Walleye are the most popular fish for a good share of North Dakota anglers, so it was good news when the State Game and Fish Department announced a couple of weeks ago that this summer’s walleye production effort hit record marks for both the number of fingerlings produced, and number of lakes stocked.
It wasn’t necessarily surprising news, though, as biologists from North Dakota Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been maxing out walleye capacity at both Garrison Dam and Valley City national fish hatcheries for several years, trying to keep up with the growing number of walleye lakes in the state.
I’ve written about the increase in North Dakota’s fishing waters on many occasions, and recently I saw some further statistics that provide a little more perspective. Since I started working for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department about 20 years ago, the state has developed 63 highly productive natural walleye lakes of greater than 200 acres, totally more than 65,000 acres.
More than half of those waters—35 in all totaling more than 20,000 acres—have come online since 2012.
That brings the state to a record 150-plus walleye lakes, which were stocked with more than 10 million walleye fingerlings earlier this summer.
Jerry Weigel, Game and Fish Department fisheries production and development section leader, said this was made possible by record production of 10.4 million fingerlings at Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery.
“This is probably the most walleyes ever produced at a single hatchery anywhere in the country,” Weigel said. “Only one time in the past 20 years has 10 million fingerlings been reached.”
Valley City National Fish Hatchery also had a good year, shipping 1.7 million fingerlings.
“Talk about bumper crops,” Weigel said. “This was a great year for both hatcheries.”
While the 30-day old fish averaged 1.25 inches, the cumulative weight tallied nearly 8,500 pounds, which made for an intense couple of weeks delivering fish, Weigel added.
In total, 154 lakes and rivers were stocked in North Dakota, including Devils Lake (1.7 million fingerlings) and Lake Sakakawea (1.3 million). Some other waters to receive 200,000 or more fingerlings were Stump Lake (518,000); Lake Darling (461,000); Heart Butte Reservoir (320,000); Lake Ashtabula (305,000); Lake Audubon (234,000); Pipestem Reservoir (203,000); and Alkaline Lake (200,000).
One common observation Weigel noted while traveling across the state was the number of anglers fishing from boats and from shore.
“You now see boats and trailers in counties you never did before,” Weigel said. “We are fortunate to have the production capability at the hatcheries to adequately stock and maintain these fisheries statewide. Given all the new fishable waters across North Dakota’s prairie, there’s never been a better time to fish in the state.”
While Game and Fish has the capability to stock millions of fish in the state, fisheries biologists also operate on a well-defined plan for accomplishing this. Just “dumping in more fish” into a lake or river doesn’t necessarily create more fish, or improve the odds of catching bigger fish in coming years. Stocking strategy usually involves several factors, including fish habitat including depth of the lake, water chemistry, forage availability, existing game fish populations, winter kill issues and summer runoff potential.
Another important factor is developing some type of public access agreement to new fishing waters. Game and Fish does not stock waters where there is no plan for public access.
For a complete list of all fish stockings, visit the Game and Fish Department’s website at ” target=”_blank”>gf.nd.gov/fishing.