It’s human nature to look for available information and tips when it comes to finding spots to fish and learning what might or might not work to catch them. Many anglers have invested much time and energy into essentially scouting and learning about a fishery.
Now, there’s another tool available for North Dakota waters that will add to maps, everything electronic, and word-of-mouth or online fishing rumors/reports.
In early December, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department started adding lake fish population survey data to its online fishing water information. This survey information is in addition to contour maps, fish species, driving directions and boat ramp and facilities already available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.
The surveys assess what species exist in a lake, and size structure and relative abundance of each species that allows for general comparisons of fish populations between lakes. The survey data is the same data that biologists use to make management decisions, and anglers might find it valuable for making destination decisions.
The Game and Fish website also includes a history of the fish stocked in every lake or river, which is especially helpful if you look back three or four years.
Jerry Weigel, Game and Fish fisheries and production section supervisor, said the department doesn’t have the personnel to survey all of the nearly 450 active lakes every year, but the majority of the more popular fishing waters are monitored annually.
To find this survey data on the Game and Fish website, look for the “Where to Fish” section under the Fishing tab. Each body of water that has a survey associated with it will have a link to a “Sampling Report.” Those with sampling reports also have a link to a more detailed fish length assessment of that water, and each water has an additional link to its historical stocking report.
Most of the surveys are based on what fish species are caught in a net over a 24-hour period. Nets are placed in the same general location and depth each year, during about the same time period in June or July, so there is a basis for comparison of data from year to year. Each fish caught in the net during that 24 hours is measured, and game fish are weighed.
An electro-fishing boat is used to survey species that are not readily caught in nets, such as bass and bluegill. Electro-fishing boats are also used in river where the current is too strong to allow use of nets. Electro-fishing timing and routes are also generally the same so comparisons from year to year are possible.
Keep in mind this data doesn’t directly equate to an angler catching more fish, bigger fish, or any fish for that matter. A lack of fish detected in a survey … be it a species or low catch, does not necessarily mean they are not there. The survey could have missed them that time around.
As the saying goes, that’s why they call it fishing.