It’s an annual rite of spring in North Dakota: Sportsmen wondering — sometimes it’s more like griping — if anglers catching and keeping big walleyes from the coulees and ditches of Devils Lake damages the lake’s population.
“Why doesn’t North Dakota close their walleye season like Minnesota? People keeping those big females has to devastate the walleye breeding population, right?”
The great outdoors writer Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald wrote a column that ran in Forum Communications Co. newspapers and web sites over the weekend examining exactly this topic. Dokken reminded us that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says the same thing every year: There’s no biological reason to close the walleye season. Devils Lake and other bodies of water can handle some big walleyes being harvested with no damage to the big-picture population. Dokken argues it’s more of an ethical thing than a biological one, and that he’d prefer to release the big females.
Just to follow up, I contacted Scott Gangl of Game and Fish for my radio show on 970 WDAY. You can listen to the entire interview below.
Gangl is the Fisheries Management Section Leader. He reiterated that there is no biological reason to close the walleye fishing season and added that the number of big female walleyes being harvested in the Devils Lake basin right now is “a drop in the bucket” of all the fish in the hundreds of thousands of acres of water.
The numbers of walleyes being kept during the spring run “don’t compare to what’s being harvested on an annual basis,” Gangl said. He said Game and Fish roughly estimates perhaps 1,000 big female walleyes will be taken out of the lake during the early spring, compared to 500,000 overall walleyes taken during the summer months. Gangl said there is about a 2 to 1 ration of male to female fish being harvested out of Devils Lake at this time of the year.
The overall health of Devils Lake is “fantastic,” Gangl said, with the lake thriving after several years of high runoff from roughly 2007-2011. Those were boom years for walleye reproduction and, with the added bonus of about 1 million stocked fish per year, Gangl expects the size structure of Devils Lake walleyes to be excellent this summer. He predicts many fish in the 18- to 22-inch range being caught this summer.
“We’re seeing a size structure where we’re getting some really nice fish in the lake,” Gangl said.
Listen to the entire interview here. It’ll get you jacked up to fish Devils Lake this spring and summer.