RIVERS AND LAKES
Bois de Sioux River (412) – Southeast corner of state in Richland County. Good catfish and walleye populations. (No ramp).
James River (400) – Southeastern part of the state. Excellent shore-fishing opportunities where lowhead dams and bridge crossings congregate pike and walleye.
Red River (411) – Eastern edge of state. Excellent catfish, along with walleye and pike. Bigger catfish tend to be farther north. (Fishing pier).
Sheyenne River (397) – Southeastern part of state. Excellent fishing all along river where access permits. (Fishing pier).
Wild Rice River (409) – Southeastern part of state. Excellent fishing for walleye at crossings downstream from Lake Tewaukon. (No ramp).
Dave Fryda, Missouri River System supervisor, Riverdale
Looking back, winter of 2008-09 set the stage for one of the more dramatic recoveries of Missouri River System fisheries since Garrison Dam closed more than a half-century ago.
Three consecutive harsh winters, and an extremely wet spring in 2011, culminated in record runoff in the Missouri River basin. Reservoirs filled to capacity and releases from Garrison Dam were more than twice the previous record for much of the summer. Flooding caused
considerable damage to access sites throughout the Garrison Reach and access to the river was largely nonexistent during most of the summer.
Yet, once access was restored, fishing was excellent in late summer and fall. Great fishing continued into 2012, but the effects of the flood on forage and sport fish began to become evident over the last year. The Garrison Reach and Lake Oahe saw a dramatic decline in forage abundance and a corresponding drop in sport fish quality while Lake Sakakawea continued to prosper.
Overall, anglers will again find excellent opportunities to pursue a variety of species throughout the Missouri River System in 2013.
Lake Sakakawea/Lake Oahe – Sakakawea and Oahe’s pike populations expanded in the 1990s as a result of excellent spawning success, and then declined throughout the drought. This classic boom/bust cycle has again come full circle as the number of young pike produced in 2009 was the highest in more than 30 years. Pike abundance today is higher than ever in both reservoirs.
The population, however, is dominated by young fish and anglers looking for trophy pike will need to be patient for a few more years. In 2013, anglers will find large numbers of pike in the 6- to 8-pound range, with a few large fish in the mix.
Lake Sakakawea – Lake Sakakawea’s walleye fishery was very good in 2012 and could be even better in 2013. Improved forage conditions and a more balanced predator/prey ratio have allowed Sakakawea walleye to improve dramatically in body condition and growth rates.
During the mid-2000s, poor forage led to slow growth and the population was dominated by small fish. Fortunately, conditions improved greatly and those small fish are now growing to sizes desired by anglers.
Today, the population contains the third highest percentage of fish exceeding 20 inches. Additionally, the 2010 year-class was exceptional and has grown well. In 2013, anglers will begin catching this abundant group of fish in the 14- to 16-inch range.
Missouri River/Lake Oahe – The fishery downstream of Garrison Dam to the South Dakota border has been exceptional the last several years, but anglers will find a different fishery in 2013 than they have the last several years.
Fishing will likely be good in the coming year due to depressed forage conditions. However, anglers should expect to encounter far fewer large walleye and the catch will likely be dominated by small fish.
Upper Lake Sakakawea, Missouri River (above the reservoir) and Yellowstone River – A strong catfish population, with some fish exceeding 10 pounds. This is where anglers will find the best chance to catch a big cat in the Missouri River System. Anglers who target the area from Williston to the Missouri River and Yellowstone River confluence are generally quite successful during the open water season, and fair numbers of catfish are caught through the ice.
Lake Sakakawea – Good population of cats throughout the reservoir, but the best numbers and fishing success are in the upper end. Catfish abundance in Lake Sakakawea generally increased during the last drought and likewise began to increase again in 2012 due to declining lake elevations.
Garrison Dam Tailrace – Provides some good fishing for smaller catfish, especially in summer. Cats from this area are great table fare thanks to relatively cold water throughout summer.
Missouri River, south of Garrison Dam – Catfish are abundant in this reach, and good fishing often occurs around the mouths of tributaries and well upstream during good flow conditions.
Missouri River System – The Missouri River salmon fishery was greatly affected by high water in 2011, but recovered dramatically in 2012. Salmon fishing on Lake Sakakawea was exceptional last year, with an abundance of quality-sized fish harvested by anglers.
While habitat conditions and forage abundance remain good, the quality of the Lake Sakakawea salmon fishery in 2013 is unknown. Salmon stocked during the 2011 flood will be the dominant portion of salmon available to anglers in 2013. However, it is unknown to what extent those young salmon were flushed through Garrison Dam. High entrainment of adult salmon was experienced in 2011, but fishing still proved good in 2012. Hopefully, that trend continues this year.
Missouri River System – Lake Oahe typically has a much better white bass fishery than Lake Sakakawea. White bass, however, experienced a severe die-off in Oahe a few years ago and have not fully recovered. Natural reproduction was exceptional in 2009, but a large die-off of young bass was also reported. Overall, white bass abundance remains well below past levels.
Lake Sakakawea – Similar to northern pike, smallmouth bass abundance declined due to low water and poor spawning habitat. However, reproduction was exceptional beginning in 2008, and anglers have been encountering good numbers of fish in the last couple of years.
In 2012, anglers caught a high number of Whopper-sized smallmouth bass from Lake Sakakawea. Abundance and size of smallmouth should remain exceptional in 2013.
Garrison Dam Tailrace continues to produce trophy brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. Rainbow trout have done especially well, with good numbers of 5- to 10-pound fish caught by anglers.
The Tailrace brown trout fishery has slowed in recent years, but still contains world-class-sized fish. A 20-pound brown is always a possibility.
Cutthroat trout have not done quite so well in recent years. Following their initial boom in the early 2000s, the population has declined in numbers and quality despite continued stocking.
Randy Hiltner, district fisheries supervisor, and Todd Caspers, fisheries biologist, both Devils Lake
Devils Lake – Continues to support a large walleye population. Most of the fish are less than 16 inches. The past several years of excellent reproduction have produced many fish that are now 8-16 inches. Larger fish are available, but at lower densities than several years ago, partially because of low walleye reproduction from 2003-05.
Devils Lake’s walleye population continues to thrive, with significant natural reproduction and periodic small stockings. Fishing opportunities will extend into the future as good densities of young fish are being recruited into the fishery.
Stump Lake – A good population of walleye, most are less than 18 inches.
Lake Irvine – Good numbers of walleye, with most under 20 inches.
Devils Lake – As water levels rise, the upper regions of the lake have expanded and provided excellent spawning habitat. As a result, pike natural reproduction has been high the past several years.
There will be great pike fishing opportunities in 2013. Pike can save a slow day of fishing as they are willing biters, especially in spring. Fish can be found lake-wide and most are between 20-30 inches, but there are some larger pike as well.
Stump Lake – Pike are common. Good numbers of medium- to larger-sized fish as well.
Lake Irvine – High numbers of medium-sized pike. While most fish are under 5 pounds, there are some larger pike as well.
Devils Lake – Perch densities have slowly increased as a result of two strong hatches in 2006-07 and 2011. Population size structure is somewhat top heavy with bigger fish because of limited hatching success in recent years.
However, the 2011 hatch looked strong and these fish did show up in the 2012 survey as 5-6 inchers, so future recruits are present. Perch fishing should be good this coming winter, but not as good as the last boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Stump Lake – Perch population is increasing, with good numbers of medium-sized fish, with some big fish, too.
Lake Irvine – Yellow perch numbers are low, but the few perch in the lake are good-sized.
Devils Lake – White bass densities have decreased from a recent high in 2008. However, bass are still common and many are 14 inches or longer.
Stump Lake – White bass are currently at low densities.
Lake Irvine – Numbers are low, but like perch, the few white bass in the lake are good-sized.