By Nick Simonson
Southeastern North Dakota finds itself in a familiar spot heading into an ice fishing season which may have been jumpstarted by cold conditions descending on the region in this second week of November. As hardwater sets up, ice anglers will likely find good fishing on the area’s major destinations and plenty of other smaller lakes and fishable sloughs containing growing populations of walleyes and perch, with chances for other species through the ice as well, according to Southeast Fisheries District Supervisor BJ Kratz with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F).
“If we wouldn’t have gotten that little bounce that we did in May and June, we’d be in pretty tough shape; but as of right now we’re looking at 18-to-24-inches or so below what would be the high-water mark for the year set in June. So, everything should freeze up about like it did last year in terms of lake levels,” Kratz explains.
Lake Ashtabula will continue to be an improving fishery headed into winter with a diverse selection of species to fish for including some of the region’s biggest pike and walleye under the ice, Kratz details. Additionally, a growing perch population should provide good action for eater-sized fish and opportunities for good crappie fishing exist on the water as well.
Jamestown Reservoir boasts a good population of large crappies, despite a limited forage base; and fair walleye fishing for those willing to put in the time. Stemming from a large influx of water in 2011, the lake has not quite recovered to its previous levels of productivity, but still produces good fishing.
The bright spot of the major reservoirs in the southeastern district is Pipestem Reservoir, where just a few seasons ago a major winterkill wiped out most of the lake’s well-known crappie population. While those panfish have not rebounded yet, other species have filled the void and a very strong pike and perch population has come up over the past three years. Of note a growing walleye population provided excellent angling for eater-sized fish this summer and Kratz expects that resource to continue into the ice angling season as well.
“The walleye fishing was really unexpectedly good last summer, and a lot of folks were pretty happy and there’s a lot of that good 16-, 18-, 19-inch stuff out there,” he points out as the fishery adds to a strong pike and growing perch population, the latter of which boasted the highest young-of-the-year collection on record in this summer’s survey.
For those looking to explore the burgeoning walleye fisheries throughout southeastern North Dakota, now is the time to do it, as more than 25 lakes boasted walleye sampling rates of 10 fish per night net in the NDG&F surveys this summer. That level is considered by fisheries professionals to indicate excellent walleye populations for recreational anglers to pursue and points to fisheries which have come along way since the 1990s.
“Twenty-five years ago, we hardly had 25 lakes in the district,” Kratz jokes, hinting at the amazing expansion of waters available to anglers through the recent wet cycle and the stocking and management required to make the expanding lakes into viable fisheries.
Good opportunities for walleyes in the southeast district this winter will include Luick Lake, Alkali Lake, Lake Tewaukon, Kraft Slough, Trautman Lake and Mallard Marsh according to Kratz. Those along with others will likely provide more opportunities for walleyes through the ice than ever before in the history of the southeast fisheries district.
Additionally, yellow perch ice angling opportunities should continue to be strong throughout the southeast as stocked sloughs produce large fish over 14 inches and good numbers of them in the 9-to-12-inch range. Kratz expects South Hobart to join the bigger water to its north as a perch fishing destination, as recent sampling has shown more and larger perch than in past seasons, when NDG&F took stunted perch out of the smaller body of water to supplement area stockings elsewhere. Kratz also suggests the Brooks Complex near Cleveland, N.D. will hold good populations of nice-sized perch this winter for ice anglers.
Featured Photo: Perch remain a popular pursuit amid growing walleye waters in the southeastern portion of North Dakota, and this ice season should provide ample opportunities for both. Simonson Photo.