Column: Walleye bust rumor turns out to be overstated

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Following up on rumors goes with the territory in the news business.

They might turn out to be much ado about nothing, but then again. ...

Such was the case earlier this week, when I received an email from a reader in Devils Lake, N.D. Word was, the reader said, that four boats from Iowa were caught fishing Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge—which is closed to summer fishing—and had 63 walleyes over their limit.

This time, the rumor turned out to be overstated, and when it comes to reports of anglers keeping too many fish, that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

How the rumor of 63 fish over the limit got started, I'm not sure, but since it's probably still floating around the Lake Region, I thought I'd share the story I got from Drew Johnson, district game warden for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Rugby, N.D.

In a phone interview, Johnson said wardens conducted surveillance on a group of anglers, thinking 10 people were involved. Eventually, though, they learned that 20 anglers in two groups and four boats were involved, he said.

One group of three anglers had 32 walleyes—two fish over their possession limit of 10 walleyes each, Johnson said. The other group actually was under their possession limit, he said.

The two adult anglers in the group were cited for having one walleye over their limit, which is a noncriminal offense, and fined $100 each. Wardens confiscated the two walleyes beyond the limit, but the anglers were able to keep the other 30 fish, Johnson said.

"Initially we were thinking 10 guys, and I knew we'd have way more than a possession limit for those," Johnson said. "But the further we looked into it, the more people that were involved, and everyone was fishing and had their possession limit, and they were good to go. It was just that very minor overlimit for a group of three.

"We put some work and time and effort into it, but we weren't anticipating that many people being involved," he said. "Not everyone went out every day. They were here for five or six days fishing, so some guys would go fishing one day, and then the other guys would take a break and go out the next day."

Neither group was fishing Lake Alice, Johnson said, although district game warden Alan Howard of Cando, N.D., had seen some people on refuge waters Friday, Aug. 10, the same day the two anglers were cited for one walleye each over the limit.

"It wasn't related to these guys," Johnson said.

It's been another busy summer on Devils Lake, Johnson says. A strong year-class of white bass now big enough to keep has kept wardens busy, and recreational boating activity has been steady, he said.

Walleye fishing has been sporadic, but good at times, Johnson said.

"The lake has dropped a little bit, and those areas that held fish last year aren't holding fish this year, so it's taken a little bit of adjustment for people," he said. "But if people are putting their time in, they're having luck for sure.

"You're probably catching five to 10 walleyes before you get one big enough to keep, but then I also have talked to guys that are really finding some nice big fish, too."

North Dakota's early Canada goose season, which opened Wednesday, Aug. 15, appears to be off to a slow start, Johnson said. That's no surprise, given temperatures in the 80s.

"That's been kind of a disappointment so far," he said. "(There's) not a whole lot out there, but when the cooler temperatures show up, I'm sure we'll have a nice flood of birds."