Growing up in North Dakota in the 1980s, the number of fishing waters dotting the landscape was less than half of the 400-plus waters today.
The quality of our fisheries, while fewer than some other states, is certainly worth bragging about. I remind anglers when the rod tip is bouncing, or the fish is frying, the scenery surrounding the water doesn’t matter.
A quality fish is a quality fish.
It’s the same mentality North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries crews carry in working to maintain and enhancing fishing opportunities in our neck of the Northern Great Plains.
An example: Rising water levels this spring created a unique challenge for fisheries crews to safeguard a lake in south central North Dakota that has long served anglers well. The challenge to stop the upstream migration of unwanted fish species into Rice Lake was met with a combination of North Dakota nice (cooperative landowners) and North Dakota smart (ingenuity).
According to Paul Bailey, Game and Fish Department south central district fisheries supervisor: “When Rice Lake in Emmons County met its natural outlet this spring, the lake was connected, via about a 30-mile drainage, to Lake Oahe. And that provided an avenue for a bunch of different fish species in Lake Oahe to make their way into Rice Lake. It’s got northern pike, yellow perch, and is especially known for its walleye population in recent years.”
A combination of weather factors forced Rice Lake to reach its natural outlet for the first time since European settlement in North Dakota. Bailey said Rice Lake hit one of its recent lows in fall of 2008, making it about 20 feet lower than it is today.
Common carp, which tend to swim longer distances upstream and could have easily maneuvered into Rice Lake, if not for a drop structure built in spring on private land to halt the upstream invasion. Water started flowing out of Rice Lake’s natural outlet the last week of March and the drop structure was put in place the first week of April on land owned and operated by Dale Nieuwsma and Duane Nieuwsma downstream of Rice Lake.
“Rice Lake hits its outlet and flows very gently, not losing a lot of elevation for the first several miles,” Bailey said. “So, we’re fortunate to have this half-mile-or-so stretch that offered a little steeper gradient where we could install a drop structure. We’re very fortunate to have Dale and Duane Nieuwsma, who were willing to let us conduct this project on their property. Without landowners like these, these projects simply cannot be done.”
Dale Nieuwsma was born on the property in the early 1950s and has never seen the water this high.
“It was just determined a few years ago that Rice Lake would run over this direction, but nobody really knew where it would come,” Dale said. “It was actually early spring that Paul (Bailey) contacted me and we knew there was going to be a problem. If not for the structure, my dugout (for the cattle on the property) would’ve been gone. The drop structure was just a good idea … it helped us both.”
Sure, it’s just one lake, but it’s an example of how North Dakota anglers, biologists and landowners will work together to maintain and enhance outdoor recreation.