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Doug Leier: Fisheries chief Greg Power reflects on how North Dakota fishing has changed

A recent North Dakota OUTDOORS  magazine feature highlights Greg Power’s thoughts, insight and observations.

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Greg Power, fisheries division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, has seen a lot of changes in North Dakota fishing since he joined the agency.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

WEST FARGO – When Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries chief, started working for the agency, Jimmy Carter was president. To say he’s been in the mix for a long time is an understatement. It’s hard to find anyone with a better understanding of the modern-day history of North Dakota fishing, fisheries and aquatic habitat and issues. A recent North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine feature highlights Power’s thoughts, insight and observations.

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By Greg Power
Sometimes events of today don’t seem to be a big deal. But as time goes on, it becomes more and more apparent the event that occurred days, months or years ago really was incredibly momentous … a milestone, so to speak.

A retrospective look back in time is often needed to truly appreciate the significance of past events and their influence, good or bad, moving forward.

I started working for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in May 1979. In retrospect, it’s incredible that just a handful of activities, changes or events that occurred during a 10-year period between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, forever improved fishing in North Dakota.

Mid- to Late 1980s

Public boat ramps: The very first concrete public ramp the department helped fund was poured in 1986. In the years since, nearly 400 boat ramps have been constructed and now provide access to lakes and recreation areas scattered across North Dakota.

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Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery expansion: Understanding that there would be a future need for more walleye and northern pike fingerling production, as well as a home to raise more trout and salmon, the department funded a large expansion at the hatchery. Since the inception of the Garrison Dam hatchery, more than 245 million walleye fingerlings and 18.2 million trout (2 million pounds) have been shipped, much of this due to the expansion of the hatchery complex. This enlargement of the hatchery facility has allowed the department to stock Lake Sakakawea, Devils Lake and many of our new prairie lakes.

Early to mid-1990s to present

Precipitation and prairie Lakes: An incredible climatic change occurred in 1993 and continued throughout the 1990s (and in some semblance, continues to date). For the five or six years prior to 1993, North Dakota suffered from one of its many prolonged droughts. In terms of fishing waters, the state had few waters even prior to the drought, but by 1992, the number had dwindled to around 100 lakes.

But the summer rains of 1993 and many, many large precipitation events since, transformed North Dakota’s landscape to a waterscape. By the early 2000s, the number of fishing lakes neared 350.

These new lakes were created via rainfall and snowmelt that filled sloughs and meadows; in turn, tremendous new northern pike and yellow perch fisheries developed. Seemingly overnight, what once was a duck slough became a 20-foot-deep lake, thousands of acres in size. In time, through Game and Fish stocking efforts, close to 100 of these “new” waters evolved into walleye fisheries.

All told, the number of fishable waters today is at a record 450 and though there have been a few dry periods (such as 2021) since 1993, the trend of more and deeper waters continues.

Forecasting how North Dakota and its natural resources will appear decades from now is virtually impossible given our ever-changing world. Will it continue raining and keep North Dakota’s fishing lakes full? Only time will tell. But one critically important fact remains. If not for these milestone events that began 30-40 years ago, today’s fishing and catching in North Dakota would have a totally different and unimpressive look.

Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.
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