Located northwest of Lincoln in Lancaster County, Branched Oak State Recreation Area is one of the state’s most popular playgrounds. The park offers an array of outdoor activities.
Boating and fishing are at the top of that list. The park’s focal point is Branched Oak Lake, which is open to all types of boating. When I was there, fishing boats, pontoon boats, and jet skis were all out on the water. There are nine boat ramps and numerous docks scattered around the lake. A marina offers fuel, bait, food, and boat rentals.
Swimming is available on two beaches. The south beach was filling up quickly with swimmers when I was there on a Saturday around noon. However, there are no lifeguards.
Like most Nebraska reservoirs, Branched Oak attracts a lot of anglers. While the lake was about four inches above full pool in July, it hasn’t experienced the extremely high water levels that other reservoirs further west have this year.
“Channel, blue, and flathead catfish are all present in Branched Oak,” said Daryl Bauer of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “It is one of the few reservoirs in the state where all three catfish species can be caught.”
“Branched Oak has a good crappie bite every spring,” Bauer continued. “But then they head to deeper, open water and get tougher to find and catch during the summer.”
Bauer says there are also some large walleyes and wipers in the lake. “Special regulations are in effect on the wipers and flathead catfish,” he said. “All of them must be released immediately.”
“By the way,” Bauer added, “Branched Oak is probably one of the best reservoir flathead catfish fisheries in the world, and the catch and release regulation is a big part of the reason for that. There are flatheads in Branched Oak from six inches to 60 pounds!”
“There’s also a special regulation on walleyes,” said Bauer. “The daily bag limit is one walleye, and it must be at least 22 inches long.”
Besides the above mentioned fish species, the lake also holds a few bluegills, largemouth bass, common carp, and white perch. Check the 2019 fishing guide for specific regulations. A state park permit is required on vehicles entering the SRA.
The park also offers several miles of hiking, biking, and horse trails. There are 41 picnic shelters, three of which can be reserved, and 625 picnic tables and 588 grills!
For campers, there are over 300 pads with electrical hookups, and numerous pads and campsites without electricity. There are five shower houses scattered about the area.
Visitors can also bring their horses and stay in the special equestrian camping area which has 14 corrals.
For more details, including maps, fees, and reservation information, go to outdoornebraska.gov/branchedoak/ or call 402-783-3400.
Jarrod Spilger writes an outdoor column for The Independent.