Here at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, we often talk about how the weather at various stages of the spring and summer influences upland game reproduction for the year.
On the flip side, weather can also influence fish production, and this year it looks like weather did indeed play a role in the number of northern pike and walleye Game and Fish biologists were able to stock in many lakes around the state.
While it wasn't a record year for the number of walleye fingerlings distributed around the state, it was still a good one, as Department fisheries personnel stocked nearly 10 million walleye fingerlings in more than 140 waters across the state.
"Considering not many went into Lake Sakakawea, this was one of the largest stockings of more than 8 million fingerlings into the smaller fishing waters across the state," said Jerry Weigel, fisheries production and development supervisor.
With more than 50 new walleye lakes in North Dakota, Weigel said the demand to stock these waters, along with the larger, traditional fisheries, has greatly increased the demand from the hatcheries.
The unusual spring and progression into summer did cause variable fish sizes, however. "We had some of the largest and smallest fish ever shipped, even though all were about the same age," Weigel said.
Conditions at the lakes at the time of stocking were very good, Weigel added, with some having newly flooded vegetation from abundant rain in June.
"They should find lots of food and good survival conditions, which bodes well for future fishing opportunities," Weigel said. "Valley City and Garrison Dam national fish hatcheries contributed to make this happen. Both hatcheries have been outstanding in helping address our demand for walleye fingerlings. It's a great time to fish for walleye. Statewide, there are a lot of opportunities, and a good chance of success."
While there was good news on the walleye production front, the late spring and fast warmup that followed was not conducive to a good year for pike production.
Fisheries crews had the latest start on record with the first pike eggs collected April 26 as a result of the late ice out. This put production on a fast track, with pike fry stocked into hatchery ponds much later than normal. The hatchery ponds then warmed up faster than normal.
When it came time to ship the growing pike, it was evident the food those young pike needed in had not had enough time to develop. As such, pike fingerling production was less than half of normal, resulting in only 50 percent of the 1.3 million fingerling goal being filled.
Obviously, anglers won't notice any shortage this year, and there's still plenty of time to get out and enjoy the fishing North Dakota has to offer before summer is over. With a short visit to the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, you'll likely find a place to wet a line that's just a short cast or two away from home.