Leier: Overall ice fishing outlook appears solid
West Fargo - November for many outdoorsmen and women is a gradual transition from October’s ducks and geese into deer and late-season pheasant hunting.
But this year, the second week of November came with near-record cold and early ice that signaled dread for those who lament long Midwest winters, but probably warmed the hearts of many ice anglers who often are waiting until mid-December to get going on most waters.
And this year, there’s probably more reason that winter anglers are champing at the bit to get out on the ice. Spring, summer and fall fishing on many waters throughout the state continued to impress, and there’s every reason to believe good fishing will continue into the winter.
“Fishing in North Dakota continues to be record-setting on most all levels,” said Greg Power, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries chief. “A record number of fishing lakes has contributed considerably to the record number of fishing licenses sold in recent years.”
And if this fall’s fish reproduction surveys are any indication, the long-term outlook is good as well. Game and Fish fisheries personnel have wrapped up those annual surveys and sampling efforts for the open water season, and results point toward good conditions on the state’s big waters.
North Dakota’s three big fisheries – Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe/Missouri River and Devils Lake – continue to account for approximately half of the annual statewide fishing effort.
Good habitat and forage conditions in Lake Sakakawea have produced an abundance of rainbow smelt and other alternative forage, which in turn has contributed to excellent condition and growth of game fish. Walleye numbers are high, and recruitment of several strong year-classes in recent years bodes well for the future. In addition, a good population of northern pike should produce some of trophy quality.
Overall health of the Devils Lake fishery remains good. Walleye are abundant, and anglers fishing for walleye this winter should expect fish of similar size and numbers compared to recent years. Northern pike are still plentiful with a nice average weight of about four pounds.
The number of catchable-sized perch available will likely be down from 2013, but still should be considered good. Surveys suggest anglers will notice fewer of the large 12-14 inch perch this winter.
The Missouri River between Garrison Dam and Lake Oahe is still under the influence of habitat changes caused by the flood in 2011. Walleye numbers remain low, and walleye reproduction and forage fish production have been poor in recent years. However, the outlook has greatly improved in Lake Oahe, especially near the South Dakota border where recovering forage populations have led to improvements in walleye condition and growth. In addition, northern pike are in good shape, with many of trophy size.
While these waters consistently generate the majority of fishing activity, most anglers have realized the small lakes, sloughs and reservoirs have exploded the past 20 years and almost seem to get better every year. Fact is you’d be hard pressed to convince even the most pessimistic North Dakota angler that fishing over the last five years has ever been better.
If you don’t believe me, check out the Game and Fish Department website fishing pages. You’ll have access to recent stocking reports, along with access information and available amenities as well.
It’s impossible to say where the hot spots or best bets are from day to day, but it looks like this year we’ll have an extra month or so to find those areas.
So make sure the ice is safe, and go fish.
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