North Dakota doesn't have the anticipation of a walleye opener because fishing season is continuous, but Lake Sakakawea is looking like the go-to destination for North Dakota walleye fanatics this open-water season, biologists say.
"Sakakawea has a really good population of walleye, and the smelt population is booming-as good as it's been in a long time," said Scott Gangl, Fisheries Management Section leader for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. "So, given the fact that there are so many walleye in there, and they've been growing over the years and now smelt are there and they're really pushing, we're expecting really healthy size structure-really good numbers of large fish."
It might not be like the 1980s, when 8-pound-plus walleyes were almost routine on Sakakawea, but the odds of catching larger fish are going to be good, Gangl says.
"We're getting to the point where we're going to start seeing an uptick in our whoppers and some more nice fish coming in," he said.
Fishing on Sakakawea last summer was fantastic, at times, Gangl says, especially on the Van Hook Arm.
"It almost didn't make sense because there were so many smelt in the system," he said. "You wouldn't expect it to be that good. Sometimes, when fish are well-fed, they're hard to catch."
Springtime walleye action typically heats up first in upper reaches of the reservoir, where water temperatures warm up faster, Gangl says.
"As you get farther down on the lower end, the east end, that usually takes a little bit longer to warm up," he said. "Typically, that's a later in the summer bite as far as walleye fishing goes."
Devils Lake again will be a good bet for numbers of eater-size walleyes along with the occasional big fish, Gangl said.
With lake levels stabilizing in recent years, Devils Lake is reaching an equilibrium where forage and predator fish are coming into balance, he said.
"We have an overabundant walleye population, and we've seen some declines in growth rates the last couple of years," Gangl said. "Harvest isn't necessarily a bad thing there, and that's one thing Devils lake is known for is putting out a lot of fish and supporting a pretty good harvest, so I think we're looking to a good summer there again, too. There's lots of those good eater-size fish in that 14- to 16-inch range, and there's a few bigger fish in there, too."
• Game and Fish crews collected 223 quarts of northern pike eggs for state stocking programs last week, easily surpassing the goal of 150 quarts, Gangl said. Eggs were collected from Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea and the Little Missouri arm of Lake Sakakawea. Next up, crews will be setting nets to take eggs from spawning walleyes, Gangl said, mainly on Sakakawea.
• A "pretty significant" winterkill on Matejcek Dam in Walsh County came as a bit of a surprise to fisheries managers, Gangl said, given the 129.1-acre reservoir has a maximum depth of 40 feet. "The (dissolved) oxygen levels were really low, and that one usually doesn't have a problem," he said. Shallow lakes typically are most susceptible to fish kills resulting from low oxygen levels. Perch, pike and crappies are the predominant gamefish species at Mateczek.