As a prairie kid in the 1980s, the image of a Game and Fish distribution truck backing up to a favorite small lake or reservoir and stocking fingerlings spawned day dreams of fishing memories to come.
And I remember the local chatter revolving around what kind of fish and how many were stocked created a certain buzz.
Today, with a much better understanding of what it takes to maintain a fishery, I know that, while stocking may stimulate enthusiasm for future fishing success, the proper balance of forage, escape cover and water quality and depth are the key factors in determining whether those fingerlings will wind up as fish dinners three or more years down the road.
If sheer numbers were the only benchmark, North Dakota anglers could look forward to a record number of fish fries in about 2020, as state Game and Fish Department biologists stocked a record number of walleyes earlier this summer.
But it’s not because the same lakes that were around when I was growing up are simply getting a lot more fingerlings than they once did. North Dakota now has about twice as many walleye lakes than existed in the 1980s. Not all of them can sustain their fish populations without stocking, so hatchery production has been pushed to the limit over the past couple of decades to help meet demand.
Jerry Weigel, fisheries production and development supervisor, said more than 12 million walleye fingerlings were stocked in more than 130 waters across the state this year, besting the previous high by more than 1 million fish.
“Considering not many went into Lake Sakakawea, this included an unprecedented stocking of nearly 7 million fingerlings into the smaller fishing waters across the state,” Weigel said.
Valley City National Fish Hatchery produced more walleye this year than in any other year in its 77-year history, Weigel said. And, in its 54 years of raising fish, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery shipped a record number again this year.
“Both hatcheries have been outstanding in helping address our demand for walleye fingerlings,” Weigel said.
Stocking conditions were optimal, with cooler weather at the time most of the fish were shipped, according to Weigel. The 30-day-old fingerlings averaged about 1.25 inches in length.
“They should find lots of food and good survival conditions, which bodes well for future fishing opportunities,” Weigel said. “Later this fall, fisheries personnel will sample walleye lakes to assess success of this year’s walleye stocking, as well as what Mother Nature provided.”
One common observation fish haulers noted while traveling across the state, was the amount of fishing taken place, both from shore and from boats.
“There has never been a better time to fish for walleye,” Weigel said. “Statewide, there are a lot of great opportunities and a good chance of success.”
This summer’s walleye stocking won’t yield results for a few years, but anyone who wants to look for a potential blooming walleye fishery heading into fall and winter can find all the stocking information from 2013 and 2014 on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.