Focus of North Dakota walleye stocking is on smaller lakes

(North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota wildlife officials are trying to boost the walleye population in new, smaller lakes that have popped up around the state during recent wet decades.

Game and Fish Department crews this summer stocked nearly 10 million walleye fingerlings in more than 140 bodies of water across the state. More than 8 million of them went into smaller lakes, due in part to the fact that the large Lake Sakakawea reservoir on the Missouri River doesn’t currently need many.

“When Sakakawea is at normal or higher lake levels like the last several years, it typically does very well on its own naturally,” said Jerry Weigel, the department’s fisheries production and development supervisor.

But there are more than 50 new lakes in North Dakota in which the walleye population is still getting established.

Though there have been periods of drought in North Dakota, including last year, since 1993 “we’ve had generally a very wet period,” said Greg Power, fisheries chief for Game and Fish. “A lot of these prairie wetlands that used to be hay land or duck sloughs, they’ve become 20- to 30-feet deep natural lakes.”

Typically, Game and Fish stocks more than half of the fingerlings that come from the national fish hatcheries at Valley City and Riverdale in Lake Sakakawea and Devils Lake, another large fishery.

“With all the new lakes we now manage, and most all being managed for walleyes, we have had a dramatic increase in need for these smaller waters,” Weigel said. “Many of these waters were yellow perch lakes to start out and now are being managed for walleye.”

Stocking conditions were good this year, with cool temperatures and in some lakes newly flooded vegetation due to rainfall.

“(The fingerlings) should find lots of food and good survival conditions, which bodes well for future fishing opportunities,” Weigel said.

Fisheries crews in the fall will sample lakes to see how well the fingerlings did and also gauge the success of natural walleye reproduction.

“It’s a great time to fish for walleye,” Weigel said. “Statewide, there are a lot of opportunities, and a good chance of success.”

That was in evidence in May, when Bismarck angler Neal Leier hauled in a state-record 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye from the Missouri River. The walleye record had stood for 59 years and was the state’s longest-standing fish record.

Evan Barker with Van Hook Guide Service said walleye fishing on Lake Sakakawea this summer has been “absolutely amazing.”

“We just released a 27-incher a few minutes ago,” he said during a phone interview from his boat.

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