Doug Leier: Amazing run of prairie fisheries continues in North Dakota
I have been typing and talking about the epic expansion of fisheries in North Dakota since the current wet cycle began in the early 1990s.
Since this fortuitous natural phenomenon began 25 years ago, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists have stocked millions of walleyes into more than 50 prairie fisheries that now cover more than 61,000 acres. Many of these waters had no fish when the wet cycle first started.
And just when it might seem like all the waters that could possibly have potential have already been tapped, the November 2018 issue of North Dakota “OUTDOORS” magazine tells us this amazing run might not be finished yet.
“Right now, we have about 15-20 new lakes that have been stocked in the last two years,” Scott Gangl, the Game and Fish fisheries management section leader, said in the November magazine. “The walleyes in those waters aren’t big enough to advertise to anglers just yet, but they’ll get there.”
Gangl went on to say that many of the fish in those inactive waters (not publicly advertised) at this time by fisheries managers have yet to reach a catchable size, about 14 inches, desired by anglers.
“Anglers are pretty good about prospecting and the word on some of these lakes will likely get out before we deem them active,” Gangl said. “We just don’t want to send people to lakes where they are just going to catch 8-inch walleyes.”
Gangl said walleye stocked in these prairie lakes do well because of a combination of forage and habitat. In some waters, fish reach harvestable size in just two years when three to four years is typically the norm.
“A lot of these lakes are pretty shallow, warm up quickly in spring and have a longer growing season in comparison to North Dakota’s much deeper and larger waters,” Gangl said. “They also have a lot of forage. Combine abundant forage and the habitat and these fish are growing quickly. Sometimes they surprise us in how fast they grow.”
Because many of these prairie lakes are loaded with fathead minnows, Gangl said fisheries biologists have learned that the best option for creating a fishery in a short amount of time is by stocking walleyes.
“If there were no other fish to compete with, we may stock yellow perch, which thrive on aquatic insects and scuds,” Gangl said. “If a lake is full of fatheads, then walleyes, a better predator, are the better choice.”
Pike are also a stocking choice in these fathead-rich environments. “But in North Dakota, the demand is for walleye,” Gangl said. “That’s what the majority of anglers prefer.”
While anglers wait for the newest of the new prairie walleye fisheries to become active, that same article also lists many ice fishing opportunities across the state on lakes that are at or near their peak right now. The best place for more information is the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.