By Nick Simonson
While hunting seasons get underway this month in North Dakota and the chill of autumn makes its presence felt, the cooling air of September also brings with it a unique and often overlooked opportunity to catch sizeable trout on the rise in certain waters of the state which were stocked earlier in the year. Many deeper lakes which are stocked each spring provide a good fall fishery, and can produce trout of significant size that have grown over the past season; but knowing where to go and what to use is key in converting these fish in fall.
Dozens of lakes are stocked each spring with a mix of rainbow trout and brown trout throughout the Peace Garden State, but not all of them can sustain the introduced fish through the heat of summer. To find those survivors, Paul Bailey, South Central District Fisheries Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department recommends that anglers look to deeper, cleaner lakes for carry-over trout.
“Fish Creek in our district is a gem,” Bailey stated, saying that the lake is a prime example of a deep and successful lake at carrying fish through the summer, “going down to 42 feet or deeper, we see consistent survival of both rainbows and browns,” he concluded.
Bailey uses Fish Creek Dam as a baseline, pointing to not only depth but water quality as the determining factor of whether or not trout can make it through the summer months in the particular lakes in which they are stocked earlier in the year.
“We rarely see carryover fish on lakes like McDowell Dam, water temperatures get too warm” Bailey relates of the small fishery just east of Bismarck which is primarily a put-and-take trout fishing opportunity each spring, “it may be deep enough, but there are just so many nutrients that there isn’t enough oxygen in the depths for trout to survive,” he concluded.
By inspecting lake stocking reports on the NDG&F website, and checking the contour maps for the depths of those lakes with stocked trout in them, anglers can get a sense of what waters may harbor the larger, carry-over trout. Typically, those lakes like Fish Creek in the South Central District or Moon Lake in the Southeast that have less runoff issues and are over 40 feet deep, provide a good baseline to help anglers determine whether or not a water is worth their trout fishing time. When identified, those lakes harboring carry-over trout will provide shallow water or near-surface opportunities for anglers.
“Cooler temperatures [in late summer and fall] bring trout up, so they’re able to hang out near the surface,” said Bailey, “and you’ll see hatches of mayflies in early September; the cooler temperatures bring trout up shallow, and the food will keep them there,” he concluded.
With those insects emerging well into September, fly anglers should be ready to match the hatch to find success. Spin fishermen can connect with these larger trout by offering lures like Mepps spinners or Kastmaster spoons to imitate baitfish forage and young-of-the-year fish which the larger trout can now prey upon. Even jigs and twistertails or pitched crankbaits can produce fish.
“The good bet is to match the hatch if you’re fly fishing,” said Bailey, “but your typical trout tackle will also bring success,” he advised.
Like all fishing seasons in North Dakota, trout angling opportunities remain open all year round to anglers willing to identify those lakes which might sustain trout over the summer. Finding one of those waters with a little research and time in the boat can pay off with a good back-up activity for some impressive-sized trout, in addition to the approaching bird and gun seasons. It provides an autumn full of “cast” to go with the normal “blast” at this time of year.
(Featured Photo: Carry-over trout in certain stocked lakes throughout North Dakota can grow to impressive size, especially if they make it for more than a year. Josh Holm of Valley City caught this 23-inch rainbow trout from Moon Lake on a late September trip. Simonson Photo)