By Nick Simonson
A quick scan of my inbox last Friday revealed a report from the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) which detailed the seasonal stocking of a number of community ponds around the state and the various species of fish – mostly trout, pike and catfish – that had been added to these small waters. Having taken my older son AJ to them in the past, but never put a fishing rod in the hands of my younger boy, Jackson, it seemed like kismet. The next morning, I handed him his first pole, a PJ Masks-themed kidcaster combo he had received for his birthday a week prior, and asked if he wanted to go to the nearby OWLS fishing pond maintained by the NDG&F just outside their offices in Bismarck. He smiled at the rod adorned with his favorite cartoon characters and excitedly said yes.
First Trip, First Fish
The quick trip of a few miles and a turn down the Expressway spared me the process of readying the boat, packing a cooler, and preparing for the chaos that would come after 25 minutes in the truck on the way to the nearest kid-friendly fishing destination. With a short drive and a quick turn off the Expressway, we were standing on the shoreline in less than 12 minutes. Tucking into a small space bounded by wood and constructed by an Eagle Scout years ago, which acted as a bunker to the rising north breezes on the upwind shore, I readied a small jig under a split shot and opened the night crawlers for Jackson to inspect. He poked at the bait and giggled, describing them in one word: “slimy,” and repeated the process with escalating laughter three or four times over. I pinched a small piece of worm off and threaded it on the hook.
With a “ready, aim, FIIIIIIRE!” he commanded the launch of the orange and yellow bobber with a small splitshot and jig in tow out over the water, as I helped him through the casting motion. In a matter of moments after splashdown, the slipfloat disappeared under the surface and I told him to reel. He slowly cranked on the green knob as the tug-of-war kept the bobber just under the surface, unaware of what was pulling on the other side, as it was, after all, his first fish. A flash of silver and pink caught my eye, and I immediately thought it was one of the rainbow trout on the stocking list from the day before, but a bright orange blur near the head proved me wrong as the fish came to hand. It was a cutthroat trout, with gills as orange as an August sunset. It was a species that in all my exploits on the fly or standard tackle, I have never caught. Here in this little place, made possible by a little stocking magic, my youngest son had already outdone his father with his first catch. While reluctant to hold it for a commemorative photo, he was excited to try again, and would go on to land a silver-sided rainbow trout and a bluegill in shades of deep purple that matched the overcast sky, and we’d wrap our session up in about 45 minutes – just long enough to encompass the end of his waning attention span.
More than 30 ponds, small streams and little lakes have once again been stocked by the NDG&F across the state this spring, giving anglers young and old a chance to experience angling, and in turn helping the agency with it’s R3 goals of recruiting, retaining and reactivating people in the outdoors.
“The goal is to provide a fishing opportunity close to home for folks short on time, or those who don’t have the ability to travel or don’t have a boat,” said Paul Bailey, South Central District Fisheries Supervisor, who manages the stocking in three Bismarck ponds and one in nearby Wilton, “we want to make a place where kids with a short attention span can go,” he related.
In addition to the OWLS pond, the NDG&F stocks Porsborg Dam in Mandan, Cottonwood Park Pond in south Bismarck, and the Wilton City Pond in Bailey’s area. The trout used to stock OWLS Pond, Porsborg Dam and the Wilton City Pond are normally sourced through trades with agencies in states like Wyoming, where the NDG&F swaps the Peace Garden State’s more abundant walleye and pike eggs for trout eggs which are often raised at the Garrison fish hatchery before stocking, along with the occasional larger brood cull fish provided by western states as an added bonus of big specimens in these little waters. The pike stocked in Cottonwood Park are usually catchable-sized male northerns sourced from NDG&F spawning survey efforts conducted on Lake Oahe each spring, according to Bailey. The diversity of fish draws a variety of anglers to these community waters as well, especially at a place like Cottonwood Park.
“We’re hoping this is a great introduction to angling for a lot of folks, especially young people, but it’s also great for older people to experience fishing – maybe those who have mobility issues, or for those with physical or mental challenges – to enjoy these opportunities too,” Bailey commented, adding that most stocked ponds around the state are open to anglers of all ages, though a few are geared toward young anglers.
The Magic Continues
As my son and I walked away from his first fishing adventure, a teenage angler met us on the walking path back to the parking lot.
“I caught three,” Jackson blurted out excitedly in an uncharacteristic greeting to the young man headed our way, holding a medium and ultralight spinning rod.
He smiled as I greeted him and let him know the fish were waiting as he tipped his hat and carried on down the path, another angler soon to be caught up in a bit of pond magic, ensuring the continuation of another successful start to a spring season at the little community water which makes access to the magic of angling all the easier in our community and dozens of others around the state.
Featured Photo: The author’s son, Jackson, on his first fishing trip to the OWLS pond near the NDG&F Dept. offices in Bismarck, N.D. Simonson Photo.