While April and May are the better known months for fish reproduction in North Dakota, October brings the chinook salmon spawn, and the Missouri River System wouldn’t have a salmon fishery if it wasn’t for Game and Fish Department efforts that take place this month.
The salmon that live in Lake Sakakawea move into the shallows to spawn, but since there aren’t any streams in which they can spawn naturally, they cruise along the shoreline in the back of the bays, and Game and Fish biologists collect them with electro-fishing gear. Once the salmon are caught, they are hauled to the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery where, in partnership with hatchery personnel, their eggs are taken, fertilized, hatched and raised over winter.
This year the goal is about 1.4 million salmon eggs, which will wind up producing roughly 400,000 salmon fingerlings or smolts for release in Sakakawea in spring 2018 -- about the same number as were released in Sakakawea in 2017. South Dakota and Montana are also in line to get surplus salmon eggs from North Dakota this year.
When Sakakawea has a lot of water and has a good smelt population like it does now, salmon can grow to 3- to 5-pounds range a full year later after they are stocked, and in two years they can reach 8- to 10-pounds.
When salmon get to that size, anglers really start to take interest. Which is pretty much what fisheries managers had in mind when they first stocked chinook salmon in Lake Sakakawea for the first time more than 40 years ago.
*The North Dakota Game and Fish photo galleries contain photos taken by Department staff and private photographers. Photos that were taken by a staff photographer may be used for personal, private purposes. Photos taken by private photographers may not be used in any way without the permission of the photographer. No photos may be used for commercial purposes. We ask that you please give credit to the photographer and/or the Department when using these photos (ex. Credit: Jane Doe/NDGF).