BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The number of young walleye in the Lake Sakakawea reservoir on the Missouri River in North Dakota is among the highest in decades, though walleye reproduction downstream of the lake's dam wasn't as successful last year.
Still, state wildlife officials are pleased with both results.
Walleye are generally considered the most popular game fish sought by anglers in the state, and Lake Sakakawea is considered one of the finest walleye lakes in the region.
State Game and Fish Department crews had the fourth-highest catch last year of young walleye in the lake in the half-century history of fall surveys.
Scott Gangl, the department's fisheries management section leader, credits the stocking efforts and the natural reproduction aided by a rebounding smelt population since major flooding seven years ago flushed substantial numbers of the forage fish through Garrison Dam.
The flood also changed the river channel downstream of the dam, damaging areas such as side channels and sandbars where fish like to breed. The damage hurt fish numbers, and the habitat is still recovering.
"We've seen increased numbers of fish, but it's not where it was before the flood," Gangl said.
There were fewer young walleye produced downstream last year, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"We've had a couple of good classes since the flood, and we've got a lot of young fish out there that need to feed before adding more young fish to the system," Gangl said.
There also are more forage fish for walleye to eat. Reproduction of gizzard shad in the river from Bismarck to the South Dakota border rebounded last year, though "numbers aren't terribly high" compared with pre-flood levels, according to Gangl.
"Hopefully sometime we will get back to pre-flood conditions ... but we don't know if that will happen in a matter of years or decades," he said.