As much as North Dakotans enjoy their home-grown local fisheries, the statistics show the big waters of Devils Lake, Sakakawea, Oahe and the Missouri River outweigh the others when it comes to number of anglers, fishing trips and hours of angling.

But the importance of these big waters to North Dakota’s overall fishing mix extends beyond their shorelines. Many of the walleyes anglers reel in from the state’s new crop of prairie lakes and other waters originate from one of the “Big Three.”

Over the years, Devils Lake and Lake Sakakawea have taken their turns at providing the walleye eggs that eventually become fingerlings stocked around the state, but in the last few years, Sakakawea has assumed that role.

“The walleye population in Sakakawea the last few years has been so good … lots of big fish, lots of fish of all sizes that are in really good condition,” Dave Fryda, Missouri River System coordinator for the state Game and Fish Department, said in the June 2019 issue of North Dakota Outdoors magazine. “When the condition of the fish is good, they produce more eggs and a better quality of egg. The walleye population in Sakakawea is phenomenal right now and it’s certainly our best option.”

Department fisheries chief Greg Power told Outdoors editor Ron Wilson that

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while other areas of Sakakawea attract spawning walleyes, the Van Hook Arm, Parshall Bay in particular, offers easy access and a bit of shelter for fisheries personnel. And more importantly, Power said, “Van Hook Arm and Parshall Bay has one of the highest concentrations of fish … this is the epicenter.”

The fish are not only attracted to the area because of creeks flowing into back bays and warming water temperatures, but because of the abundance of cobble substrate spawning habitat that walleyes need to reproduce successfully in the wild.

“We’ve certainly seen a growth in the number of walleye fisheries on North Dakota’s landscape in the last 10-20 years,” Fryda said in the article. “The vast majority of those fisheries get their start right here on Sakakawea because a lot of those bodies of water do not have natural reproduction. Sakakawea is in such great shape that it’s not only maintaining its own fishery, but driving other walleye fisheries across the state.”

In 2018, Game and Fish Department personnel stocked nearly 10 million walleye fingerlings in more than 160 waters across the state. This year, in a rather late walleye spawning run that took place starting the first week of May, Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff met the walleye egg goal of 450 quarts in just a few days.

Those eggs produced enough fingerlings so that by the time distribution efforts are wrapped up this month, the previous record of 12 million fingerlings stocked could be surpassed, said Jerry Weigel, fisheries production and development supervisor for Game and Fish.

Since the bulk of the state’s waters would not have any walleyes without stocking, having a reliable source of fish is an important factor in maintaining the current wealth of walleye waters.

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