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Success brings new fish into new bodies of water

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Courtesy Photo North Dakota has a number of success stories regarding introductions of new fish species into new water bodies.

In the early 1990s I was attending junior college in Bottineau, and enjoyed many trips to other parts of the state to visit friends and relatives. It was a great time to explore different corners of the state around Bismarck, Fargo and Napoleon, but a couple of observations during that time are still vivid today.

One is driving through the town of Minnewaukan, on the west side of Devils Lake, and squinting to see any water to the east, toward Grahams Island State Park. Now, of course, Devils Lake water is creeping into and around Minnewaukan's city limits.

During the same time frame, but in a different location, I remember seeing a wall of alkali dust blowing off the dry east end of Long Lake near Moffit, whipped across the horizon like billowing smoke from an extensive prairie fire. Today, Long Lake's 20-mile-long basin is full as well.

As the water returned and expanded, we've literally found fish where there used to be pheasants as sloughs, lakes and reservoirs conquered upland and pike replaced roosters.

When it comes to fish movement, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department would prefer the natural expansion and not illegal introductions from random anglers acting as a sort of arm-chair fisheries biologists.

While fish have been introduced or stocked into many North Dakota waters for more than a century, there is a big difference between strategically planned introductions and illegal fish transfer.

North Dakota has a number of success stories regarding introductions of new fish species into new water bodies. Rainbow smelt into the Missouri River System, large and smallmouth bass into numerous lakes and reservoirs, and trout into many smaller impoundments are examples of past successful efforts.

As you can imagine, these introductions were planned and well researched, matching fish species with available habitat. Success was predicated on the fact that approximately one-half of the state's water bodies managed for fishing is reservoirs, and nearly all fishable waters in North Dakota have been altered by humans in one form or another.

Random and illegal introduction of fish into new waters can often cause irreparable harm.

As a result, the Department spent a lot of money and time, especially in the 1990s, killing undesirable fish -- and along with those the desirable ones as well - in a number of waters in an effort to remove white suckers, bullheads, stunted perch or other detrimental fish and start over.

Recently the state has put more regulations into place relating to fish movement and transport. The most recent of these made it illegal to transport any fish -- other than legal bait fish -- in water away from a water body.

Winter and summer, the primary purpose of this rule is to help reduce the potential spread of aquatic nuisance species.

However, this regulation also serves to reduce the temptation for those few misguided anglers who think it's a good idea to transport and intentionally or unintentionally stock fish into new waters.

High water in rivers and lakes across North Dakota has produced extensive and unprecedented damage to property, homes and disrupted lives.

On the other hand, sloughs that for years seemed nothing more than another dot on the prairie now harbor healthy pike or perch fisheries, and provide many new places for winter anglers to enjoy the fruits that nature has provided.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: Read his blog at