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Fishing opportunities abound in SE North Dakota

The wet years have increased the number of fishable lakes in the region, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

jamestown reservoir bare bridge
The bridge leading to the island at the Jamestown Reservoir hasn't stretched across water in a long time. Lower lake levels have reduced the outflow of water into the James River to 0 cfs. John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

For the fishermen of southeastern North Dakota, there are more opportunities to pursue their sport than ever before, according to B.J. Kratz, fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

"In the southeast region, there are 131 lakes with fishable populations covering 55,560 acres," he said. "What were sloughs or low spots in fields now have enough water to maintain fishable numbers."

The southeast region of North Dakota as defined by the Game and Fish Department includes Stutsman, LaMoure and Dickey counties on the west edge and extends east to the Red River and the Minnesota border.

For comparison, in 2001, there were three fishable lakes within a 20-mile drive of Medina.

"Now, 20 years later, there are 30," Kraft said.


The lakes grew and reached levels that would support populations of game fish over the wet years. They took a hit during the drought this year.

"Most lakes in the southeast district are down between 20 and 24 inches," he said.

Kratz warned that years of continued dry weather could return some of the new lakes to simply being sloughs or wetlands rather than fishable bodies of water.

This year, the reservoir at Pipestem Dam never reached its conservation pool that officials have set as the normal water level for the fall of the year, according to James Dixon, dam manager at Pipestem Dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Our releases right now are very minimal at 3 cubic feet per second and our elevation is 1,442 feet above sea level," Dixon said. "Our target going into winter is 1,442.5 feet so we are just under that."

Dixon said there are no releases at this time from Jamestown Dam.

Kratz said the lake levels in the region could be worse with most lakes still containing water from the wet fall of 2019.

"The rains we accumulated this fall just soaked into the ground," he said. "They could help with runoff if there is snow this winter or rain next spring but didn't immediately raise any of the lake levels."


Fish kills, caused by a lack of oxygen in the water under the ice, could be a problem," Kratz said.

Fisheries biologists are monitoring the amount of snow that falls on top of the ice in December, he said.

"In December, we have the least amount of light," Kratz said. "If you have snow or slush on the ice, it limits that light that reaches the water and reduces the plant photosynthesis and the oxygen in the lake."

If the amount of oxygen drops too low, the fish in the lake can die.

Dixon said there have been some ice fishermen already on the lake at Pipestem Dam.

"We still have some open water," he said. "It is frozen over for the most part, but people really need to be cautious. I know people are anxious, but they still need to be smart."

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