Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota is a special place.
This reservoir on the Missouri River was one of the country’s premier walleye fishing destinations in the 1980s and ’90s as a lot of big walleyes drew anglers from near and far. A series of low water years, however, led to a decline in the numbers and size of the fish. Now, however, the water is back, and so are the walleyes!
At boat shows last winter, Jason Foss, a Garrison, North Dakota, resident and co-owner of North Country Marine and Motor Sports in the city, kept telling me of the great walleye and sauger fishing he has experienced on Sakakawea in recent years. Eventually, plans were made, and recently, I headed west to join Jason on the water chasing walleyes.
Our first day on the water was hot! Temperatures soared near 100 degrees, but what hampered our fishing efforts more than the heat was the lack of wind we experienced. As is the case on lots of good walleye fisheries, flat, calm conditions often mean lethargic, inactive walleyes.
Jason told me we were experiencing one of those rare calm days that don’t happen too often in central North Dakota. Though our day one fishing was somewhat slow, at least by Sakakawea standards, we still put several fish in the boat including a fat mid-morning walleye in the 26-inch size range that was fooled by the nightcrawler Jason fished behind a bottom bouncer.
By early afternoon, however, conditions on the water were downright brutal and we took a break from fishing. Jason gave me a quick tour of the city of Garrison, including a stop at the North Dakota Fishing Museum and Hall of Fame, which is housed in North Country Marine.
We also saw the newly painted city water tower that depicts a fishing bobber and viewed “Wally the Walleye,” the 26-foot-long walleye located at the end of Main Street in the city park. With such attractions, it’s easy to see that Garrison takes its reputation as the “Walleye Capital of the World” very seriously.
Hoping to catch some more fish, we were back on the water early evening. We experienced a fast fishing flurry in the hour before dark, landing several walleyes in short order. The evening action had us anxious for day two.
We were back on the water at sunrise in the spot we’d left the biting walleyes the night before. We hoped our early start would yield a good low light bite, and the 10-to-12 mile per hour breeze we were greeted by also had our hopes up for a better day two bite.
We weren’t disappointed! Our first stop quickly resulted in several bites, with fish in the 17- to 18-inch size range ending up in the boat. Thinking maybe we could find some bigger fish where Jason had landed his big fish the day before, we headed to that spot. That move also paid off as several more fish came to the boat in short order, including a pair of fat 20-inchers that we landed within minutes of each other.
As hard as it is to leave a hot bite, I had other commitments on the schedule, and so we reluctantly put the boat back on the trailer mid-morning and headed home.
On the way home, however, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the great two days I had just spent. Jason is an excellent fisherman and all-around good guy. Plus, Indian Hills Resort offers fine lodging and sits nestled in the middle of some of the country’s most scenic landscape. The area has an Old West feel and offers the solitude that truly allows one to get away from it all.
The breathtaking landscape and good walleye action will certainly draw me back to Sakakawea. Plus, next time I am going to spend time chasing the numerous smallmouth bass and big northern pike the lake offers, as well.
If big fish in big country appeal to you, a trip to Garrison, North Dakota, might just be in order. To learn more about the entire Garrison area, visit www.garrisonnd.com. Information about Indian Hills Resort can be found at www.fishindianhills.com.
As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!