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Leier: The future of fishing

Doug Leier

Recently, a friend asked me how I see fishing in the future.

Since my approach to fishing probably fits more in 1983 than 2013, and for sure what fishing may be like in 2033, I really struggled to envision the way fishing would look years from now.

What I can do is look back on how I've seen fishing change over the course of more than three decades in North Dakota, and look for more positive improvements to come.

I don't know that anyone could have predicted 30 years ago that fishing as a whole could be substantially better in 2013 than in 1983. But it is.

While technological advances in rods, reels, line, artificial baits, boats and motors, and fish-finding electronics might serve to improve fish-catching success on any given day, there are a number of other factors involved.

First off, in 1983 the State Game and Fish Department's magazine, North Dakota Outdoors, listed 143 fishing waters in the state. Today, the number of managed fishing waters is about 400.

We can thank Mother Nature for that.

A wet cycle that began in 1993, and is still with us, is responsible for providing all that extra water on the landscape capable of supporting fish life.

Another significant factor is the Wallop-Breaux Amendment, passed by Congress in 1984, which expanded the list of items included under the federal excise tax on fishing equipment. Wallop-Breaux also provided for additional funds to states from federal gasoline excise taxes attributable to motorboats and mandated that states spend at least 10 percent of the apportionment on boat access.

In North Dakota, this new money available to states allowed for the Game and Fish Department to partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on expanding the fish production capabilities at Garrison Dam and Valley City national fish hatcheries. Today, that means the state can distribute 9 million walleye fingerlings later in June, as well as several other fish species, to supplement all those new waters in the state.

In 1986, with additional dollars for boat access, Game and Fish poured its first concrete boat ramp. Today North Dakota has several hundred quality ramps and, in addition, has many waters that have accessible fishing piers and popular fish cleaning stations.

Technology has also given us web-based contour maps and stocking reports available for planning at the "old" desktop computer or modern smartphone 24 hours a day.

Better access over the past few decades has led to an increasingly mobile boating community and that, unfortunately, has increased the potential for the spread of aquatic nuisance species.

When I started my career in the natural resources field, I'd never heard a reference to aquatic nuisance species. Sure, carp have been around for decades, but now we have more problems with invasive species such as Eurasian water milfoil and Asian carp that have arrived in North Dakota, with zebra mussels likely on the way as the latest threat to waterways and fisheries.

It's a safe bet these concerns are with us for the foreseeable future. How the people who fish and boat in North Dakota -- both residents and nonresidents -- embrace new laws designed to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species will have a major influence on what the fishing scene will look like 20 years from now.

As for the future of fishing, if the next 20 years are like the last 20 years as far as precipitation, we could have even more viable fisheries than we do today. If the opposite occurs, we'll have fewer lakes.

And some days the fish will bite, and some days they won't.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. Email him at