Fish populations on the reboundThe fish population in Lake Sakakawea appears to be on the rebound thanks to a revived reservoir after years of drought in the Missouri River basin, according to a biologist.
By: Associated Press, The Dickinson Press
RIVERDALE — The fish population in Lake Sakakawea appears to be on the rebound thanks to a revived reservoir after years of drought in the Missouri River basin, according to a biologist.
“It looks like our early spawners did very well. Quite exceptional, it looks like,” said Dave Fryda, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist stationed at Riverdale.
Northern pike and yellow perch are the earliest spawning game fish in the big lake. Biologists had hoped those two species would take advantage of vegetation that began flooding as Lake Sakakawea began to rise late last summer. The rise continued this year, and test nets found big improvements.
Pike reproduction on the lake this year is the second-highest ever documented, with solid data going back nearly 40 years, and perch reproduction is the best in at least 12 years, Fryda said.
A large number of sauger also turned up in nets this fall for the second straight year.
“Sauger are a native, big river species and we’ve had good flows down the Yellowstone (River) the last few years,” Fryda said. “Last year was almost a record year for sauger reproduction and this year they were again well above normal.”
The news is a sharp reversal after several years of low water hurt the fishery. Biologists stopped stocking walleyes, citing a lack of forage and the emaciated appearance of many adult fish. Whopper-sized fish became increasingly rare.
“The condition of our walleyes has turned around and we’re getting conditions where reproduction will kick in, Fryda said. “Nature can add a lot of walleyes to the system.”
High water also has led to a significant increase in fish used for bait, meaning the Game and Fish Department could resume artificial stocking of walleyes in the lake next year.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve got the forage,” Fryda said.
“We’ve finally turned the corner on everything,” he said. “Hopefully we can stay the course. Next spring we should be sitting good for water levels.”