Tagging studies indicate that anglers aren’t overfishing one of North Dakota’s crown jewel lakes or smaller prairie waters in the south central part of the state that are turning into walleye hot spots.
That’s important for anglers who frequent Lake Sakakawea or the smaller Lakes Alkaline and Josephine in Kidder County for two reasons. It means the fisheries should continue to provide plenty of bites, and there’s a low likelihood of any new regulations that would lessen fishing opportunities.
Tagging involves putting a metal band on the jaw of a fish. Anglers who catch a tagged fish are asked to report it, along with information such as the tag number, when it was caught and how big it was. The state Game and Fish Department posts signs around lakes with tagged fish to alert anglers to a study. The signs include a QR code -- a type of barcode that can be read by cellphones -- that takes anglers directly to the tagged fish reporting page on the department's website.
Fisheries officials with Game and Fish recently finished tagging about 3,100 walleye in Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota’s largest fishery. It’s the second year of a four-year study looking at fish movements, how many walleye are dying naturally, and how many and what size fish are being caught by the 50,000 anglers who fish there each year.
It’s essentially a snapshot of how anglers use the resource, to help state officials determine if they’re managing the lake properly so that walleye aren't getting overharvested.
While official results won’t be known for a while, preliminary data indicates that “overall, our exploitation is pretty low, like we thought -- mortality on walleyes is pretty low,” said Dave Fryda, Game and Fish fisheries supervisor for the Missouri River system.
More specific data is available from a one-year study of Alkaline Lake southeast of Dawson in Kidder County, where about 2,000 walleye were tagged last year.
“Anglers harvested about 22% of walleye 13 inches or larger,” said Paul Bailey, a district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish. “That’s an acceptably low number that should maintain good fishing for years to come.”
Fisheries officials become concerned about potential overharvesting only when the percentage reaches about 33%, according to Bailey.
This year, about 500 walleye were tagged in Lake Josephine north of Tuttle in Kidder County. The goal is the same -- “looking at whether we have the best regulations in place for long-term sustainability,” Bailey said.
The two prairie lakes in Kidder County are popular with anglers. Josephine is about 850 acres and Alkaline nearly 5,500 acres. Game and Fish stocks both with walleye, and the populations are flourishing due to plenty of available forage.
“It leads to these lakes being able to sustain pretty abundant populations of walleye,” Bailey said. “We’ve got some fairly noteworthy fisheries in the south central part of the state.”