North Dakota open-water anglers enjoying late season
GARRISON, N.D. — Don’t be in a rush to put the boat away on Labor Day. Nope. Not if you want to partake in some of the best fishing of the year.
A growing number of fishermen are fishing later into the season each year, the Minot Daily News reported. They’ve learned that late season, open water fishing can produce some of the biggest fish of the year and, if you pick your days well, some of the most pleasant days on the water, too.
Yes, fall fishing has it all. Hungry fish eager to fatten up before the inevitable winter, fall colors enhancing the look of the landscape and a serenity that adds infinitely to unforgettable memories of every outing.
Those fishermen who typically winterize their boats around Labor Day and put them away until the following spring may feel good about getting all in order before the first snowfall of the season, but they also miss out on some wonderful and enjoyable fall fishing opportunities.
“It really does amaze me how good fishing can be in the fall and how few people take advantage of it,” said Scott Gangl, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries management section leader. “I think people who don’t fish in the fall are really missing out.”
“It’s awesome and it’s fun,” said Jason Foss, Garrison. “There’s a chance of catching some of the biggest fish of the season.”
When an angler picks his days to be on the water, it’s not just a chance to get into some excellent fishing but to soak in some agreeable fall weather as well. Light jackets are often hanging over the back of boat seats in favor of short sleeves. Adding more appeal to time on the water is the number of boats: very few. There’s little chance of having to share a favorite fishing spot with a fleet of other anglers.
“I think the biggest lure for me in the fall, on all these different lakes, is there is hardly anybody out there,” said Jason Mitchell, Jason Mitchell Outdoors and Mitchell’s Guide Service of Devils Lake. “And it’s some of the best fishing of the year. You can always find a place to fish. It’s as good as it gets.”
Kerry Fines, Garrison, thinks so too. He fishes as many days a year as possible but relishes stepping into his boat in the fall.
“Nobody bothers you and you just have a good time,” remarked Fines. “That’s my way to fish.”
Walleye, pike, bass – whatever the fish, fall is the time they sense that winter is not too far away. Dropping water temperatures trigger changes in fish activity. Sometimes that means fish that have been in deep water during the summer months and hard for anglers to contact, make frequent forays into shallower water in search of food.
“They are just kind of putting on the feed bag. They start bulking up. Winter’s coming,” said Dave Fryda, NDG&F Missouri River system fisheries supervisor. “There’s just a sense of time to do it and sometimes fish are more accessible for anglers.”
“That’s the biggest thing, more than likely,” added Wade King, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist in Bismarck. “I think most fish are putting on feed for the winter.”
In the fall it is often a case of letting the fish come to the fisherman. It’s a big change from the summer months when fishermen closely watch their sonar for tell-tale arches indicating the presence of fish. When the water temperature begins to come down, say from a summertime high in the low 70s to the mid to low 50s in the fall, huge schools of baitfish, particularly on Lake Sakakawea, appear on fish finders.
Usually such schools are smelt that dwell in deep, cool water during the summer months. When the water cools the smelt can roam shallower water. Bigger fish, walleye and pike among them, follow the movement of the bait. It’s a perfect scenario for late season fishing success.
“The females are putting it on for egg production,” said Jason Lee, NDG&F district fisheries supervisor. “The forage gets to a size for extra nutritional value for predator fish, especially walleye and northern pike.”
Catch-and-release is a common practice for fall anglers, particularly when it comes to the catching of female fish laden with eggs. They are normally released back into the water in the hope they’ll have a successful spawn early next spring. However, catching a few smaller fish for the dinner table is common.
North Dakota’s State Parks has recognized the interest in fall fishing. On Lake Sakakawea’s east end both Fort Stevenson State Park at Garrison and Lake Sakakawea State Park at Pick City leave their docks in at boat ramps as late in the season as possible to accommodate those who wish to get on the water with ease well past the traditional boating season. The practice is much appreciated by those fishermen utilizing the lake in late season.
“We leave the dock in when the weather is still nice,” said Greg Corcoran, Lake Sakakawea State Park manager. “I think it’s the best time of the year and you are not fighting crowds either.”
While fishermen still enjoy trips on the water into the late season out of Fort Stevenson State Park, some campers follow suit too. They take advantage of a big reduction in those utilizing popular campgrounds during the summer months.
“I would say it’s a great time of year to be at any of the state parks,” said Chad Trautman, Fort Stevenson State Park manager. “Funny, those one’s we see in April don’t come during the summer. They don’t like the summer rush but they are here in the fall.”
Some just come for the camping. Some enjoy the cabin rentals. For some it is the fishing for big, aggressive fish. For all it is the opportunity to lengthen the season during the most scenic time of the year.