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Ice Fishing Reports (Part 2 of 4) – Southeast and Northwest Districts – NDGNF – 12–03-2020

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Ice Fishing Reports (Part 2 of 4) – Southeast and Northwest Districts – NDGNF – 12–03-2020

Mike: Continuing our ice fishing previews, today we’re at the Jamestown Reservoir, I’m Mike Anderson with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. My guest this week is BJ Kratz. BJ, you manage the southeast district, how our water levels looking in the southeast? BJ: Well, water levels obviously came up a lot this last spring.

We had above average precipitation, fall of ’19 and snow was about average, maybe a little better and translated into good runoff to our lakes. So everything filled probably to the high water mark and exceeding some in some situations, record levels.

But through this summer, we lost some one to three feet on the average. But presently we’re in really good shape, plenty of water volume out there and our lakes, you know, we had all that good habitat in the spring and kind of got things going for production for fish and so forth.

So through the summer, we lost a little of that so it’ll be an interesting ice fishing season I think. Mike: BJ, it’s going to be a little while before people are going to get on the ice, but how are ice conditions shaping up in the southeast district? BJ: Right.

You know, as every year, it really depends on our first snow . And the timing of that first snow really dictates how the ice is going to form throughout the winter. So the bottom line is, is ice is, you know, as they say, never safe.

And so it’s really difficult to determine when and how good the ice will be and it varies a lot too from lake to lake so every lake is a little different. Mike: BJ, anglers want to know how the fish population is.

Let’s start out with walleyes first here. BJ: Well, as I’ve said now for quite a few years, we seem to have more and more opportunities every year. We’ve got a lot of walleye fisheries in the southeast district ranging from, you know, large lakes to small waterbodies so it really depends on what you like to do.

A couple of good starter lakes, always bigger lakes are Twin Lakes down by LaMoure and Big Mallard Marsh should be a good one this year. We had a really good sampling in Big Mallard Marsh this summer, so walleye populations are up there.

If you like smaller lakes, you know, lots of those around the periphery. We’ve got Hoggarth Dam, northern Stutsman County, R and M Lake, Haus Lake down in the southeast. So, you know, those are good little lakes maybe first ice because ice tends to form a little better sooner on those lakes than the bigger ones.

Mike: Okay, let’s move into pike populations. BJ: Pike, I have to point to Pipestem again. You know, we’ve had really good natural reproduction the last couple of years in Pipestem for pike, after we had the winterkill there and they really rebounded nicely.

So populations there, based on our surveys, they’re probably as high as I’ve ever seen them. You know, not a lot of large fish yet, but a lot of that two to four-pound stuff. So if folks wanted to get in on some pike action that would be the place to go.

Again, there’s a few other district lakes that we had, smaller ones, Kalmbach Lake is a good one, traditionally, four to seven pounders in there, and even East Kalmbach. Mike: BJ, you guys did some perch trap and transport last spring, how are things looking there? BJ: Right.

We have done trap and transport basically every year. It’s one of the things we do now with perch populations to start new lakes rather than tie up hatchery staff and time and resources, we tend to take adult brood and put them in new lakes.

And we took out 119,000 perch out of the Hobart Lakes system this year and gave them 29 different homes throughout the state. Mike: And it’ll be a little while before we’ll know how they’re doing? BJ: Yeah.

Typically, you know, a lot of times we try to get them before they actually spawn and so they’ll spawn the first year, but the second year is usually the better of the two and then you’ll hopefully establish an age class based on that and then go from there.

Mike: BJ, you have some of the better crappie lakes in your district, Jamestown Reservoir is really good, Pipestem still rebounding, explain. BJ: Sure. Well, last year we had a closure on both of the systems due to ice safety concerns.

We had such a volume of water moving through the two systems that it was really a dangerous situation. So basically it was closed to recreation in general. This year we did our crappie assessment in Jamestown Reservoir and the population is in great shape.

I fully expect it to produce some really good fishing this winter. There was some pretty good fishing in May, like they’re always is at Jamestown Reservoir. And as you mentioned, Pipestem is still rebounding so it’ll be a few years there.

Mike: Okay, how about bluegills. BJ: Bluegills, we have, you know, some of our smaller lakes in the district are really places to go for those. Lake Ashtabula, actually, the last several years, has been kicking out some nice bluegills.

We’ve got Dead Colt Creek, we had a really good sampling down there this spring for bluegill. Heinrich-Martin has a pretty good population and Clausen Springs, also. Mike: Okay, do you have any tips if you’re a new beginner to ice fishing as far as maybe targeting crappies? BJ: Sure.

In general, crappies are somewhat structurally oriented, but not so much like walleyes and pike. So if I was going to go out fishing, look for crappies off of structure some distance. Maybe start 100 hundred feet off of a point or off of a hump or a depression or something and use electronics.

A Vexilar or a graph unit that you can determine what depth those crappies are off the bottom are pretty important tools. And if you don’t have that, it’s better to start high, you know, four feet off the bottom, six feet off the bottom than it is on the bottom, typically like you do for pike, walleyes and perch.

Mike: So if Mother Nature allows access ice fishing in the southeast would be good this year. BJ: Yes, it should. And, like I said earlier, we had such good forage production this spring. Our fish were really in good condition based on our surveys this year.

So it’ll be an interesting bite, you know it just depends on how hungry they are. Mike: BJ, a lot of times we get comments, I fished all day, didn’t catch a fish, if you’re not catching fish, that doesn’t necessarily mean the fish aren’t there.

BJ: The fish are there. If you don’t catch them, they just aren’t real hungry. Mike: A lot of great information BJ, thank you. BJ: Thanks. Mike: Joining me now is northwest fisheries biologist Aaron Slominski.

Aaron, how are water levels in the northwest? Aaron: Yeah, well, we had a pretty severe drought in 2020, didn’t have a whole lot of rain. We didn’t have a whole lot of precipitation, the winter of 2019-20.

So water levels in most lakes are declining. Some of the natural lakes like Cottonwood Lake has dropped several feet. We had we also had a pretty severe drought in 2017. So two severe droughts in about four years.

So the reservoirs are doing pretty good, but some of the natural lakes are going to continue to dry up unless something changes in the future. Mike: With the colder temperatures at night, you’re getting a little ice on some of these lakes.

How are things shaping up there? Aaron: Yeah, we had a really major cold snap in October, everything was ice covered and then we warmed up again, things melted. But now most of our lakes are ice covered, probably with a pretty thin layer of ice.

Mike: Aaron, let’s move on to your fish populations, how our walleyes looking in the northwest? Aaron: We have several lakes that have pretty decent walleye populations. Trenton Lake, Epping-Springbrook Dam, Baukol-Noonan Dam, Clear Water Lake, pretty good options for some walleye populations that offer pretty decent fishing sometimes.

Mike: Aaron, let’s move into your northern pike populations. Aaron: Yeah, we got several pike lakes, have pretty good populations, Smishek Lake, pretty popular one. The water clarity is pretty good at Smishek, a lot of spearing activity.

The opportunity to harvest a bigger pike occurs at Smishek Lake. Blacktail Dam, Tioga Dam also have pretty good pike populations. Mike: Okay, and you have some panfish, let’s start with crappies first.

Aaron: Yeah, Trenton Lake has been a really good crappie fishery for quite a few years now. Water is fairly dark. It’s connected with the Missouri River System. Water levels kind of fluctuate with the river throughout the winter when ice jams occur on the river water levels go up, water level goes down.

But people can catch fish all day long. Crappies, it’s kind of a multi species fishery also, you have the option to catch pike and walleyes and several other species too. Mike: Okay, how about like perch or bluegill? Aaron: Yeah, two of the perch lakes probably offer a better bet of catching a nicer perch.

We have a lot of perch populations but some of the lakes are fairly stunted. A couple of lakes with better perch populations would be Skjermo Lake and Cottonwood Lake . Cottonwood Lake winter-killed in 2019 but we got some adult perch stocked in there that spring and then also this year in 2020.

So they grow fairly quickly after a winterkill. So Cottonwood might offer some keepable size perch this winter. Mike: Give us some tips, Aaron, before heading out on the ice what should you do? Aaron: Before heading out on thin ice it’s always a good idea to fish with somebody else.

But check the ice thickness with a spud bar on some of the really early ice before you venture out there. Just because you see other people out there doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. Mike: Once the ice is thick enough to walk on or drive on, give us some tips on say if you’re going to target a certain species of fish.

Aaron: Yeah, a lot of fish there is better times of the day to target them. Northern pike you can fish for them all day, they like to feed all day. Same with perch sometimes. But sometimes species like bluegill, walleyes, some of the low light level conditions in the early mornings and the late afternoons are sometimes better times to target those species.

Sometimes crappies are like that too, it depends on water clarity in a lot of lakes. Like I said, Trenton Lake has got some kind of stained water so people can catch them pretty much all day long and they seem to the shut off more towards late afternoon evening.

But every lake’s different with water clarity. Mike: A lot of great information Aaron, thank you. Aaron: Thank you. Mike: For more information on ice fishing, how to find a lake or what fish species are stocked in a lake, visit the Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.

nd.gov. For BJ Kratz, Aaron Slominski and the rest of the staff here at the Game and Fish Department. Thanks for joining us this week, we’ll see you again next week.

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