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NDGF expect some lakes to have a fish kill caused by snow on ice

A winterkill is looking like a possibility for three lakes in western North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "It's a pretty good chance that the lakes susceptible to winterkill are going to winterkill this winter," ...

Carp washed up on the shores of North Dakota’s Lake Isabel in March of 2007 after what North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials called a major winter kill on the lake. Lake Isabel is located between Bismarck and Jamestown.(Forum News Service file photo)
Carp washed up on the shores of North Dakota’s Lake Isabel in March of 2007 after what North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials called a major winter kill on the lake. Lake Isabel is located between Bismarck and Jamestown.(Forum News Service file photo)

A winterkill is looking like a possibility for three lakes in western North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
"It's a pretty good chance that the lakes susceptible to winterkill are going to winterkill this winter," said Jeff Hendrickson, North Dakota Game and Fish western fisheries district supervisor.

Hendrickson said that the three lakes that will potentially experience winterkill in western North Dakota are: Odland Dam in Golden Valley County, Larson Lake near Regent and Davis Dam in Slope County.

While these lakes experience winterkill frequently, the last two winters have been mild enough for the fish to escape certain death by suffocation.

This winter has dropped around 38 inches of snow in the Dickinson area, which has left snow lingering on the frozen lakes and ponds over the past couple of weeks.

The snow that covers the lakes limits photosynthesis from occurring and, mixed with already low water levels, creates an opportune time for winterkill.

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While the snow will create water run-off when it melts, it's a silver lining of the impending fish deaths.
"It's a catch-22," Hendrickson said. "We kind of need the water because our lakes are getting a little low, but if we get it then we are going to have some winterkills."

Some fish can live longer with depleted oxygen, including bullheads.

Hendrickson said when oxygen levels reach below 1 ppm (parts per million) that is when he grows concerned about a potential winterkill.

After a winterkill that is't a total kill off, bullheads can over-populate the lakes, which can be a problem, according to Gregory Power, NDGF Fisheries Division Chief.

"When we do get a winterkill, and there are bullheads in the lake, we really like to see it be a complete winterkill versus a partial winterkill," he said. "If all of the game fish are going to die we would assume everything dies."

Winterkills make up the majority of fish kills in North Dakota. Some fish, such as bullheads, have evolved to survive with little oxygen while other fish, such as trout, walleye, bass and bluegill, are the first to usually die in a winterkill.

Currently, Hendrickson is going out to check the oxygen levels in the lakes in the area and said he is not too worried about Patterson Lake experiencing a winterkill-such as the one in 2009.

"There's going to be some winterkills," he said. "It's just a matter of where."

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Patterson Lake currently has 10 feet more water than it did in 2009, which should be enough to keep a winterkill from happening.

The winterkill at Patterson Lake that occurred eight years ago left thousands of fish floating at the Dickinson lake and a smell that lingered for weeks.

In the case of a large winterkill, like that one, Henrickson said they usually let nature takes its course with decomposition and predation.

One sign of an early winterkill is a rotten egg odor present. Henrickson said that ice fishermen can call in reports of a sulfuric smell, which is a good indicator of fish and plant life dying.

Odland Dam's last winterkill was in 2011, along with Larson Lake. Davis Dam has not had a winterkill since 2013.

Power said he anticipates that this year will be similar to five years ago when 50 lakes out of the 400 or so in the state experienced winterkill-the worst they have had.

He said he encourages people to report winterkills.

"When the ice does go off we do appreciate the public reporting a fishkill," he said. "Some of these lakes are pretty rural, and nobody may even get there, but we do need to know if they winterkill, so that we can restock it faster than we would otherwise."

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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