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'From the ashes'

Press Photo by John Odermann Following a tough winter, the majority, if not all, of the game fish in Patterson Lake died North Dakota Game and Fish officials said Wednesday. There is a silver lining, however, with high water levels the lake is poised for a quick comeback.

Jeff Hendrickson was hopeful the only carp and bullheads he'd see were on laying on the shores of Patterson Lake.

But following a netting survey of the lake, Hendrickson, the southwest district fisheries supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the carp and bullhead population is still healthy in the fishery southwest of Dickinson.

"It looks like we lost most of the game fish. There's still plenty of bullheads and carp," Hendrickson said. "Since we had to lose everything else it sure would have been nice if they would have gotten killed too.

"They're a rough fish we call them, they just take up space and eat food that otherwise game fish can eat and take up."

Terry Steinwand, the director of the Game and Fish, said it's going to be turning lemon into lemonade throughout the state this year with about 40 lakes having experienced severe fish kill.

Last year the Game and Fish had the opposite problem, plenty of fish in the water, but not much water. Hendrickson said the current situation isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"That's the silver lining," Hendrickson said. "We had some winterkills because we had a tough winter, but out of it we got our lakes filled up. That's North Dakota."

Along with existing lakes filling up with water, Greg Power, fisheries division chief for the Game and Fish, said there are a couple new lakes on the landscape, which are ripe to become new fisheries.

"The water gave us an opportunity that we didn't expect last fall," Power said. "A lot of new lakes that we really need to get fish into them right away because it's just the perfect growing environment."

But the new lakes won't be the only ones being aggressively stocked, Hendrickson said.

About 10 million fish have been ordered from the hatcheries the state uses to be stocked in over 100 fisheries throughout the state.

Patterson Lake, for example, will be stocked with 150,000 walleye, 140,000 black crappies, 100,000 northern pike.

"These are going to be fingerlings," Hendrickson said. "It's going to be three years before they're 14 inches, so there won't be any walleye or northern fishing for a few years."

In addition, Patterson will be stocked with 200 adult catfish that Hendrickson hopes will spawn in the lake and help manage the bullhead population.

Hendrickson said in the coming months that those fishermen that enjoy fishing for carp or bullheads should have at it in an attempt to keep their numbers down.

Steinwand said it's tough to see a lake like Patterson -- which had turned into a good fishery --winterkill like it had, but after a few years it could be back better then ever.

"You're going to lose a couple of years of recreational opportunity, but futuristically speaking, three years plus down the road it should be better than it ever was," Steinwand said. "It's kind of like the phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes-type thing."