Ice Fishing Today, Looking at Tomorrow
In the past 25 years, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists have stocked millions of walleyes into 55 prairie fisheries that cover more than 61,000 acres.
In a state where both open-water and ice anglers place the greatest value on walleye over other fish species, this is good news.
But it gets better.
Walleye and yellow perch top the ice anglers hit list in North Dakota.
Scott Gangl, Game and Fish Department fisheries management section leader, said that list of prairie walleye lakes will get significantly longer in a year or two.
“Right now, we have about 15-20 new lakes that have been stocked in the last two years,” he said. “The walleyes in those waters aren’t big enough to advertise to anglers just yet, but they’ll get there.”
Many of the fish in those waters deemed inactive (not publicly advertised) at this time by fisheries managers have yet to reach catchable-size, about 14 inches, desired by anglers.
“Anglers are pretty good about prospecting and the word on some of these lakes will likely get out before we deem them active,” Gangl said. “We just don’t want to send people to lakes where they are just going to catch 8-inch walleyes.”
Gangl said walleye stocked in these prairie lakes do well because of a combination of forage and habitat. In some waters, fish reach harvestable size in just two years when three to four years is typically the norm.
“A lot of these lakes are pretty shallow, warm up quickly in spring and have a longer growing season in comparison to North Dakota’s much deeper and larger waters,” Gangl said. “They also have a lot of forage. Combine abundant forage and the habitat and these fish are growing quickly. Sometimes they surprise us in how fast they grow.”
Because many of these prairie lakes are loaded with fathead minnows, fisheries biologists have learned that the best option for creating a fishery in a short amount of time is by stocking walleyes.
“If there were no other fish to compete with, we may stock yellow perch, which thrive on aquatic insects and scuds,” Gangl said. “If a lake is full of fatheads, then walleyes, a better predator, are the better choice.”
Pike are also a stocking choice in these fathead-rich environments. “But in North Dakota, the demand is for walleye,” Gangl said. “That’s what the majority of anglers prefer.”
While anglers wait for the newest of the new prairie walleye fisheries to become active, there are many ice fishing opportunities across the state for a number of species of fish.
When a lake, off the fishing radar or not, starts to produce big yellow perch through the ice, word spreads quickly.
“When it comes to ice fishing, we start out every season with so much potential, but what it typically boils down to is access,” Gangl said. “If we have a fairly open winter and anglers are able to get on the lakes, the fish are certainly out there to be caught. But we’ll have to wait and see what kind of role Mother Nature plays in all of this.”
FISHING ON ICE
Game and Fish Department fisheries supervisors and biologists have provided in the following pages some suggestions for good ice fishing opportunities for walleye, northern pike and other species around the state. In these quick looks at dozens of waters, fish populations are provided to help frame angler expectations.
SOUTH CENTRAL FISHERIES DISTRICT
Paul Bailey, district fisheries supervisor, Bismarck
Alkaline Lake (Kidder County) – Walleye abundant. Excellent pike numbers, with fish occasionally surpassing 10 pounds. Large perch in low numbers.
Beaver Lake (Logan County) – Pike abundant, with fish occasionally surpassing 10 pounds.
Cherry Lake (Kidder County) – Northern pike abundant. Low number of perch.
Clear Lake (McIntosh County) – Pike abundant and perch present.
Crimmins WPA (Burleigh County) – Walleye up to 22 inches abundant. Perch present.
Crown Butte Dam (Morton County) – Largemouth bass and bluegill abundant. Crappie present.
Dry Lake (McIntosh County) – Excellent walleye and pike fishery. Low number of large perch.
Froelich Dam (Sioux County) – Walleye and pike abundant. Perch, crappie, bluegill and largemouth bass present.
Green Lake (McIntosh County) – Quality walleye and perch fishery, with a low number of pike.
Harmon Lake (Morton County) – Bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass abundant. Rainbow trout and pike present in low numbers.
Harr Lake (McIntosh County) – Abundant walleye up to 18 inches and a fair number of large perch.
Helen Lake (Kidder County) – Excellent pike fishery, with fish occasionally topping 8 pounds. Perch present.
Horsehead Lake (Kidder County) – Pike abundant.
Jasper Lake (Kidder County) – Walleye abundant and fish occasionally top 25 inches. Perch also present.
Lake Geneva (Kidder County) – Walleye up to 20 inches and perch up to 11 inches are abundant.
Lake Harriet (Arena Lake) (Burleigh County) – Pike abundant and occasionally surpass 10 pounds. Perch present in low numbers.
Lake Hoskins (McIntosh County) – Fair numbers of walleye and pike, perch present.
Lake Josephine (Kidder County) – Walleye abundant, with fish occasionally topping 25 inches. Fair number of perch and low number of pike.
Lehr WMA (McIntosh County) – Excellent walleye fishery that also holds a low number of large perch.
Leno Lake (Kidder County) – Small pike abundant.
Logan Lake (Logan County) – Walleye up to 18 inches abundant. Fair number of small perch.
Logan (Mueller) WMA (Logan County) – Walleye abundant and a low number of perch up to 13 inches present.
Long Alkaline Lake (Kidder County) – Small pike abundant and perch present.
Marvin Miller Lake (Logan County) – Excellent walleye fishery, with fish occasionally topping 25 inches. Fair number of perch and a low number of pike.
Nygren Dam (Morton County) – Catchable-sized trout, small bluegill and 10- to 14-inch largemouth bass abundant.
Rice Lake (Emmons County) – Walleye abundant and occasionally top 25 inches. Pike and perch present in fair numbers.
Sibley Lake (Kidder County) – Small walleye abundant, but fish over 20 inches present. Multiple year-classes of perch in good numbers.
Trautmann Lake (Kidder County) – Walleye up to 21 inches abundant and perch present in low numbers.
West Lake Napoleon (Logan County) – Pike abundant and a fair number of perch present.
Wetzel Lake (Logan County) – Small pike abundant.
Woodhouse Lake (Kidder County) – Walleye up to 28 inches are abundant. Fair number of small perch present.
North Dakota offers many ice fishing opportunities, but the coming season, as always, will boil down to access.
NORTHEAST FISHERIES DISTRICT
Randy Hiltner, district fisheries supervisor, Devils Lake
Carpenter Lake (Rolette County) – Consistent pike population, with most fish about 24 inches, with some larger fish.
Goose Lake (Wells County) – Still supporting a good walleye population, with fish averaging 17 inches and larger fish are present.
Heaton Slough Complex (Wells County) – Two different water bodies, with some nice perch and pike from 3-10 pounds.
Homme Dam (Walsh County) – High density perch population, with a decent number of fish longer than 8 inches. Should provide lots of action.
Hurdsfield-Tuffy (Wells County) – Good walleye population, with lot of fish ranging from 14-18 inches.
Island Lake (Rolette Lake) – Moderate winterkill in 2018, but pike numbers still high, with fish averaging 27 inches.
Lake Laretta (Nelson County) – Good walleye population, with decent number of 20-inch fish. Some smaller, younger walleye coming up as well.
Long Lake (Rolette County) – Large, shallow lake with falling water levels that could winterkill. Oxygen levels did hold up in 2018. Last netting survey in 2016 indicated lots of pike averaging about 5 pounds.
Sibley Lake (Griggs County) – Shallow lake, with declining water levels. Pike numbers and size are good, with fish averaging more than 5 pounds.
Silver Lake WMA (Wells County) – Good walleye population, with lots of fish ranging from 14-18 inches.
Walleye – Anglers can probably expect slower than normal walleye fishing this winter. The number of 15- to 20-inch walleye is below average, so anglers will likely have to fish harder to catch these fish. However, there should be good numbers of smaller walleye biting this winter, but many of them will probably be a little too small to keep.
Northern pike – Should provide anglers with excellent ice fishing opportunities. Pike are still abundant, and most are between 23-30 inches. Pike are underutilized at Devils Lake, so anglers should not be shy about keeping a limit.
Yellow perch – Perch fishing this winter will likely be on the slower side. The number of perch from 8-12 inches is a little below average, and many will likely be on the smaller end of that range this winter. The number of jumbo perch measuring more than 12 inches will likely be below average.
White bass – White bass may provide some angler opportunities this winter. White bass typically do not bite that well in winter, but there are large numbers of them between 12-14 inches.
Walleye – Walleye fishing this winter should be good. There are good numbers of 15- to 20-inch fish available and good numbers of larger fish as well.
Northern pike – Fishing should be good because these fish are relatively abundant and tend to be good-sized.
Yellow perch – Winter fishing should be similar to the past few years, as the number of keeper-sized perch is a little above average.
Walleye – Walleye are abundant, with most fish between 15-20 inches, but larger fish are present in good numbers. Ice fishing should be good.
Northern pike – Pike are abundant, so winter fishing should be good. Most pike are medium-sized, but there are some larger fish present. Pike in Lake Irvine are underutilized, so anglers should not be shy about keeping their limit. In fact, the pike seem to be too abundant, as their body condition, or plumpness, is declining. Keeping pike would be beneficial to the population as it may help reduce competition for food.
Yellow perch – Winter perch fishing is typically slow. Perch are not abundant, but fish caught tend to be large.
The list of ice fishing opportunities for northern pike in North Dakota is long.
SOUTHWEST FISHERIES DISTRICT
Jeff Hendrickson, district fisheries supervisor, Dickinson
Dickinson Reservoir (Stark County) – Good number of walleyes up to 6 pounds, good number of bluegill up to 1.5 pounds, good number of pike up to 14 pounds, good number of perch up to 1 pound and some crappie.
Heart Butte Reservoir (Grant County) – An abundance of mostly small walleye, with some fish up to 5 pounds, pike up to 9 pounds, white bass up to 2 pounds, crappie up to 1 pound, good number of perch up to 1 pound and some bluegill up to a half-pound.
Indian Creek Dam (Hettinger County) – Abundant walleye up to 10 pounds, abundant small perch, with some up to a half-pound, and a good number of bluegill up to 1 pound.
Odland Dam (Golden Valley County) – Abundant perch up to three-quarters of a pound, bluegill up to a half-pound and abundant walleye, with some up to 2 pounds.
North Lemmon (Adams County) – Good number of walleyes, mostly 3-10 pounds. Abundant small perch, fair number of bluegill, with some up to a half-pound. Rainbow trout stocked annually. Some brown trout up to 2 pounds.
NORTHWEST FISHERIES DISTRICT
Aaron Slominski, fisheries biologist, Williston
Blacktail Dam (Williams County) – Good walleye population, along with the opportunity to catch bluegill, perch and pike.
Cottonwood Lake (Williams County) – Good northern pike fishery, with a variety of sizes. Abundant small yellow perch and some eater-sized walleye.
Northgate Dam (Adams County) – Good bluegill and walleye populations. Fair number of black crappie and rainbow trout stocked annually.
Trenton Lake (Williams County) – Good numbers of crappie and northern pike.
SOUTHEAST FISHERIES DISTRICT
Brandon Kratz, district fisheries supervisor, Jamestown
Grass Lake (Sargent County) – Great crappie numbers, with fish averaging about 12 inches. Some large walleye consistently sampled during recent netting surveys.
Island Lake (Barnes County) – Contains a high-density walleye population, with fish averaging nearly 2.5 pounds. Fish exceeding 25 inches have become increasingly common.
Mosher WPA (Barnes County) – Walleye were first stocked in 2014. Currently contains an excellent population of 13- to 18-inch fish. Anglers experienced great success in winter 2017.
R and M Lake (Stutsman County) – Contains a high-density walleye population. Though walleye average around 14 inches, fish longer than 18 inches are common. Fair number of perch also present, averaging over 10 inches.
Trautman Slough (Stutsman County) – Walleye first stocked in 2015. Currently contains an excellent population of 14- to 18-inch fish. Anglers experienced great success in winter 2017.
West Moran (Richland County) – Robust walleye numbers, with a wide variety of sizes available to anglers. Walleye exceeding 27 inches present.
Zimmerman Lake (Stutsman County) – A small lake with big perch numbers. Average size is nearly 10 inches, with fish longer than 13 inches present.
NORTH CENTRAL FISHERIES DISTRICT
Jason Lee, district fisheries supervisor, Riverdale
Antelope Lake (Pierce County) – Abundant yellow perch, with a wide range of sizes, along with a high abundance of walleye ranging from 14-26 inches.
Clear Lake (Pierce County) – Abundant walleye, with fish from 14-26 inches.
Coal Lake (McLean County) – Decent number of 13- to 16-inch walleye.
Cottonwood Lake (McHenry County) – Good number of 14- to 24-inch walleye.
Hinsz Lake (Sheridan County) – Good number of walleyes from 14-20 inches.
Lake Gertie (McLean County) – Decent number of pike from 19-28 inches.
Lake Richard (Sheridan County) – Decent number of 14- to 21-inch walleye.
Long Lake (McLean County) – Good number of 14- to 28-inch northern pike.
Makoti Lake (Ward County) – Abundant northern pike from 24-33 inches.
Rice Lake (Ward County) – High abundance of northern pike from 21-37 inches.
Scooby Lake (McLean County) – Good number of 13- to 14-inch walleye.
FREE ICE FISHING WEEKEND
North Dakota’s free ice fishing weekend is December 29-30.
Resident anglers may fish that weekend without a license. All other ice fishing regulations apply.
Those interested in darkhouse spearfishing that weekend must register with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department prior to participating. Registration is available on the Department’s website, gf.nd.gov, or through any Game and Fish office. Legal fish are northern pike and nongame species.