivations to participate in angling activities or the influence of management actions on that angler participation. Further, little is known about the non–consumptive responses of fish populations to angling such as changes in behavior that affect vulnerability to angling. A greater understanding of the positive and negative feedbacks between angling participation and responses of fish populations to angling are needed to understand and properly manage recreational angling.


Project goals are to understand 1) the participation patterns of anglers on multiple spatial and temporal scales; 2) how participation patterns of anglers influence fish populations and associated communities; 3) how management actions influence angler participation patterns and, in turn, fish communities; and 4) interactions and feedback mechanisms between and among angler groups and fish communities.

Current Status

This project has seven study components.

1. Statewide Angler Survey. Anglers were interviewed at Branched Oak Lake, Calamus Reservoir, Gracie Creek Pond, Harlan County Reservoir, Lake McConaughy, Merritt Reservoir, Pawnee Reservoir, Sherman Reservoir, and Lake Wanahoo from April through October, 2014 – 2018. These interviews added to long–term (>10– 20 years) data sets that are valuable for assessment of temporal changes in angler participation. In particular, these extended data sets allow for relational assessments of changes in angling participation with environmental conditions and management actions on large scales.

2. Using Naïve Systems to Identify How Angling Influences Fish Populations. Catchability of sportfish can be negatively affected by repeated capture with catch-and-release angling, which is potentially a result of learned hook avoidance. The opening of two new reservoirs in eastern Nebraska to angling provided a unique opportunity to assess this relationship. Lake Wanahoo and Prairie Queen Lake were stocked and allowed to develop without angling for several years prior to opening. Thus, we assumed that fish were naïve to angling. We hypothesized that learned hook avoidance would be more prevalent in release-oriented than harvest-oriented fish populations, resulting in a more rapid decline of angler catch per unit effort (CPUE) for release-oriented species. At Wanahoo, we observed a marked decrease in the CPUE of release-oriented species, but we did not observe declines in CPUE for harvest-oriented fish. This suggests that individuals may develop learned behavior to avoid recapture and has strong implications for efficacy of management regulations and angler satisfaction. However, we did not achieve the same results at Prairie Queen, highlighting the complexities of the system and the need for continued research.

3. Quantifying the Effect of Fish Personality on Fishing-induced Learning. Fish populations display reduced catchability over time in catch-and-release fisheries, suggesting that individual fish have the ability to learn to avoid capture. We investigated the effect of a fish’s personality on its ability to learn. Behavioral tests and repeated fishing trials were conducted in a laboratory to determine where an individual falls along a boldness continuum, and if certain fish personality types are better able to learn to avoid a lure. Fish offered a worm on a hook-less wire increased their probability of taking the worm over the seven-day fishing trials. Fish offered a worm on a simple hook displayed a decreasing probability of capture over time, and fish offered a worm on a lure started out at a lower probability of capture and also showed evidence of decreasing probability of capture over time. Learning ability did not differ between bold and shy phenotypes; however, bold individuals did demonstrate a greater initial probability of capture across treatments. Therefore, anglers may disproportionately affect bold individuals through angling activities.

4. Spatial Distribution of Angler Parties. Anglers must decide where to fish within a waterbody, yet most assessments of fisheries via angler surveys provide only whole–waterbody estimates of angler pressure. Angler distribution within a waterbody is not uniform, and if anglers are not randomly distributed, then anglers are selecting for factors within a waterbody. Behavior for anglers fishing from the shoreline was recorded for entire, individual, fishing trips, and behavior was compared to angler-perceived fishing objectives. Angler objectives had little influence on behavior, and behavior had little influence on outcome. However, anglers that failed to capture a fish were more likely to shift to a non-catch-related objective during their fishing trip. Further, ease-of-access had the greatest effect on angler densities. By measuring within-trip angler behavior and site choice, we may be able to more effectively manage recreational fisheries at greater scales.

5. Catchment dynamics in recreational fisheries. An angler’s mobile nature, driven by a desire to participate in angling, coupled with the seasonality of a year, creates assumed fluctuations in participation at a waterbody. Despite this, there is little understood about angler behavior, especially spatiotemporal participation dynamics on patch and ecosystem scales. We completed an investigation of creel survey data with regard to spatial and temporal dynamics of angler participation using social-ecological catchments (anglersheds) to quantify participation patterns. Patterns in angler participation at a waterbody can be linked to local, angler, and landscape attributes. The area of catchments varied across waterbodies, but was not dynamic through space or time. The goal of this research is to create a link between participation and resource use at the landscape scale to provide managers with a greater understanding of clientele, and to inform scientists about attributes that are potentially driving an angler’s decision to participate in recreational fishing.

6. Length-based Economic Assessment of Sportfish. Recreational fisheries are a unique industrial component to Nebraska’s economy. Anglers derive value in a variety of forms by taking part in recreational fisheries. Quantifying this value requires assessing individual angler’s willingness-to-pay to capture a fish and for each successive capture. Anglers also express unique preferences and motivations. Thus, we correctly predicted angler’s willingness-to-pay to vary widely for different angling-trip outcomes (i.e., species and size). We used a length-based valuation framework that generalizes the preferences and motivations of Nebraska anglers across a variety of sociological metrics. This assessment provided a length-specific value of captured sportfish (channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and walleye) stratified across Nebraska’s angling groups.

7. Moral domains of anglers. Cross-participation of outdoor recreational activities is increasingly being studied within the context of participation and recruitment efforts. We hypothesized that perceptions of legitimate use of fish and wildlife would be predicative of the types of activities in which recreators choose to participate. We limited the study population to Nebraska anglers and assessed whether their position on the moral-extensionalism continuum would be predictive of their reported alternate activities. Anglers who also preferred to participate in hunting were dominated by the anthropocentric position on the continuum. Similarly, non-consumptive outdoor activities were dominated by the pathocentric position on the continuum. The results of this experiment suggest that certain individuals may be predisposed or restricted to certain outdoor activities based their environmental philosophies and perceptions of the use of wildlife.

Project Website
Fish Hunt
Ten pound Northern Pike at Lake McConaughy, Nebraska. Photo: Logan Dietrich
Ten pound Northern Pike at Lake McConaughy, Nebraska. Photo: Logan Dietrich
Angler with 37 inch Wiper at Lake McConaughy Nebraska. Photo: Logan Dietrich
Angler with 37 inch Wiper at Lake McConaughy Nebraska. Photo: Logan Dietrich
Principal Investigator(s)
-Kevin L. Pope
-Christopher J. Chizinski

Research Assistant Professor(s)
- Mark Kaemingk
Graduate Student(s)
-Nicholas Cole, Ph.D. (2018)
-Olivia DaRugna, M.S.
-Alexis Fedele, M.S. (2017)
-Brian Harmon, M.S. (2017)
-Alexis Park, M.S. (2017)
-Christine Ruskamp, M.S. (2018)

Project Duration
January 2014 - December 2018

-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Project Location
Statewide Nebraska