By Nick Simonson
With a record number of lakes stocked with walleye fingerlings in 2020, the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) is not resting on its laurels. According to NDG&F Director Terry Steinwand, the trend of stocking more lakes with more walleye fingerlings than ever before will likely continue in 2021, satisfying the growing demand for the state’s most popular angling target in the coming year. With many new lakes stocked with walleyes last season, thanks in part to a wet 2019 which expanded water levels and opened access to fisheries development crews and potential angling in the future, sportsmen will likely find more opportunities to chase ol’ marbleyes.
“Our fisheries biologists across the state have requested another record number of walleye fingerlings to be stocked out there,” Steinwand commented on the outlook for the coming year, “which means there’s more waters and there’s going to be more opportunity in the future,” he continued.
According to the NDG&F, 180 lakes were stocked in 2020 with more than 12 million walleye fingerlings across North Dakota, both numbers being records for the agency. In total, 30 lakes received a first-time stocking of walleyes, expanding populations of the fish in the state. The national fish hatcheries located near Garrison Dam and Valley City supplied the stock of young fish which found ideal conditions in many of the lakes in which they were placed. High water levels in the spring of 2020 provided plenty of cover in the form of flooded shoreline vegetation, creating the perfect habitat for young fish to avoid predators. The good conditions early on gave way to a warm summer, and ultimately an extended fall and a later-than-average ice up on many waters, setting the stage for an great first year and excellent recruitment of those stocked fish headed into 2021.
“With the way this winter is trending right now we should have a very minimal winterkill situation,” Stienwand explained, adding, “it doesn’t mean we’re not going to have any because it seems like in the mildest winter we have maybe one or two, but it looks pretty good.”
That’s a positive sign, as demand for angling in 2020 increased across the state in the form of more licensed anglers, a trend which will probably continue in 2021. Options are expanding with those increased number of stockings, especially in those areas in the south central and southeastern portions of North Dakota which saw higher water levels than anywhere else in the state coming out of 2019. With the growing waters, NDG&F crews have been busy, installing access points and fishing piers to help anglers access the increased number of walleyes.
“These smaller lakes across the prairie pothole region continue to just pour out numbers of fish that just ten years ago we would have never believed they would,” Steinwand explains of the current situation, “we had an awful lot of work in our fisheries development crew that went out there too this summer, these guys just did an absolutely wonderful job like they do every single year, and of course our partnership with the federal hatcheries, it wouldn’t occur without them as well,” he concluded, focusing on the work of ramp installations done each warm-weather season to help open up fishing opportunities in the state.
That increased access will help more anglers find the fishing options they desire in the coming years, as walleyes remain the most popular species to fish for in the state. With the adjustments made for the pandemic conditions in 2020, Steinwand is confident the agency’s crews will be back at it next spring, ensuring the trend of increased fishing opportunities throughout the state will continue.
The growing demand for walleye angling is likely to be met by the NDG&F Dept. in 2021 as a record number of fingerlings have been requested for stocking throughout the state in the new year. Simonson Photo.