Greatly changed by the 2011 flood and boosted by subsequent water movement, the Souris River within Minot is catching on with urban anglers. The historic high water rushing through the Souris in 2011 affected the river, most notably by washing away years of sediment caused by minimal flows. Visible was the tearing away of riverbank. Not so visible was the scouring and deepening of the riverbed and the flushing away of tons upon tons of old sediment.
From a fisherman's point of view, what emerged from the 2011 flood was a very different Souris River. In addition to being wider and deeper in places, much of the unwanted growth in the river was washed away. The high flows that washed even small aquatic life downstream brought with it something else - fish.
Water flowing at unprecedented levels through the Lake Darling Dam in the spring of 2011 is credited with depositing countless northern pike, walleye, perch and smallmouth bass into the Souris River. High flows caused other effects, too. Some channel catfish were caught, the first in as long as anyone could remember.
Zach Bitterman, Minot, left, and Sharod Delaney, Minot Air Force Base, hoist a stringer of walleye pulled from the Souris River in Minot. River fishing in the city has become quite good following the flood of 2011.
These two fishermen were among several fishing along the bank of the Souris River recently near Minot’s water treatment plant. The site has become increasingly popular with city anglers.
Jess Bitterman, Bismarck, lands a walleye during a recent trip to the Souris River in Minot. Bitterman began his day by shorefishing for northern pike at Lake Darling.
Speculation is that the catfish migrated hundreds of miles, encouraged to do so by high river flows. It is likely that the channel cats originated in Canadian waters connected to the Souris. The Souris was behaving like it had for hundreds of years prior to the building of dams that dramatically changed water flows.
Lake Darling Dam was constructed following the drought years of the "dirty '30s." Rafferty Reservoir was constructed on the Souris near Estevan, Sask., and filled in 1994. Alameda Reservoir near Oxbow, Sask., followed in 1999, backing up a major Souris River tributary, Moose Mountain Creek.
During many months since their construction, the dams have held back water, leaving the Souris to literally wither on the vine while flows downstream often dwindled to little or nothing. The result often created very poor habitat for fish. Sometimes oxygen levels in sections of the river were too low for fish to survive. Without moving water, fish movement was minimal too.
However, since the flood of 2011, improved flows in the Souris River have been maintained. Moving water, even if only a few cubic feet per second, gives the river life. It has been a boon for fishermen.
"It's been great this year so far, at least the last couple of days I should say," said Sharod Delaney, Minot Air Force Base. "The water is flowing pretty fast, the fish are moving and we've been catching them."
"I think the river's gotten a little bit deeper and the fishing has gotten better here in town," added Zach Bitterman, Minot, during a recent fishing trip with Delaney to the bank of the Souris. "I've been bringing my kids down here for the last couple of years. It's a chance for them to get out and enjoy the weather anyway."
Bitterman's children have enjoyed more than the weather along the banks of the Souris. Sometimes they have caught fish of their own. Other times they have enjoyed watching their father and his fellow fishing companions have success pulling walleye and northern pike from the river that meanders through Minot.
"It's a nice day to try a little bit of fishing," remarked Bitterman while preparing for his next cast into the Souris. "We've been all the way up to Lake Darling and we finally found some fish."
Indeed. Bitterman had an impressive stringer of walleye and released a few pike and walleye while thoroughly enjoying the experience. When asked to provide a bit of advice for other river fishermen in the city, Bitterman replied, "Just keep trying. We've thrown all kinds of stuff today. It's been crazy."
When asked about the secret to catching Souris River fish, Delaney responded, "Find the right color and stick with it that day."
The "go-to" presentation for Souris River fishermen has primarily been a bright colored jig and twister tail. White has proven particularly effective when the fish are willing. However, other colors and color combinations will work too.
"It's been phenomenal, especially for not using any bait. They've been biting real good. We've tried seven or eight spots along the river today and this is the one where they've been biting," said Jess Bitterman, Bismarck, while unhooking a hefty Souris River walleye.
Other anglers were also having good luck this past week, including those who are new to the experience of fishing a turbid river.
"It's a lot different. It's nothing compared to what I'm used to, but they are biting real good today. Everybody's catching them," said Greg Frantz, Minot.
Frantz is from Wyoming, a land known for clear streams and rivers. He came to North Dakota to work in the oilfields but didn't leave his fishing rod behind.
"It's a lot different for me. I'm used to bass and trout. It's a learning experience," said Frantz. "Some guys are using swimbaits and stuff but they seem to be hitting white right now for some reason. People are catching northerns and walleye like crazy."
At times during recent days, the popular fishing spots within the city, such as the water treatment plant and Roosevelt Park, have been crowded with fishermen. Prior to 2011 such scenes were rare in Minot. Now the fish, and the fishermen, have returned.