Smelt die-off not expected to impact walleyes on North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea

Smelt is a prime food for walleye, and the number of young and growing walleye in the lake is among the highest in decades. But the Game and Fish Department says there should be plenty of smelt to feed them despite the die-off. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

BISMARCK, N.D. — Adult rainbow smelt are dying off in Lake Sakakawea, but state wildlife officials and fishing guides say the problem appears worse than it likely is.

Smelt is a prime food for walleye, and the number of young and growing walleye in the lake is among the highest in decades. But the Game and Fish Department says there should be plenty of smelt to feed them despite the die-off.

The smelt population last year was estimated at 200 million – the highest in decades.

Most of the dead smelt show signs of a bacteria that has caused periodic die-offs since smelt were introduced into the premier walleye fishery in the 1970s.

The impact of the outbreak won’t be known until a summer smelt population survey, but Game and Fish isn’t overly worried.

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