Doug Leier, Published November 19 2013
Leier: Weather's effect on fisheries not as dire as expected
The weather also influenced North Dakota wildlife, particularly upland game birds, which experienced a relatively poor reproduction year that State Game and Fish Department biologists partly attributed to a delayed start to the nesting season and cool, wet weather early on when nesting did start.
A big question mark for fisheries biologists until just recently was how the weather affected fish reproduction, with ice out on many lakes occurring weeks later than normal.
“It looks better than we expected,” said Scott Gangl, Game and Fish Department fisheries management section leader, after the annual fall fish reproduction survey was completed. “Our biologists have been seeing some pretty good numbers of young-of-the-year yellow perch in lakes statewide, signaling some good reproduction this year. This was especially true in our larger lakes that traditionally provided a perch fishery.”
Devils Lake and Stump Lake reported excellent numbers of young-of-the-year yellow perch. Reports also indicated good numbers of young walleye in the upper reaches of Lake Sakakawea, and fair to good numbers of perch on the east end of the lake.
Reproduction was poor for most fish in the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, which are still recovering from the forage losses during high water in 2011.
“We found some shad and decent numbers of white bass in Oahe,” Gangl said. “This was our second year in a row of stocking shad in Oahe, so it’s nice to see some reproduction of those alternate forages. The sport fishery will have a difficult time recovering without that forage base.”
On another note, Gangl said fisheries biologists are seeing good survival of walleye stocked around the state in North Dakota’s smaller waters.
“There were also fair numbers of young-of-the-year pike,” he said. “While we initially didn’t know what to think of the late spring, it apparently was good for fish.”
And while the initial fisheries assessment is known, more questions remain across the fields and prairies.
For instance, how will later production affect pheasant grouse heading into winter, with many young birds a few weeks behind in their typical growth patterns. Will they be as ready to cope with the onset of winter as they would be in a “normal” year?
The hope is that winter is slow to arrive, light in impact and quick to leave. So far, November hasn’t been all that warm, but at least it hasn’t produced a major snowstorm yet that will linger on the landscape until next spring.
While that’s the hope of hunters, biologists and wildlife managers, a lot of ice anglers are waiting patiently to start their pursuit of North Dakota’s historically high fish populations. They wouldn’t mind a few nice freezing stretches to start making ice for safe fishing conditions.
Since I’m already on the topic of winter, it’s not too early to start planning for next year, and a great way to get going on that is with the Game and Fish Department’s annual North Dakota Outdoors calendar, the source for all hunting season and application dates for 2014. Along with outstanding color photographs of North Dakota wildlife and scenery, it also includes sunrise-sunset times and moon phases.
The calendar is the North Dakota Outdoors magazine’s December issue, so current subscribers will automatically receive it in the mail.
Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Leier’s blog can be found online