By Nick Simonson
While the late ice-off for much of the state’s waters is delaying spring angling for many sportsmen, it is also hampering some of the North Dakota Game & Fish Department’s (NDG&F) efforts when it comes to egg collection and stocking. With many lakes just beginning to lose their ice cover, however, processes are underway to place the next season’s worth of trout species in a few select ponds, lakes and reservoirs across the state. In addition to the usual rainbow and brown trout being planted this spring, a new species will be hitting the water in two select lakes, according to Scott Gangl, NDG&F Fisheries Management Section Leader.
“We’re going to be introducing tiger trout from Wyoming this year,” Gangl states, “They’re going to be in addition to what we already stock and we’re going to try them at Fish Creek Dam and then at Hooker Lake in the Turtle Mountains,” he continues.
Tiger trout are a cross between a brook trout and a brown trout most often occurring in a hatchery setting, like those facilities in Wyoming which are producing this spring’s stockers for the NDG&F. The hybridization of the two parent species produces a sterile, thick-shouldered trout that sports vermicular patterning on its sides similar to the back patterns found on brook trout, but with spotty highlights like a brown. The hybridization also produces an aggressive offspring that grows quickly, and has a piscivorous disposition, meaning unlike rainbows and browns which often target insects and invertebrates for much of their food when they’re smaller, the tigers go after small fish for the bulk of their diet sooner. This will be key for both of the lakes the fish will be introduced into over the next few weeks.
Fish Creek Dam, located south of Judson, N.D., has an overabundance of bluegills resulting from a non-sanctioned stocking of the panfish. As a result, they have stunted and overtaken much of the lake’s shallower stretches and are outcompeting other fish for food, including the stocked rainbow and brown trout. It is hoped that the tiger trout will consume some of the smaller sunnies and grow quickly. On Hooker Lake, located eight miles west of St. John, N.D. and just a few miles south of the Canadian border, an abundance of fathead minnows will provide a food source that has also helped propel larger-than-average size classes of stocked rainbow trout. It’s likely that in the coming years, NDG&F agents will continue the experiment with tiger trout.
“We usually try things on a three-year basis and see how they do. They’re not going to be catchable this year, they’re probably going to be about eight inches long or so. They’ll be a bit small, but if they grow fast, they should be pretty nice by this fall,” Gangl explains, adding “our request is for 2,500 tigers at Fish Creek.”
Even with the cooler spring conditions and the later ice off, Gangl expects the trout stockings to take place in the normal time frame compared to previous years, with most lakes and community ponds stocked by the second week of May. Bigger, deeper, lakes such as Fish Creek Dam which exceeds 40 feet in depth when full, often allow trout to survive the warmer stretches of summer and avoid winterkill after things ice up. It’s hoped that not only the standard 2,800 rainbows going into that water but also the 2,500 tiger trout will have a good chance to make it through their first year and get even bigger in 2024, with the latter having a strong growth curve. The NDG&F updates a stocking report page on its website at gf.nd.gov as those waters have their share of trout introduced each spring.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors
Featured Photo: Young tiger trout will be stocked into Fish Creek Dam reservoir in west-central ND and Hooker Lake in the state’s Turtle Mountains this spring. Creative Commons Open License.