‘Tis the season to be stocking

A late arrival of spring, accompanied by record-setting late ice out, has caused problems for fisheries crews in several states. North Dakota’s lake ice melted about a month later than expected. That meant Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists got a very late start to spring netting, an annual process that supplies eggs to the Garrison and Valley City National Fish Hatcheries.

The late spring also meant a delay in stocking fish that wintered at the Garrison Hatchery. Jerry Weigel, NDG&F fisheries production and development leader, made a stop at the Conservation Skills Park pond at the State Fairgrounds in Minot last week. Weigel was driving a specially equipped fish distribution truck loaded with rainbow trout. He stocked 350 of them into the fairgrounds pond.

“It’s a little later than usual due to the late spring, but they should be good to go,” remarked Weigel. “Glenburn pond will be getting 350 of these rainbows along with Strawberry Lake, Hooker Lake and a few other lakes in the northeast part of the state.”

According to Weigel, cutthroat trout weighing up to 3 pounds were stocked into Kettle Lake in Williams County and at Northgate in Burke County.

“Real nice, catchable fish,” said Weigel. “Quite frankly, we go out of our way to target little, urban-type ponds. The fair pond here, Watford City’s, Beach, Glenburn.”

Northern pike eggs were brought to the Garrison Hatchery several weeks ago. Those eggs have hatched and the young fish have been moved to outdoor rearing ponds. They’ll stay there until reaching approximately an inch and a half in length. Then they’ll be stocked into lakes throughout the state.

“We came up a little short on the northern pike fry but we’ll still definitely get all the priority lakes stocked,” said Weigel.

There was nothing automatic about netting enough walleyes this spring to meet the department’s proposed quota for the hatchery. Late ice that limited access to prime netting areas quickly gave way to warm water temperatures shortly after crews began their work.

“They finished at Parshall and Deepwater, taking about three-quarters of their goal. That was real good considering how challenging it has been,” said Weigel. “They had to work in a lot of wind.”

Crews were working at capturing spawning walleyes on the eastern end of Lake Sakakawea this past week. The original goal of 400 quarts of walleye eggs was achieved, but the quality of eggs, particularly those obtained after water began to warm, appeared to be far less than expected. To insure that the Garrison Hatchery would receive enough walleye eggs to raise 10 million fry, an additional 100 quarts was requested by Weigel.

“With normal good walleye eggs, 400 quarts should produce about 10 million fry,” said Jerry Tishmack, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. “We figure about 50 percent eye-up and then another 50 percent survival in the ponds.”

“It’ll be a big year for stocking walleyes statewide,” explained Weigel. “Again, we are maxing out the hatcheries. They do great things and raise the fish for us.”

Muskies in N.D.

Again this year, Tiger muskies are scheduled to be stocked into Lake Audubon. It will be the fourth consecutive year for the program. Tigers are a sterile cross between northern pike and pure muskellunge.

“We are cooperating with the state of Pennsylvania. They are holding, I think, about 3,500 10-inch Tigers again. They will all go into Lake Audubon,” said Weigel.

The Valley City National Fish Hatchery is hoping to begin raising pure muskellunge this spring. Those fish would be stocked into New John’s Lake and Red Willow Lake. Both bodies of water currently have small populations of pure muskies. However, late ice out elsewhere may delay the start of North Dakota’s muskie program.

“It was a real challenging spring for fisheries workers just about everywhere,” noted Weigel. “Just about every state really struggled this spring. We didn’t get our muskie fry yet but we’re still hoping to get some opportunities to get some. We’re going to try and rear some pure muskies at Valley City.”