As Clay Whittlesey stood near the shore of a small water-retention pond in south Fargo and rattled off the different types of fish that had been stocked in it, something slurped an insect off the pond's surface.
"That was probably a trout," Fargo Park District's recreation director said. "Or it could have been a bluegill. There is really some good insect activity around this pond for the fish."
With comfortable suburban-style homes across the street and playground equipment nearby the setting is less than pristine, but Whittlesey is like a proud father when he talks about the fishing ponds in Woodhaven development. Stocked a year ago with rainbow trout, bluegills and largemouth bass, one pond has provided decent fishing for a year. Another pond, to the south of the one originally stocked, was stocked with perch last spring.
"It's turned out better than we thought it might," said North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist Gene Van Eeckhout of Jamestown. "Those ponds have exceeded our expectations."
The ponds, located just east of 45th Street South, are an attempt by the park district to provide fishing opportunities in residential areas of Fargo. Whittlesey worked with Game and Fish for about two years before 400 trout, 230 bluegills and 25 bass were stocked in 2006.
This spring, 250 more trout were stocked in the north pond and 750 perch were stocked in the south pond.
"This is something we've never had in Fargo," Whittlesey said. "The Red River is a tremendous fishery for catfish and other things, but this is a great opportunity for kids to be able to walk down the street in their neighborhood and try to catch a fish."
The park district doesn't track catch rates, but Whittlesey said informal reports indicate the north pond provided very good trout fishing last summer and some bluegills were caught through the ice in the winter. Usage peaks in June, when fishing is best and the weather is conducive to standing on the shadeless shoreline.
Trout Fest, a youth-oriented event held in early June, drew dozens of participants. They caught 11 trout.
"Being a hunter and a fisherman, I hope this takes off," Whittlesey said. "I love to see kids playing football and baseball, but hunting and fishing are activities they can do for the rest of their lives. My hope would be to get more kids involved in outdoor activities in addition to their regular sports."
The ponds have already been surprisingly successful, Van Eeckhout said, because the fish stocked last year appear to have survived the hottest part of last summer and the winter. Game and Fish biologists originally believed the trout wouldn't make it through the year because oxygen levels in the 8- to 12-foot ponds become so depleted during late summer and winter.
"Our biggest concern with these types of projects is water quality. Since these ponds are used for run-off, typically the water quality isn't the best and we worry about whether the water will carry enough oxygen through the summer to keep the trout alive," Van Eeckhout said.
Van Eeckhout said an aerator fountain installed in the north pond might have contributed to the fish's survival.
The park district hopes to experiment with the project for five years and evaluate its success.
"It's a great opportunity and we'll just let it run its course," Van Eeckhout said. "We may switch species to see if something works better. A lot is dependent on water quality, but as long as it works, we'll keep doing it. It's an easy thing to do."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580