Observations at Audubon

COLEHARBOR Ice houses can be found on virtually all portions of Lake Audubon this winter. The popularity of ice fishing at the large lake means it is also good fisheries management to track fishing success.

Lake Audubon is located on the east side of the embankment that separates it from Lake Sakakawea to the west.

Every three years a creel survey is conducted at Lake Audubon summer and winter. One such survey is under way during the current ice fishing season. Brian Frohlich, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, allots three days each week to knock on ice house doors and visit with active ice fishermen.

“What we do is check each ice house that we see on the ice with a vehicle near it,” explained Frohlich. “We check to see how many hours each guy has been fishing, how many fish they caught or released, and we measure each fish.”

Data gathered is important. Not only is the creel survey used by Game and Fish biologists to determine the number of angling hours on Lake Audubon, but it also helps in the evaluation and formulation of future management plans for the fishery.

“We can tell what sizes are being caught, species, catch rate, harvest rate for different species and compare that from year to year,” said Jason Lee, NDG&F biologist, Riverdale. “We also ask anglers about the quality of their fishing experience for the day.”

Heavy snowfall and drifting snow can create problems for ice fishermen trying to access lakes during the winter. Sometimes access becomes nearly impossible and no useful survey data is collected. This winter, though, fishermen are not having much difficulty getting onto Lake Audubon. Winter has not yet dumped heavy snow or unleashed high winds that can drift access roads shut and bring ice fishing to a virtual halt.

“Last winter was good for ice fishing, but it wasn’t a survey year for us on Audubon,” said Lee. “It’s been a while for an open winter where we could get out and talk to people. The survey will run until March 15 or whenever people quit ice fishing out there.”

March 15 is the deadline for removing all permanent ice houses from state lakes and rivers. In most years fishermen remove houses several days in front of the deadline rather than risk warm weather that can diminish an ice pack or a sudden snowfall that makes access impossible.

This ice fishing season at Lake Audubon has been productive, if not in the size of the fish, at least in terms of the amount of activity.

“Yes, they are catching fish all around the lake,” said Frohlich this past Thursday. “Everybody’s got some.”

Both Frohlich and Lee said survey data shows that fishermen were having better luck early in the ice fishing season than they have been recently. Fishermen often have good success shortly after freeze-up and then experience a tapering off of fish activity. Nevertheless, there is usually a bite to be found somewhere throughout the winter months on Lake Audubon. Whether fishermen are catching fish or not, the results contribute to information needed by biologists.

“Yes, it has slowed down from what it was,” acknowledged Lee. “Still, they are releasing a lot of smaller fish, 13- to 15-inch walleyes. Last winter a few guys were catching smallmouth bass through the ice, some pretty good ones.”

A growing population of northern pike roam the waters of Lake Audubon too, and also provide some excellent ice fishing action. Pike are another of the species providing pertinent information to the creel survey currently under way.

In the summer, boaters are restricted from entering much of Lake Audubon operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, those restrictions do not apply to the ice fishing season and fishermen take advantage of the opportunity to fish sections of the lake that are off limits for the open water season. It gives anglers who wish to “chase the bite” the opportunity to move about and act on tips provided by other fishermen.

Regardless of where the fish are biting, there is risk involved with all ice fishing. That is particularly true at Lake Audubon. Audubon has a reputation for claiming vehicles that fall through the ice each winter, sometimes many. The lake contains numerous submerged islands and springs that contribute to water movement and an unpredictable ice pack. Caution is always important for anyone venturing onto Lake Audubon during the winter.