Brad Dokken / Forum Communications Co., Published May 06 2012
Fishing propspects favorable across North Dakota
On Devils Lake, Randy Hiltner, northeastern district fisheries supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the big lake holds high numbers of walleyes 14 inches and smaller from recent strong hatches. Those fish might be too small for the frying pan, but populations of 15- to 20-inch walleyes are in line with 20-year averages, Hiltner said.
He said Game and Fish crews also have seen 10- to 12-pound female walleyes this spring in the trap nets they set to collect fish eggs for state stocking programs.
“We essentially have walleyes of all sizes,” Hiltner said. “Our adult fish are spread a little thinner due to the wide lake expansion the last several years.”
Hiltner said a series of weaker hatches from 2003 to 2005 also contributed to fewer walleyes approaching 20 inches. “Those year-classes were kind of sandwiched between stronger classes on either side and later, so there’s a dip in population for those years.”
White bass remain abundant but trending downward, he said, although the quality should make up for any declines in quantity. “There should be some really big white bass out there for anglers to catch this year – 2- to 3-pounders and beyond,” he said.
Perch and pike numbers on Devils Lake also are up, a trend that’s apparent across the state.
Greg Power, fisheries chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said high water conditions in recent years have benefited most species.
“Pike and perch are only going to get better,” he said. “I’d even say walleye – especially on our small lakes.
“So many of our managers have shifted gears and found that walleyes work” in smaller lakes, he added. “I think more than anything, we’ve got 5 to 10 more feet of water so the winterkill issue isn’t nearly as concerning as it was in the past, and walleyes are making it through the winter.”
Walleye fishing this spring on the Missouri River has been spectacular, at times, and Power said he’s heard reports from anglers who said it took longer to launch and load their boats than it did to catch a limit of walleyes. Forage abundance in the river – especially smelt – is down after last summer’s flooding and the fish are hungry.
“Given the forage issues out there, some aggressive harvest probably isn’t a bad thing,” Power said.
Fisheries crews this spring have observed strong smelt runs on Lake Sakakawea, Power said, especially from Van Hook upstream. That’s encouraging after widespread reports last summer of smelt being washed through Garrison Dam during the flood.
Smelt are a major forage species for walleyes and other predator fish in Sakakawea and elsewhere on the Missouri River system. Their numbers declined during several years of low water in the reservoir, and anglers reported catching walleyes that were skinnier than Sakakawea traditionally produced.
As water levels recovered, so did smelt populations. Now, Power said the impact of smelt being washed through Garrison Dam remains “the $100 million question.”
“If the smelt are back – and so far this spring, it’s looking good – and the predator fish are in great shape, we’ve really done a 180 there in about five years,” he said.
Sauger populations in the middle and upper reaches of Sakakawea also are in great shape, Power said.
Brad Dokken is the outdoors writer for the Grand Forks Herald