For the first time in five years, a North Dakota angler has caught a confirmed zander in Spiritwood Lake, where the Game and Fish Department stocked the European walleye cousins in 1989.
Kyle Heim of Bismarck was fishing Spiritwood Lake near Jamestown, N.D., on June 6 when he caught the zander on a Lindy rig tipped with a leech in about 11 feet of water. The fish measured 27 inches and weighed 7 pounds, Heim said.
"I got the fish on, and I could see it, and it didn't look quite right," Heim said. "I was trying to figure out if it was a walleye or a pike. I knew it was big, whatever I had on. I got it closer and it was, 'OK, it's a walleye.'
"He was up by the surface and he rolled. I saw his head and I was like, 'No way, it's a zander.' Then it was pretty much nerves took over and grab the net. The fish wanted to make one more run, but I wasn't about to let that happen."
The Game and Fish Department stocked Spiritwood with 180,000 European zander fry and 1,050 fingerlings in 1989 but scrapped the program the next year because of concerns from neighboring states Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and the province of Manitoba, Herald archives show.
Native to Europe, zander are considered an exotic species in the U.S. and can weigh more than 25 pounds. And while rare in Spiritwood Lake, occasional reports do occur. The state record zander measured 32 inches and weighed 11 pounds, 3 ounces and was caught July 17, 2013, according to the Game and Fish Department's Whopper Club database.
Zander bear a close resemblance to walleyes, although the dorsal fin has different markings, and the lateral line is more pronounced. Heim said the zander he caught fought harder than a walleye.
"You look at the way they're built, it's like a walleye, but if you look closer, the fins are just so much bigger than a walleye fins," Heim said. "I suppose they're able to draw more power. It was cool."
Heim is having a Bismarck taxidermist mount the rare catch, which the Game and Fish Department confirmed is a zander.
"They did say there is a population present, and they reproduce successfully, but it's just a very small population," Heim said. "It's cool to catch one and have it be 27 inches and have it be kind of a trophy versus catching one like an 18-incher or something."