TURTLE LAKE - Lakes near here were among the first to be sampled this year by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's North Central District. Netting was done this past week on Lake Holmes and Lake Brekken.
"It is a standard adult population survey which we do every year," said Jason Lee, NDG&F biologist. "We place the same number of nets in the same locations. That way we can monitor the trends, changes in fish populations in the lake."
Turtle Lake is located near several well-known fishing lakes that are targeted for annual sampling. Lakes Brekken and Holmes are located about one mile north of the community. Holmes covers about 400 acres, Brekken about 240. The two lakes are divided by a highway but connected by a large culvert that carries water when elevations are high.
Trevor Gust, Minot, left, assists Jason Lee, NDG&F biologist, in recovering a net on Lake Brekken. Netting gives biologists a snapshot of a lake’s adult fish and forage base.
"Today we captured mostly walleye and perch," said Lee while seated in a flat-bottomed work boat on Lake Brekken. "We like to see how the size structure has changed, whether we have a lot of big fish, small fish or medium fish."
The results on Lake Brekken were very favorable.
"It looks good," said Lee. "We've got a wide range of sizes as far as walleyes go. There's some up to four pounds and a bunch of 14- to 15-inchers out here. Perch are doing well with some in that 10- to 12-inch range that are preferred by anglers. It's nice to see that."
According to Lee, little natural reproduction of walleyes occurs at Lake Brekken. Walleyes are regularly stocked there. Netting shows that walleyes are growing as expected. Lake Brekken received 10,000 walleye fingerlings in 2008 and another 22,100 in 2010. Fish from those stockings were among those showing up in the capture nets.
Forage fish were sampled too at five different locations on Lake Brekken. Results showed a large population of fathead minnows and a much lesser amount of sticklebacks. Both are excellent food for walleyes and perch. Evidence of that could be seen in the healthy appearance of the walleyes that were netted.
Lee reported similar results on Lake Holmes, which had been netted earlier. Both lakes are somewhat unique in that neither has a population of northern pike. That means one less species of predator to pressure forage and other gamefish.
Lee said a northern pike was picked up in the nets a few years ago, a fish he suspects was dumped into the lake by someone other than a NDG&F biologist. The practice of introducing new fish into waters is illegal and often results in disrupting proper management of a fishery. In some cases lakes have had to be poisoned to rid them of unwanted species.
"We kind of know what species will do best in certain lakes based on water conditions and habitat and what has worked in the past," said Lee.
An example cited by Lee was Lightning Lake, a small 18-acre lake located a half mile east of Turtle Lake. Primarily a trout lake, Lee says there is now a growing population of perch in Lightning. Game and Fish has never stocked perch into Lightning Lake.
Brush Lake, located three miles north of Mercer, was also netted recently. Lee said results there showed an impressive take of growing northern pike. Brush Lake also has a solid population of walleye and perch.