Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is located twenty-five miles south of Valentine on Highway 83.
The refuge office is located on the northwest corner of Hackberry Lake, approximately twelve miles southwest of Highway 83 on road 16B. The office has information about the refuge as well as modern restrooms for the public. In 2001, boat access was improved on most of the lakes. All of the lakes except Willow Lake and Rice Lake have a gravel boat ramp.
The refuge is made up of more than thirty natural lakes, only nine of which are open to public fishing. Of the nine available, each lake has unique qualities that separate it from the rest. The refuge lakes range from Rice Lake, the smallest, which occupies forty-eight acres, to Pelican Lake, the largest, which spans over 798 acres.
These shallow but productive lakes provide excellent fishing for northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, bullhead, muskie, saugeye and carp.
Numerous master angler fish are caught from the waters of the refuge. The lack of fishing pressure and clear, fertile waters are the key factors in producing quality fish that come from the refuge year after year.
Along with the excellent fishing opportunities that await the angler on the refuge are numerous and sometimes confusing regulations. All of the State of Nebraska fishing regulations apply, including license requirements and bag limits. Boats are allowed, but only with non-internal combustion motors. Electric motors, oars, and paddles may be used. The possession or use of live or dead minnows is prohibited as well. Frozen or dead smelt is allowed.
The refuge waters are open from sunrise to sunset. No camping or fires are permitted anywhere on the refuge. However, camping is available at Merritt Reservoir, Alkali Fish Camp, and Ballard's Marsh. Each lake may have fishing regulations different from the others; carrying a current fishing guide is a good idea.
Many times, especially during the late spring and early summer, the fish in the shallowest lakes, such as Duck or Rice Lakes, are hard to catch. Move to the deeper lakes, particularly Clear Lake, which has several depressions and holes that reach nearly fifteen feet deep. The lakes are all relatively shallow, so summer vegetation hampers summer fishing.
While on the refuge, take time to enjoy not only the peaceful lakes, but also the beautiful scenery. Most times at the refuge, you may be the only boat on the lake. If not, always remember there may be an unoccupied lake waiting just down the road a couple of miles.
Most importantly, respect the regulations; they've been implemented for a reason and anglers consistently reap the benefits with quality fish. The next time you want to get away from the pressures of the world, consider the refuge. You never know … the next state record may be swimming in one of the lakes at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.