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Doug Leier, Published June 05 2012

Leier: Stocking, new waters increase opportunities for fishing in North Dakota

Fargo

If you’re into numbers, around 140,000 North Dakota residents were licensed to fish last year, and that doesn’t include all those under age 16 who don’t need a license.

Put in that context, the angling community in North Dakota is stronger in numbers than, say, the deer hunting community, which had just under 100,000 individuals apply for a deer license in 2011.

I’ve remarked often that the popularity of fishing and hunting at times is under appreciated by those who aren’t active participants. A few thousand people walking through the turnstiles and gathering in one location for a concert or sporting event in North Dakota turns heads.

But for the sake of comparison, though, it would take nearly six Fargodomes to seat all of North Dakota’s anglers.

It wasn’t always quite that way. The popularity of fishing has grown in North Dakota the past two decades. In 1992 about 94,000 residents bought fishing licenses, but since then, the number of managed fisheries in North Dakota has swelled, going from less than 200 to more than 350 primarily because of a prolonged wet cycle that started in summer 1993.

These relatively new waters aren’t just holding ponds on the prairie, either. They have fish in them – pike, perch and walleye populations that materialized in many areas that were previously shallow marshes or even dry lake beds that held deer and pheasants.

I’ll be honest with you. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department can’t take credit for the rain and snow that increased water levels and flooded vegetation and created optimum fish habitat conditions and allowed for natural expansion of fisheries.

But the fisheries crews from Game and Fish, coupled with unique cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its national fish hatcheries below Garrison Dam and near Valley City, have certainly lent a helping hand.

Stocking efforts serve as a shot in the arm in new waters that aren’t connected to a fish source, and stocking also maintains fish populations in lakes where natural reproduction either doesn’t occur or isn’t consistent.

Stocking is more than simply dumping fish into water. On a new lake, Game and Fish biologists evaluate water chemistry, depth, habitat conditions and other fish species present, particularly forage that will serve as a food source for game fish.

Public access to any new fishing water is also of primary importance. Game and Fish does not stock lakes surrounded by private land with no public fishing access. On the other hand, over the past 20 years Game and Fish crews have worked with dozens of landowners to establish easements for shoreline or winter access, plus boat ramps in many cases.

The goal is to provide or enhance public recreational opportunities.

Here’s a few other interesting bits of information related to stocking:

E The first walleye stocking in North Dakota was recorded in 1893 at Devils Lake.

E In 2010, Game and Fish Department fisheries crews stocked a record 11.5 million walleye fingerlings, besting 10.9 million in 1991. Altogether, 114 lakes and rivers were stocked with young walleyes.

E Difficulties related to flooding and cool spring weather in 2011reduced walleye stocking to 8.3 million. Walleye will be stocked later this month with the intention of stocking 10.2 million fingerling statewide. Northern pike stocking was completed in May with 2.3 million pike fingerlings stocked into 69 lakes and rivers across the state.

Game and Fish also works to establish or bolster perch lakes by trapping adult perch in lakes where they are abundant, and moving them to new waters.

While walleye and northern pike get much of the attention, Game and Fish also stocks crappie, bluegill, rainbow and brown trout, catfish, salmon, largemouth and smallmouth bass, tiger muskie, paddlefish, white bass and perch in 2011.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com