Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Great ice fishing expected in North Dakota

By John Pollmann

Contributing Writer


Excellent water conditions and healthy fish populations have fisheries officials in North Dakota expecting a strong ice-fishing season this winter. 


“Our fishing lakes across the state, in general, are in good to really good condition. There are lots of opportunities, and in the next couple of years it probably is only going to get better,” says Greg Power, North Dakota Game and Fish fisheries chief. “In particular the walleye lakes – that’s where there’s going to be a lot of interest. There are a lot of catchable-size fish out there, especially in the prairie lakes.”


Abundant moisture in 2019 helped replenish water levels in lakes across North Dakota, and although those levels have dropped some in the past 12 months, Power remains optimistic that anglers will have few problems accessing lakes.


“Access should be good unless we get some blizzards, and it’s important to just be able to get onto the lake,” Power says.


A mild month of November allowed some larger lakes to remain ice-free, but colder weather this week has added ice to many water bodies. When North Dakota’s popular lakes do freeze, Power expects that the number of anglers out on the ice will be above average.


“I think this upcoming winter we’re going to see more people ice fishing,” Power says. “If it stays as an open winter, we might have a record number of people ice fishing. Our license sales are strong.”


Among the top destinations for ice anglers this winter is Devils Lake, where NDG&F fisheries biologist Todd Caspers said anglers will encounter average walleye numbers.


“Anglers have probably kind of noticed there’s fewer of those 15- to 20-inch-type size of walleyes. That kind of goes back to the lower year-classes we had back in 2013 and 2015,” Caspers says. “So where there weren’t as many of them to start with, there aren’t as many of them years later when there are those nicer-sized fish.”


Caspers says that anglers are more likely to hook into a 12- to 15-inch walleyes because of better production in more recent years.


Northern pike abundance on Devils Lake is down in comparison to several years ago, Caspers says, but there should still be good numbers in the lake. 


In terms of perch, Caspers says that the action for the popular panfish probably will be similar to last year, when anglers found good numbers of 8- to 10-inch fish.


“There’s not a whole lot of those real jumbos out there right now,” he says.


It is a similar outlook on Lake Sakakawea, which tends to be one of the final bodies of water to ice over and provide hard-water opportunities for anglers, typically freezing by late December or in early January.


Dave Fryda, Missouri River systems manager, reports that the overall walleye abundance in the reservoir is “pretty good,” although the numbers are down somewhat compared with recent years, which featured some of the highest walleye abundance since the Garrison Dam was constructed.


“This summer, we did see a little moderation, especially in the mid- to upper portions of the reservoir, and especially with bigger fish,” Fryda says. “The lower end of the reservoir still looks really good. Part of that is with the declining water levels, we’ve seen a shifting of the population somewhat.”


Lake Sakakawea remains one of the top spots for ice anglers who want to target trophy northern pike, Fryda adds.


“There are still good numbers of pike in the system. We are trending down, over the last decade, living off some really big year-classes from that 2009 to 2011 era,” Fryda says. “So those fish are slowing dropping off, but a lot of those are real trophy-sized fish at this point.”

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