By Mike Reiter
Polk County Naturalist
In late June I had the opportunity to fish North Dakota for a few days. A friend of mine, Chuck Magoon, and I rented a house in southwest North Dakota in a small town named Ashley not far from the South Dakota border. A local guide showed us the area lakes and gave us a few pointers on where and how to fish them. The guide was actually a person I knew back in Wisconsin who moved to North Dakota and was a past Polk County Conservation Congress delegate for many years. We were on our own after that. We checked in with him each day, and got the fishing reports from the other lakes. This arrangement worked very well during the short time we were there.
The lakes we fished in the North Dakota are very similar to the small lakes we have back in Wisconsin minus the trees. They are very sandy with few contours and relatively shallow. When fishing them we seldom hung up on rocks or downed trees. We trolled a variety of baits but found the most productive was live bait, either crawlers or leaches which we purchased at a local sports shop. We needed a receipt from the store for the leaches as only local leaches were allowed because of aquatic invasive species concerns. At times we also cast crank baits to break up the presentations.
Fishing the first two days was slow with Chuck and I catching a few northern in the 24 to 28 inch range. We managed to boat a couple of walleyes also with the largest around 22 inches. On our third and final day of fishing, Dave, our guide gave us a report that the walleyes were hitting on a lake about an hour and a half from Ashley. The towns out that way are few and far between but we decided to give it a try. As we were coming on the lake, which was about twice the size of Cedar Lake back home, folks were already leaving with their limit of walleyes. It was a good sign! Word had gotten out that the lake was “hot”! When we arrived at the lake, there were a dozen rigs already in the parking lot. When we left a few hours later, the parking lot was overflowing with more than 60 units. Good news travels fast! We caught our limit of 5 walleyes each in short order. They were good eating size running from 14 to 18 inches.
Fishing in different areas is always a fun experience. I’ve fished Canada numerous times, along with lakes in Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio including the Great Lakes Superior, Michigan and Erie. Each offers a different set of experiences. Fishing different areas also allows one to see and do different activities. Visiting with the locals on these trips is a large part of the “total fishing picture”!
When in North Dakota, we ate all our meals at a local restaurant. We got to know the folks and waitresses quite well and found the locals very friendly. Because Ashley has a German heritage, each Thursday was “German Night” at the restaurant and we were lucky enough to experience the ultimate German dining experience. We managed to contact a good friend, John Ohman, who had moved from New Richmond to South Dakota a few years back. He joined us for the “German Experience” and a good time was had by all!
Another big “plus” when fishing in different locations is the ability to observe local wildlife. Each place offers new and exciting opportunities to view new and unique species of plants and animals along with geological formations. North Dakota is not anything like Wisconsin in many respects. Low relief land formations are dotted with hundreds of thousands of potholes and depressions filled with water and all contain waterfowl of many kinds. Ducks, geese and non-game birds are everywhere. Pelicans with black tipped wings having 5 foot wingspans were a common sight on every larger lake. Cormorants were seen with spread wings soaking up the sun on the sparse shoreline cover. Dowichers were observed circling ponds and 3 American bitterns were having a dispute over a shoreline nesting area. Lots of great viewing!
All in all, the North Dakota fishing experience was a good one. We caught fish, met very nice people, saw wildlife rarely seen at home and expanded our horizons looking forward to our next foray.
Our local area of Polk, Dunn and St Croix counties do have some locations that resemble North Dakota but with more trees. Some of our very own Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA’s) have small lakes that closely resemble the North Dakota fishing lakes. Some of them have fishable populations of perch, pan fish and northern with a few bass thrown in for good measure. The St Croix Wetland Management District and their Friends Group are considering doing a series of fish lake surveys to identify these lakes for a public fishing use. Stay tuned!