There is good news and bad news in the standard adult (fish) population surveys done by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department this spring on the reservoirs near Jamestown, according to BJ Kratz, district fisheries supervisor for the department.
Each survey involves placing test nets and comparing the catch from year to year to track fish numbers and sizes in the lake. The survey followed preliminary reports last winter that both lakes were among those in the region where fish kills had occurred because of a lack of plant life, and resulting dissolved oxygen, in the water.
First, the bad news.
"Things are not so good in the Pipestem Dam," Kratz said. "Crappie practically nonexistent in Pipestem. Still a few but a fraction of what we'd normally catch. There are no walleye in Pipestem Dam. Pike (northern) are down somewhat but still within the five-year range."
Kratz said the survey was conducted last week but the decline in the fish population in the lake seems to be well known to area anglers.
"The tell-tale sign about the fishing here is there have been almost no boats in the water," said James Dixon, manager of the Pipestem Dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "I've probably seen 10 boats on the water since spring."
Even shore fishing has been unproductive, according to Dave Chadduck, vice president of Dakota Anglers.
"I pitch a little bait off the dock most every morning," he said, referring to his fishing activity at Pipestem Dam. "Haven't caught a thing all year."
Chadduck said a fishing derby there in May saw five fish caught among the nine teams competing.
The good news for area anglers comes from Jamestown Dam.
"Jamestown Dam is actually pretty good," Kratz said. "The walleye numbers are up from the previous years. We didn't see any sign of significant loss of sport fish on the Jamestown Dam."
Kratz said perch numbers were good at Jamestown Dam and crappie numbers were "off the charts." He is anticipating natural reproduction of northern pike this spring because of the high water.
Differences in conditions at Jamestown Dam compared to Pipestem Dam likely allowed some algae to survive at Jamestown Dam. That algae produced enough oxygen to allow a higher rate of fish survival.
Similar conditions and a near complete loss of the fish population also occurred at Tad Lake near Oakes in Dickey County.
A stronger fish population on Jamestown Dam is resulting in more fishing activity and success, Chadduck said. A fishing derby on Jamestown Dam saw 88 walleye caught by 27 competing teams in June.
Kratz said the winter fish kill eliminated a lot of the rough fish, carp from Pipestem Dam and carp and buffalo fish from Jamestown Dam.
Carp can be destructive to the lake bottom. Reductions to the numbers of carp and buffalo in the lakes should increase the survival and growth rate of sport fish being stocked in the lakes.
The identification of bighead carp in the James River at LaMoure this week shouldn't pose a danger to the fisheries created by the Jamestown or Pipestem dams, according to Jessica Howell, Game and Fish aquatic nuisance species coordinator.
"The only way they would get around the dams is if people moved them," she said. "If people obey the law, this shouldn't be a problem."
Silver carp were identified in the James River in 2011 and bighead carp this spring. Both are aquatic nuisance species native to Asia.
Game and Fish stocked 900,000 walleye fry and will stock another 100,000 walleye fingerlings in the next week in Pipestem Dam. Reductions in rough fish and in the numbers of predatory sport fish should give the little walleye better odds of survival.
"There really is a pretty good chance they'll do well," Kratz said. "... We had good conditions for stocking this year."
The young walleye that have been placed in Pipestem Dam will take about three years to grow to about 15 inches, Kratz said.
Chadduck said it means fishermen will have to be patient for fishing at Pipestem to return to normal.
"It's the pits because it was just starting to get good," he said. "It's discouraging because it is going to take a few years to rebuild."