McFeely Blog: As the drought continues, is it time to worry about ND’s “new” lakes?
So, is it time to worry about North Dakota’s “new” lakes, those bodies of water in the prairie pothole region that became productive fisheries when the state entered a wet cycle (check notes) almost 30 years ago?
Yes, 30 years old. That’s why I put quotes around the word new. Many of North Dakota’s more than 200 wetlands that became lakes and were populated by fish when the rains and heavy snowfalls began in 1993 are really not “new.” They are an integral part of the landscape, almost a no-brainer for fishermen who have become accustomed to the abundance of water and the fishing possibilities, especially for walleye, perch and northern pike.
Looks like the days of plentiful water are drawing to a close. After a dry year 2020, this year has been a drought in its own right and there is no end on the horizon. The weather forecast for this week calls for highs above 90 degrees daily and dry. There will be no significant rain for the foreseeable future. âMoisture deficit,â a term meteorologists use more frequently, continues to grow.
The time seems to have come to kill fish in the summer and maybe some lakes that will lose enough water to no longer be viable.
North Dakota Game and Fish Fisheries Management Section Chief Scott Gangl, however, says it’s not time to panic just yet. Not that fishery biologists were going to panic anyway, as they have long reminded fishermen that high water on the prairie was a temporary situation. The history of the prairie has always been that water comes and water goes.
âI think you have to look at it holistically,â Gangl said. “As recently as 2019, many of our lakes were still at or near record levels, so although it has been dry for the past two years, most of our fisheries are still in fairly good condition in the whole. We have a little leeway. “
North Dakota has grown from fewer than 200 lakes in 1990 to about 430 today, thanks to high water. The Department of Hunting and Fishing aggressively stocked the swollen bodies of water to provide, at times, great fishing. When the lakes expand and flood the vegetation, the fish quickly grow and grow larger. Giant perch and walleye flourished in many of the new lakes.
Gangl said falling water levels are worth watching, especially if the hot, dry weather continues into August. This is historically the time when fish are killed in summer.
âThe heat of summer and the heart of winter are two times during the year that some of our lakes may experience problems,â Gangl said.
During the cold months, fish kills occur late in winter, when decaying vegetation and lack of sunlight from a thick blanket of snow cause dissolved oxygen levels to drop to a point where fish cannot. cannot survive. In summer, warmer water temperatures combined with dying vegetation and algal blooms suck dissolved oxygen from the water. This can lead to the death of the fish.
Many newer lakes in North Dakota are particularly vulnerable because they are not initially deep – perhaps 12 to 15 feet – and the prolonged heat and drought are therefore of concern.
âWhen you start to lose water, it becomes a problem,â Gangl said. âHow quickly are we going to lose water if we go into a prolonged drought? “
Fishermen should keep this in mind – that we have not yet entered a prolonged drought as we saw in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The late summer or late summer rains Fall, combined with a winter with above average snowfall, could provide the runoff needed to add inches or feet to North Dakota lakes.
âMother Nature has a way of surprising us,â Gangl said.
Anglers spoiled by the excellent fishing available to them on North Dakota’s prairie lakes hope she will.