By Nick Simonson
While water levels are down about two feet after a dry spring and summer across southeastern North Dakota’s prairie lakes country, the opportunities to find fast ice fishing for perch and walleyes are up, as record opportunities to catch both species exist this winter. Record rains from the fall of 2019 have helped keep waters fishable and expanded the number of lakes stocked with popular winter species according to North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) Southeast Fisheries District Supervisor B.J. Kratz.
“Surprisingly, most district lakes are down 20 to 24 inches on the average and just because of the surplus of moisture we had a couple of years back in the late summer and the fall. The maximum elevation for a lot of those lakes were at record highs, so we’re capitalizing on the bank of yesteryear so to speak, to keep us in the game for this year,” Kratz states, adding, “it’s a unique year, basically we’ve set a couple records: we’ve got 131 waters now that have fishable populations and that equates to about 56,000 acres of opportunity out there.”
The Big Four
The region features four prominent water bodies for ice anglers to key in on for a shot at good numbers and excellent sized fish, and with some shifting population dynamics, things have changed over the past few years on Lake Ashtabula, Spiritwood Lake, Jamestown Reservoir and Pipestem Reservoir. Kratz suggests that anglers will find a good mix of walleyes on Lake Ashtabula this winter, and a chance at some hefty pike due to the size of the reservoir located north of Valley City. Additionally, crappies and perch provide steady panfish options in the waters behind Baldhill Dam, and with a little searching along the channel edges and the surrounding flats and structure, action can be fast.
“Ashtabula is always a fun lake for people, I enjoy it a lot just because of the diversity of fish species that are present there. We don’t have a lot of lakes in the southeast district that have so many different fish species, and not only that, but good opportunities or maybe even the best, to catch larger fish. Ashtabula certainly holds its fair share of crappies and walleyes to some very large pike in there,” Kratz details.
While Jamestown Reservoir did not fill to its standard pool level and forage opportunities may have been limited by the lack of inflow this openwater season, Kratz advises that this likely will not impact the water’s solid population of crappies which can dine on items as small as plankton. The walleye fishing may be a bit more difficult, but the species does remain in good numbers and likely will be on the hungry side for ice anglers pursuing them.
Spiritwood Lake’s waters still allow for some good darkhouse spearing opportunities for pike, though there may be some gaps in year classes for those pursuing the fish with a fork. Pipestem Reservoir remains in a rebuilding state, as crappie populations took a hit following a winterkill four years ago, but Kratz suggests targeting an amazing pike population and a respectable set of perch year classes coming up in the reservoir located north of Jamestown.
“With Pipestem, the crappie population there probably won’t be much, we’re still in a recovery mode,” Ktraz warns, “but the perch population in there is better than it’s ever been…and the pike population is crazy good,” he suggests for anglers considering alternative targets on the reservoir.
A Solid Spread
Spread out across the district are dozens of prairie lakes and sloughs providing great perch and, more recently, phenomenal walleye fishing for ice anglers. Many of those waters receive little or no pressure during the openwater season, due to their lack of boat access, but are more accessible to ice anglers who can walk or drive on in the winter. Kratz reports from spring and summer surveys that there are more lakes in the district with excellent populations of walleyes than ever before.
“We had 28 lakes this year in the district that exceeded 10 fish per net-night which is kind of an index for a good walleye fishery. Some of those lakes where the catch rates were good – they’re all over the place – but Mud and Pearl Lakes north of Medina were good, Foot Lake just south of Medina was exceptional as well. North of Jamestown we had Hoggarth Dam and as far down south as Lidgerwood country we had Reiland Lake and Four Corners over by Hankinson,” Kratz details of the region’s burgeoning walleye water bodies.
Additionally, perch options remain strong in the southeast with a number of secret and not-so-secret spots available to anglers looking to catch a few hefty football-sized fish. Kratz recommends North Hobart for strong catch rates and good average size, and North Eckelson sports a robust population with bigger fish available. The Brooks Complex south of Cleveland also boasts good perch fishing on a bigger water which allows anglers to spread out and find fish. Anglers looking for prairie water pike options should check out Flood Lake by Kulm and Grass Lake near Lidgerwood for consistent action for northerns from two to five pounds this winter.
Simonson is the lead writer for and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: Ice fishing opportunities for perch remain good across the southeast portion of North Dakota, but it likely has been eclipsed by the growing walleye opportunities in the district. Simonson Photo.