Killer Winter

Anglers may have fewer options for quality fishing in western North Dakota this year.
That’s because of the way snow accumulated on some lakes in the area this winter.
Jim Olson reports from near Underwood.

(Jim Olson, KX News) “It’s been a tough winter on some lakes in North Dakota. Fish kill has been a concern. Here at Coal Lake the state Game and Fish Department is trying to see just how bad this winter was.”

District Fisheries Supervisor Jason Lee and Fisheries Technician Brian Frohlich launched their boat onto Coal Lake early – heading out to check five nets they set the day before.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “We’ll run up and get that far one I think.”

First up is a gill net set in deep water – to catch fish swimming 8 to 20 feet below the surface. And the net is empty.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “Not a good start.”

Lee says it’s not a surprise that the fish population suffered here.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “We know we lost some fish. We were out here shortly after the ice melted and saw some dead fish wash up on shore, we just don’t know the extent of the fish kill yet.” 

But as a shallow net is hauled in, it’s becoming more obvious just how complete the fish kill has been.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “Pretty quiet….nothing.”

And by the time we’re at the fifth and final net, it’s clear.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “Nothing…looks like we’ll be starting over.”

The killer of all these fish? The heavy snow that came in February.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “After early February there was really no open ice spots at all on the lake.”

That blocks the sun from getting to plant life.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “The plants die and decay or break down and in that process, it uses up dissolved oxygen – the same oxygen that the fish need.”

And that means one thing. Pretty much every fish in this 350-acre lake has died.

(Jason Lee, NDGF District Fisheries Supervisor) “Nothing…looks like we’ll be starting over.”

(Jim Olson, KX News) “Even though the results here were not encouraging there is some good news. They will be re-stocking this lake with tens of thousands of fingerling walleyes sometime in June so fishing should come back in a couple of years. At Coal Lake, Jim Olson, KX News.”

The Game and Fish Department will be testing three other lakes for fish kill in the coming weeks – Crooked Lake north of Turtle Lake, Scooby Lake south of Benedict, and Makoti Lake south of Makoti.

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