Scouting a New Fishing Opportunity

Fifteen years ago I visited with a gentleman from the Nebraska Game and Parks.  He was popular in the area and was on the local TV news giving reports about the outdoors in Nebraska.  He also had an early morning radio program on Saturdays.  Great show, and I had the opportunity to ask some questions.

When Pam and I fish this river, this is what it will be all about.  

One spring at the Omaha Sports Show, there he was in the booth with the Game and Parks people of Nebraska.  You had to stand in line to shake his hand and get a question answered.  What a dream job he had.  Well, getting back to business,  I was always interested in the Missouri River and fishing for sport and game fish that we eat, other than carp (better known as sewer trout) by some and catfish.  The catfish are muddy tasting if caught around here.  I know a lot of people who like the carp that are scored.  My old Indian recipe for Carp is listed below.

Hank Huntington’s Carp Recipe

  1. Build a large fire in your back yard made from oak wood.  (This will irritate the neighbors)
  2. Let the fire settle down to coals.
  3.  Attach the carp fillet to a pine board not any bigger than the fish.
  4. Roast over the coals turning frequently
  5. When carp begins to flake remove from coals and board.
  6. Throw away the carp and eat the board.  (If you have a better recipe send it to me.)

My question was simple.  Is the Missouri River in our area good fishing for walleye, sauger, northern pike walleye and small mouth bass?  The answer was profoundly yes and the place to go is up to the Ponca State Park.  Located west of Sioux City, Iowa on highway 20 and 12, the state park has camping, swimming, and other outdoor activities for the whole family. It is a destination for people that enjoy the outdoors.  With a boat ramp onto the Missouri River, the waters run clear as the bottom is sand and there are lots of islands and bars on the river that hold fish.  He said go there and good luck.

Fifteen years later my wife and I, on a really nice day, decided to make a trip up the river to Ponca.  We are only 90 miles from Sioux City and another 40 miles to Ponca.  This is primarily interstate for us so it is an easy drive.

The park is situated on top of the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska. Ponca State Park is at the eastern gateway of the Missouri National Recreational River, a 59-mile section featuring the only non channelized section of the river along the border of Nebraska.

Towers of Time


Designated under the Scenic River Act in 1978, this section of river gives visitors a view of how the untamed river looked before the river was made into a channel for shipping purposes. 

The park is two miles from the town of Ponca. Both the park and the town are named for the proud Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. It was the famed Ponca Chief Standing Bear who fought and won the court battle to have the Indian declared a “person” under American law. His achievement won him a place not only in history but also the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

 Lewis and Clark passed through the area on their journey up the Missouri.The National Park Service has designated Ponca State Park as part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail.


The park is magnificent.  The overlook gives the viewer the opportunity to look way up and down the river.  It also gave us a good idea on how to attack this stream and find fish. 


The river is just beautiful as we look up stream. At home in Council Bluffs, the river is not nearly as wide and does not look as if it is moving as fast. 

Looking across from the look out you can see the width of the river.  As I stood and looked at this site, I was asking myself, “How am I going to fish this?”

Ponca State Park encompasses nearly 1,400 acres of heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland. The superbly scenic area offers park visitors all the amenities of a modern state park. Established in 1934, the first 200 acres were donated by local citizens, sponsored by the Ponca American Legion Post.

Giant Oak trees cover the hills and the landscapes


The dense woodlands offer a haven for many types of woodland wildlife.  White-tailed deer and wild turkeys often are seen throughout the area. Toward evening, the howls of coyotes and “who-who-are-you” of the barred owl echo through the hills. Red foxes, gray foxes (an uncommon relative of the red fox), bobcats, raccoons, opossums and other small mammals also occasionally are seen by visitors.

In spring, the woodlands come alive with sounds and sights of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April and early May), the park attracts both amateur and experienced bird watchers. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the highlights.

On top of a ridge looking out over the forest. 

The woodlands and prairie ridgetops burst into bloom from late April to early June. Among the most common woodland flowers are Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, Canada violet, blue phlox, columbine, waterleaf and white cicely. Prairie plants include yucca, shell-leaf penstemon, prairie larkspur, purple coneflowers, pasque flower and purple prairie clover. Native shrubs include gooseberry, wild plum, chokecherry, Eastern Wahoo, and buffaloberry.

Bur oaks are the predominant tree species at the park, but they are liberally interspersed with walnut, elm, basswood, Kentucky coffeetree and hackberry. Almost at the heart of the park is the “Old Oak Tree.” In 1964, this ancient specimen was officially aged at 320 years old. It was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

You walk down the steps to the left and there it is a really old oak tree. 

Pam in front of the Old Oak Tree.  The tree was enormous. 

On summer nights, the repetitious call of the whippoorwill and a chorus of tree frogs and crickets echo through the bluffs and canyons. Turkey vultures can be seen soaring overhead during warm summer days. In late June, snow-like showers of cotton from nearby cottonwood trees signify it is time to catch catfish in the nearby river.

In the visitor center hangs this magnificent picture of a bald eagle.  The eagles nest in the park. 

In fall, the skies are filled with migrating ducks, geese and other birds. In winter, the park is home to bald eagles, often seen roosting, soaring and now nesting along the river. Winter is also a great time to view a variety of hardy songbirds at the park’s bird feeders.

Boat ramp in the park is big.  We will be unloading into the current so there will have to be some finesse in getting the boat off the trailor and back on.  Hopefully, the live wells will be full of fish.  


Ponca State Park has 14 modern, two-bedroom, air-conditioned housekeeping cabins. Each has two double beds, bedding, towels for four, bathroom with shower, kitchenette and large screened porch. Kitchenettes are furnished with a range, refrigerator, cooking utensils, dinette, dishes and tableware for six. Lodging is normally available from late May through September, but dates are subject to change. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for two or more nights and will be confirmed with a deposit for two nights lodging.

Ponca State Park provides excellent camping. Paved electrical camp sites in two modern campgrounds with 30/50 amp electrical hookups. There are showers, picnic tables, fire pits, water spigots (not hookups); dump station, and playground. Modern facilities operate from April – October, weather permitting. Primitive camping is available year-round. To learn more about the park go to the following website. (


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Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank. 

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