By KIM FUNDINGSLAND
Dave Fryda, NDG&F.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Fryda, Riverdale, is the Missouri River System Fisheries Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. His responsibilities include closely monitoring fish populations throughout the entire Missouri River system and helping formulate fish management plans for the state's largest fishery. The following is a transcript of a recent series of questions asked by The Minot Daily News and the responses from Fryda.
MDN - You recently wrapped up annual young-of-the-year netting on Lake Sakakawea. What did that effort reveal about 2012 production?
FRYDA - We were pretty low on most everything. Not many crappies or white bass. Perch were not real abundant, but there was a fair number of smallies. I haven't crunched the numbers yet on the walleye production, but it seems fairly low. What I'm not certain of is if we're just not catching them.
The 2011 fish were abnormally small, 8-, 9-inch walleyes. They should be a lot bigger than that. Again, no hard numbers but it is not surprising. There's still decent numbers of spottails out there along the shorelines but we're seeing a slowing of growth.
MDN - Fishermen are still taking some very nice fish from Sakakawea. Why the concern over growth rates?
FRYDA - Growth is down from the last two years, but that's when we saw exceptional growth. What we are seeing now is not surprising. We had that flush during the high water and know we took a hit on smelt. We're seeing some decline on relative weights. It's still good, but has drawn back a little from what it was. Overall, fish populations are in good shape. Nothing is bad.
MDN - You mentioned smelt. How are those numbers?
FRYDA - I only have preliminary numbers, that's what I've been working on. It looks like we have about half the smelt we had last year prior to the high water flush. Half our biomass is still five times higher than what we had during the last drought.
MDN - Sakakawea salmon were carried downstream during the 2011 flood. How much did that affect the population?
FRYDA - There are still good numbers of salmon around. Salmon fishing was consistently good throughout the summer too. We know we had a lot of entrainment. I would call it exceptional. Over half of South Dakota's spawning run last year was our fish. Ours showed up in Lake Sharpe. The Nebraska salmon record came from Lake Oahe.
MDN - How about northern pike?
FRYDA - Our pike abundance is double the previous high that we've ever seen. Our adult population netting was double from last summer and last summer was an all-time high. Most are 2009 fish. There's a few '08s and '10s. Pike, and perch, are sporadic recruiters that produce large year classes that dwindles over time.
The growth of pike is hugely dependent the next couple of years on what our forage base is. Nothing is static. These fish got off to great starts but, in tough conditions, won't continue those growth rates. What you find in pike a lot, the bigger ones especially, is goldeyes and white suckers.
Overall, the whole summer on Sakakawea was by far the best for everything in quite a while. The walleye bite was good throughout the reservoir. Everybody complimented on the smallmouth out there. There's a lot of adult smallies out there.
MDN - Sakakawea has been dropping, not unusual for the fall months, but the total runoff picture is not good. Concerned?
FRYDA - We go in 18 months from record highs to below 1,830 next spring. Lake Oahe is in dire straights, pretty tough. Next year it would be nice to see some recovery in the reservoirs with local plains runoff and decent mountain snowpack instead of the trend we're heading into. When drought shows up, it really shows up and drought is more common than wet cycles.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Oct. 1 runoff forecast for the Missouri River Basin in 2012 calls for 19.0 million acre feet of water. The long-term average is 24.8 MAF. Runoff into Lake Sakakawea has been below average since February 2012.